New flight-hour limit prolongs operating life for at least 300 fighter jets, to at least 2048
- Up to 12,000 flight hours
- Structural, avionics upgrades
- Countering F-35 costs
Lockheed’s F-16 Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) structural modifications and further revisions to the jets’ avionics systems are intended to keep the 40-year-old fighter design competitive with newer aircraft.
According to Lockheed Martin Corp., the U.S. Air Force has authorized extending the designed service life for the F-16 Fighting Falcon to 12,000 equivalent flight hours, effectively a 50% increase from the fighter aircraft's original design service life of 8,000 hours.
The F-16 upgrade program is one developed by Lockheed, called “the F-16 Service Life Extension Program (SLEP.)
The decision to extend the jets’ service life is significant because it comes at a time when Lockheed is working to cut the cost of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, the intended replacement for F-16. The extraordinary costs for the F-35 program have drawn the attention of federal deficit-hawks, and some unwelcome criticism of Lockheed by the Trump Administration.
In real terms, it means that at least 300 F-16s will receive structural and avionics upgrades that will make the extended service life possible, allowing them to fly until at least 2048.
The F-16 is a single-engine supersonic multirole fighter aircraft originally developed by General Dynamics and now built Lockheed for the United States Air Force (USAF). Over 4,500 of the jets have been built since production was approved in 1976, and the aircraft has been in service since 1978.
In addition to the USAF, the F-16 is in service with the U.S. Navy, the air forces of several NATO allies, and numerous other nations in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.
"This accomplishment is the result of more than seven years of test, development, design, analysis, and partnership between the U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin," stated Susan Ouzts, vice president of Lockheed Martin's F-16 program. "Combined with F-16 avionics modernization programs like the F-16V, SLEP modifications demonstrate that the Fighting Falcon remains a highly capable and affordable 4th Generation option for the U.S. Air Force and international F-16 customers."