F-16 Grounding Highlights Need for Upgrades

F-16 Grounding Highlights Need for Upgrades

The U.S. Air Force’s grounding of more than half its fleet of F-16D fighter jets highlights the need for ongoing structural upgrades of the aging aircraft.

The Air Force on Tuesday announced it had grounded 82 of the two-seater versions of the Fighting Falcon made by Lockheed Martin Corp. after finding cracks between the front and rear pilot seats. The service has an overall F-16 fleet of almost 970 aircraft, including 157 F-16D models, which entered production in the 1980s and are mostly used for training.

“As aircraft accumulate flight hours, cracks develop due to fatigue from sustained operations,” Lt. Col. Steve Grotjohn, deputy chief of the program office’s Weapon System Division, said in a statement. “Fortunately, we have a robust maintenance, inspection and structural integrity program to discover and repair deficiencies as they occur.”


The problem was discovered during a routine post-flight inspection in a section called the canopy longeron sill, a strip of material that affixes to the fuselage. A fleet-wide review of the aircraft was completed Aug. 18.

The Air Force is working with Lockheed Martin to develop a temporary fix that would allow “aircraft with cracks to resume operations for a limited number of flight hours while analysis continues on a permanent fix,” according to the statement.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the issue could be addressed as part of an ongoing effort to upgrade the venerable fourth-generation fighter.

The service is in the early phases of a so-called Service Life Extension Program, or SLEP, to extend the combat life of about 300 F-16s by a decade or so. Indeed, with the upgrades, some aircraft are expected to still be flying in the 2030s — long after the Air Force’s fifth-generation F-35A Joint Strike Fighter is scheduled to enter service in 2016.

The F-16 has been undergoing durability testing at Naval Air Station Fort Worth, Texas, where many of the planes are based, to determine what modifications are needed to increase the aircraft’s service life from 8,000 flying hours to as many as 12,000 flying hours.

“We strain and stress the aircraft in a manner that will simulate flight hours,” Maj. Sean Tucker, F-16 program element monitor, told Military​.com earlier this year. “We keep stressing it past a breaking point, allowing us to see what modifications we are going to need to do for our active fleet.”

Due to automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, the Air Force has prioritized the SLEP program over another F-16 upgrade effort known as the Combat Avionics Program Extension Suite, or CAPES, designed to upgrade the aircraft’s electronic warfare suite and intelligence broadcast system. The service proposed canceling the almost $2 billion CAPE program in its fiscal 2015 budget request.

The government of Taiwan is moving forward with the electronics upgrades and will be the first customer to buy them as part of the latest configuration of the aircraft known as F-16V. The enhancements include a new active electronically scanned array radar made by Northrop Grumman Corp, called the Scalable Agile Beam Radar, or SABR, which on Wednesday passed a key milestone in meeting Air Force requirements.

Meanwhile, the service plans to spend more than $650 million on the SLEP effort over the next five years, including $133 million in fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1, according to Pentagon budget documents.

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The F-35 isn’t a “fifth-generation fighter” except in the minds of the marketeers and fanbase. Interesting history. When the F-15 had its longeron event some years ago (noticed only after one aircraft broke up in mid-air), it turned out to be a manufacturing defect.

That should read:

F-16 grounding shows Air Force destroying more planes to make the F-35 unkillable.”

If you are going to categorize fighters into “generations” it certainly qualifies as a 5th generation design. Regardless of the wisdom or accuracy such categorizations have become commonly used for discussing past, present, or future aircraft.

So machines never wear out? Metal and composite under a lot of stress never weaken or fail? Instead a bunch of USAF officers went around smashing this specific component of the F-16D with a hammer until it broke? Yes, that is completely logical.

The USAF is dying right before our eyes. The F-35 killed the F-117, the A-10, many proposed aircraft buys, many proposed aircraft upgrades, and now it’s killing F-16s. Not to mention that the F-15C is still being considered as a possible cut to feed the JSF.

