September 27, 2004 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Air Force officals are drafting plans to retire as many as half of the approximately 1,200 F-16s in use by the US. It's too early to speculate, but Hill AFB is virtually a parking lot of aging F-16 that would be among the first to go.
The active duty 388th Fighter Wing is composed of 72 block 40
F-16s, built from 1989 to 1991. The Air Force Reserve 419th Fighter Wing flies 15 older block 30
F-16s built between 1986 and 1989.
Several active Air Force wings have the later block 50
models, while the newest F-16s coming off the Lockheed Martin assembly line, block 60
, are all being bought by the United Arab Emirates
Of course, replacement has to take place at some time and when the times come a fighter wing could replace the 388th with the multirole F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The F-35 and the stealth F/A-22 Raptor are the next generation fighter jets. The first training squadron of Raptor pilots recently started in Florida, while the F-35 won't be ready for a test flight until 2006.
Plans to begin phasing out old F-16s have started a political scavenger hunt to find new missions for rusty Falcon units. Besides active and reserve F-16 wings, some state Air Guard units - which traditionally fly the oldest warbirds - have joined a crowded field vying for a piece of the nation's shrinking airpower inventory.
Several factors are driving the retirement plan. Older planes cost more to maintain and money saved by retiring the earliest F-16s could be spent on upgrading newer Falcons.
The F-16 made its combat-operational debut at Hill in 1979.