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F-16 Fighting Falcon News

F-16 Sales - Customer: USAF

December 4, 2007 (by Eric L. Palmer) - With the third grounding today of up to 450 A-D model F-15s, the United States Air Force is in trouble. The math, fate and the stars are lining up to look like a bad horoscope.

It's new, it's available, it works.

The USAF, having old airframe problems with hair on them, is now holding Aces and Eights: The dead mans hand.

Part of the Air Force plan to get new fighter aircraft into the fleet was to extend the life of some newer F-16s and F-15s and upgrade them with new avionics. This plan came about because the USAF decided to extend production of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) out to 2038-40 because of rising costs in the program.

Where the F-15 fits into this is that for the C model, 178 airframes with good health were declared “golden eagles”. These aircraft would get improved upgrades and fly out until the year 2025 or so to cover the reduced number of F-35 purchase arrivals vs. the original F-35 production schedule.

Now with the latest F-15A-D grounding, the whole golden eagle program is at risk. Worse is that with C-130 problems, C-5 problems, tanker replacement problems, C4ISR upgrade problems, F-35 cost problems, to name a few, the USAF is flat out of money. The big recapitalization of airframes this year were some obligatory C-17s, some C-130Js, a handful of early production F-35s, a handful of F-22s, UAVs and a new generation 737-700 with winglets for the VIP fleet, That isn’t the whole list of new orders but you get the idea.

The F-22 in 2005 dollars if ordered up to 750 airframes would be about $59 million each. However, it is unlikely with its political baggage, to see such a number. F-35 is a large unknown quantity now reported at $100 million each, not counting inflation according to a recent article by Bob Cox of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The bosses of the USAF have drawn a line in the sand saying that there will be no more USAF purchases of F-15Es and F-16s. However, unless someone can come up with a workable value solution to cover the F-15s that are grounded, the statement by USAF now has to be reconsidered. Under the original plan above, early F-16s start getting pulled from the USAF within the next 10 years. F-22 can only cover so much mission need. F-35 is still an unknown performance quantity with so little test hours. New F-15s might be too expensive. USAF has an existing knowledge base and support structure to fly the F-16 into combat. Unless USAF can come up with workable solutions for the fighter roadmap, more F-16 purchases may be needed to keep from losing air superiority commitments for the AEFs in the coming years. This idea may have some value because the F-15s that are being grounded can only perform air-to-air missions. An order of F-16s would put an airframe into the force that can perform both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. Increasing the buy of F-22s is a good idea. Combining this with a buy of F-16s is good value.

Disclaimer-opinions expressed are those of the author and do not
represent any government organization or corporation.