NAVAIR is sitting back and laughing its head off at the Air Force. Not only does the Navy have a full fleet of young Super Hornets and Growlers. It’s got options to buy an Advanced Super Hornet with capabilities to beat the threat, it’s got fully funded upgrades for the Super Hornet to keep it formidable out to 2030, but now in addition to those it has a UCLASS drone program with software proven to allow a drone to operate on a carrier. Keep in mind that the F-35C hasn’t been able to prove it can operate on a carrier. The Navy has options, all of which or a combination of them make them better than the F-35 by far.

standing down for how long?

win , win for Lockheed, repair the F16 and encourage its retirement ‚also retirement of the A10 and F15. All competition for the F35 total numbers. Lockheed is in the Air Force’s pocket, as is the Air Force is in Lockheed’s pocket, need each other to survive

If the Air Force treated the F-16 and F-15 like the B-52, we would bot have these problems. Of course, that might compete with the dollars dumped on the F-22 and F-35. How do the Russians create so many different high-performance fighters these days? Probably because they lack some of our sophisticated electronics. But the airframes sure can maneuver — if that is relevant.

The big difference is the fact that the B-52 is a subsonic bomber while the F-16 is a supersonic fighter capable of pulling 9Gs. Their airframe lifespans are not comparable.

When the aft upper fuselage forward of the tail wrinkled from the strains of low-level penetrations, the AF rebuilt the frames to cope with those forces. Today, I cannot imagine how much of the original airframe still is original if any, but I get the idea that it is a bigger, easier to rebuild aircraft which pulls fewer G’s. I believe, however, that we can repair/rebuild whatever we want to just as we can upgrade the Growler’s electronics to cope with future threat environments. It is a question of where we want to put our resources. I have always thought that if the Space Shuttle airframe had been rebuilt with titanium frames, we wouldn’t have lost the one over the Southwestern United States. The wing wouldn’t have melted.

In what bizarre universe did the F-35 kill the F-117? When the F-117 was retired the JSF program wasn’t the subject of the same controversy it is now. Only some 60 F-117s were built and by 2008 upgrades would have been necessary to keep it viable. The USAF decided they would rather invest that money into the next generation of aircraft, with the immediate goal of buying some more F-22s.

The USAF has been convinced the A-10 isn’t survivable against modern air defenses since BEFORE the JSF program even began. They almost retired it before the Gulf War and planned for F-16s to take over its CAS duties. Now over two decades later it is once again a target. Same reasoning, new aircraft.

What proposed aircraft buys do you speak of? If you’re talking about the Super Tucano or the C-27J you can thank the USAF bureaucracy for that. Regarding the F-15, this wouldn’t be a problem if the USAF was able to get the number of F-22s they wanted.

NAVAIR is certainly not laughing when you consider the prospect of them losing CVN-73. Super Hornet upgrades alone will not be enough, by 2030 it may still be viable in a lot of scenarios but if it has to up against the latest Russian and Chinese equipment it will be outclassed. UCLASS will hopefully provide NAVAIR with a useful UCAV but we have a long way to go before UCAVs can perform all of the missions of a modern multi-role fighter. The Navy needs F/A-XX but the future of that program is still very uncertain. Without it they won’t have a first-rate fighter that can best any competition.

The only way Navy leadership might seriously suggest cutting the F-35C buy would be in the unlikely event that the F-35C fails carrier trials this fall. If not then sooner or later the Navy will end up with some F-35Cs which they will put to good use despite the inherent dislike of any aircraft that isn’t “theirs”.

Well it is possible and it is often done with individual components, but there does come a point where rebuilding becomes almost as costly as building a new aircraft.

I’d guess that through SLEP we we will see F-16s flying until 2030 but beyond that I can’t envision further life extension and upgrades as being worth the cost. It will be outdated besides for use bombing mud-huts and other platforms can do that cheaper. The F-16 also happens to be a limit for future growth barring any radical redesign. New electronics require more power which tends to require more cooling and so on. The EA-18G is a lot more friendly to upgrades because it is a newer design and they built it knowing that it would eventually be fitted with NGJ.

Buy F/A-18 E/F/G better Aircraft then the F-35 at half the price.

Pay Lockheed to update old F-16’s. Pay Lockheed to build new F-16s. Pay Lockheed to develop the F-35. Pay Lockheed to develop what comes after F-35. You people just don’t get it, do you?

The fact the grounding only applies to D models and only about half the D models at that doesn’t really support this line of thought in my opinion.

Or Pay Boeing to maintain Lockheed F-16’s to create a secondary source . Maintain the Industrial base.

yeah those Russian Fighters sure can maneuver — RIGHT INTO the GROUND !!

USA jets have shot down Russian fighters encountered in a wartime fight since 1980 and the F-15/F-16 started flying / entering into US air-force service.

