The first of 36 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 52 fighters for the Iraqi Air Force made its first flight from the company’s Fort Worth, Texas facility. Iraq confirmed the purchase of 18 F-16s in September 2011, and has apparently committed to the other 18 since then. The Iraqi and other orders have extended the F-16 production line through 2017. More than 4,540 F-16s have been delivered to date.
Meanwhile, although the U.S. Air Force has dropped the ambitious Combat Avionics Programmed Extension Suite (CAPES) for 300 Block 40-52 aircraft for budget reasons, once described by Lockheed Martin as the F-16V model, the service is still requesting $1.4 billion over the next five years for F-16 modernization and service-life extension programs (SLEPs). The Air Force wants to upgrade the electronic attack pod and the modular mission computer and enhance the operational flight program. The latter will allow integration of new weapons such as the JASSM-ER, and new targeting pods. The “legacy” SLEP will add about 2,000 hours of life, making 10,000-plus hours, to about 300 aircraft. That will extend their service lives by between six and eight years. Further structural modifications are being designed for the Block 40-52 fleet.
In testimony to Congress last month, U.S. Air Force chief of staff Gen. Mark Welsh said that the F-16 is the primary replacement for the A-10 Thunderbolt fleet that the service wants to axe for budget reasons.