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December Commander's Corner

  • Published
  • By Col. Scott Bridgers
  • 169th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron

In order to remain a relevant combat-ready force for the defense of our nation, change and adaption is necessary. That is exactly what we are doing with our lethal Swamp Fox fleet of F-16s. To explain all that we are doing to increase the lethality of our fleet, I’m providing the following details about the evolution of our own F-16CM Block 52 Fighting Falcons.

The South Carolina Air National Guard’s F-16CM Block 52 Fighting Falcon jets have received multiple upgrades over the last 10 to 15 years to include Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS), Link 16 tactical data exchange network, Advanced Identification Friend or Foe (AIFF) Interrogator, ARC-210 satellite capable radio, and Low Observable Uniform Have Glass (UHG) paint. Multiple avionics software upgrades have also been completed along with the ability to deliver Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs).  Although SCANG leadership have been actively pursuing follow-on missions to the F-16, there are several more software upgrades and structural enhancements planned over the next 10 years, which will keep the F-16CM relevant for another 20 to 30 years.     

We currently have one jet at depot located at Ogden Air Logistics Complex, Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Aircraft 916 is our first of eight jets to receive the Center Display Unit (CDU), High Speed Data Network (HSDN), and ALQ-213 (Electronic Warfare Management System). CDU and HSDN are a prerequisite for the Advanced Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, the latter being a result of a National Guard Association of the United States led Joint Urgent Operational Need (JUON) funding initiative for Aerospace Control Alert F-16s. The CDU is a large multi-function digital display powered by a high speed computer. It will replace the original analog instruments that provide airspeed, altitude, and position data and also provide additional tactical situational awareness.

Over the years multiple F-16 upgrades resulted in an enormous amount of data being displayed on small screens. The increased display size of the CDU will allow the pilot to process and manipulate the data, increasing lethality. HSDN will be necessary to manage the vast amounts of data and is required for the ALQ-213 which is a self-protective electronic warfare system that replaces legacy ALE-47. These systems manage Chaff and Flare programs to decoy missiles and break radar lock while reducing pilot workload. Additionally, the ALR-69 digital Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) will replace the ALR-56 RWR for better integration with the ALQ-213 and AESA radar.

Aircraft 916 will return from depot in late November. Seven more jets will be sent to depot, June through September, with each jet off station for two months. Once the jets return, AESA radars will be installed here at McEntire and will take one to two weeks. The Northrop Grumman APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) was selected for USAF F-16s. AESA will provide 5th generation fighter radar capabilities greatly increasing air target contact ranges. Additionally, the radar can operate in hostile electronic environments and features all-weather, high-resolution synthetic aperture radar mapping, which presents the pilot with a large surface image enabling precision target identification and strike. 

The F-16CM is an aging fleet with cracking and corrosion prevalent throughout the aircraft. Last year one of our jets was found with a cracked canopy sill longeron and was flown to the depot with an altitude restriction of 10,000 feet and max airspeed of 350 knots. Several units have had to pack, crate and ship jets to depot for repairs. The F-16 Block 52 was designed for a service life of 8,000 actual flight hours (AFH). McEntire’s fleet of F-16s have an average of 6,100 hours. Several years ago engineers at the U.S. Air Force Life Cycle office created the Aircraft Structural Integrity Program (ASIP) which tracks flight hours on individual aircraft through flight data downloaded every 75 hours from the Flight Data Recorder. Engineers analyze the data and assign a severity factor for each hour flown which increases on sorties with high-G maneuvering and aircraft configured with centerline stores. Our jets have an average Severity Factor of 0.786. Severity Factor is multiplied by AFH to get Equivalent Flight Hour (EFH) which is now used to determine service life. McEntire F-16’s have an average of 4,800 EFH which equates to an average of 21 years remaining on our aircraft while the two seat D-models have 34 years remaining. ASIP allows aircraft to operate safely for additional AFH as long as EFH limit is not exceeded. 

Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) will extend the EFH for F-16 Blocks 40/42/50/52 to 12,000 EFH with the potential to increase to 13,800 EFH following extended durability testing. F-16 Blocks 30/32 will get structural repairs but there is no planned life extension program, these jets will timeout at 10,800 EFH. SLEP, the largest structural upgrade to the F-16, combines a dozen structural modifications into one repeatable package. Wings, horizontal stabs, vertical tail and all panels will be removed during the nine month-long process at a cost of $2.4 million per jet. The first F-16 to receive SLEP, a Thunderbird aircraft, rolled off the depot line 26 Apr 2018. While in SLEP, any software or technology upgrades the jet is lacking will also be accomplished so the unit receives the most combat capable F-16 the USAF has to offer.

The Air Force plans to SLEP 300 aircraft but hopes additional funding will become available for more aircraft. Our first jet is scheduled for SLEP in October of 2021 which will keep them flying until nearly 2050. Currently only eight of our jets are funded for AESA but plans are also being worked to get them installed on all of our aircraft. As threats to our nation grow, SCANG leadership will continue to fight for new airframes and missions but in the interim, we will continue to solidify the F-16 as the world’s most successful combat proven multi-role fighter.