What makes USA jets vulnerable and have caused real loses is the presence of advanced Russian SAM systems, and that is why the F-22 and F-35 aircraft were and are being developed.
Stealth (even low RCS) is everything when it comes to air-air combat. The F-15 is an incredible fighter jet and USAF did not loose a single jet from Russian Fighter Jets (versus 24 Russian jets shot down) during Desert Storm. But modern SAM systems did shoot down two jets (F-15). The only problem now with the F-15 is its huge RCS that makes it very vulnerable to radar guided SAM systems.

What killed the F-117 was/is — No Air-Air capability, very small fleet size, very high maintenance costs per flight hour.

It was designed for a very unique mission which its quite capable of performing but there are not enough of them, they cost allot of Mx hours to keep flying, there a lack of spare parts and those part are expensive, and the jet can be shot down by other aircraft.

The US military has opted for (right or wrong) a more multipurpose aircraft that is purchased in high numbers, has a large common spare parts base and usage between services, and that can do the same thing as 2 or 3 current aircraft today.

Every USAF military pilot whom has flown the F-35 raves about its capabilities and other than a F-22 pilot would trade their F-15 or F-16 in a heart beat for the chance to fly that latest / greatest.
I talk to pilots all the time and they do love in a very sentimental way their old airframes they currently fly, but every one is chopping at the bit to strap into a Fifth Gen jet.

Until the can be given a temporary or permanent repair.

Those Russian jets where not flown by front line Russian pilotage. I wonder what the real score would have been if we went up against Russian Frontline combat aircraft and pilots, and not knockoff imported jets, and non trained pilots?

Yeah, now there’s a great solution, because Boeing is so damn much better. They actually don’t realize they get paid more to f up — oh wait, they do. Of course, whatever you do, don’t ever fix the real problem. Nooooo, that might make some f’ing sense.

That’s ‘champing’ at the bit.
Just sayin’.

Or pay BAE as the Koreans are doing …

Its cant be a fifth generation fighter because it isnt even a fighter its just a poorly performing light bomber.

It happened in Vietnam and Korea and the ratio was better than 1:1 favoring the Russian and Chinese pilots.

The contractor shills will always tell you that their aircraft are world class until pilots start dying in them.

Face it like the F-15 longeron problem 5 years ago the USAF neglected its fleet to poor money into the inferior JSF. Which is still having its own problems the DoD needs to kill JSF this is a failure of major proportions. Face it the JSF is inferior and is sucking maor money even before it enters service.

I think “chomping” is the appropriate word

Source?

I didn’t realize the categorizing of an aircraft generation is dependent on the opinion of a random person on the internet, instead of companies that actually design and manufacture aircraft.

But the next one will be better. We will do it right next time.

That kind of things happen it’s no big deal.

We must bomb the isis in Syria also, m

The Navy does not have a single UCLASS aircraft they haven’t even issued a RFP for the program yet. The X-47B is an experimental drone program with limited size, payload and range capability.
The Navy will not have a UCLASS aircraft in active service for at least 10 years.
The F-18 E/F are great aircraft but they require a F-18G escort if they ever have to attack a country like Iran.
With the F-35C every jet has a F-18G built-in to its avionics system.

Plus the RCS of an F-35C is 100x smaller than a F-18 E/F its the size of a baseball — softball and the F-18E is 1/2 square meter and that’s in a clean flight state. Start adding fuel tanks and bombs and/or missiles which the F-18E must have to do a mission and then its 5x bigger in RCS ~ 5 sq meters.

We have had to use stealth aircraft (F-117 & B-2) and stealthy missiles (Tomahawks) to knock out the G-A radar systems and the SAMs before the F-15, F-16 and F-18 ever could be allowed to fly in and attack ground targets in Iraq. Iran would be much-much worse if we ever had to go to war with them.

Too bad the Navy doesn’t spend more of it’s time thinking about how to apply new technology to water borne vehicles instead of trying to be a sad version of the Air Force (http://​www​.scmp​.com/​n​e​w​s​/​c​h​i​n​a​/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​/​1​5​8​0​2​2​6​/​s​h​a​n​g​h​a​i​-​s​a​n​-​f​r​a​n​c​i​s​c​o​-​1​0​0​-​m​i​n​u​t​e​s​-​c​h​i​n​e​s​e​-​s​u​p​e​r​s​o​n​i​c​-​s​u​b​m​a​r​ine).

“- With the F-35C every jet has a F-18G built-in to its avionics system”

This is not correct.

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