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USAF to SLEP F-16 Fleet: Lt. Gen. Hawk Carlisle told House lawmakers last week that the Air Force intends to modernize between 300 and 350 Block 40 and Block 50 F-16s with new avionics and structural improvements to cover any shortfalls until the F-35 strike fighter comes online. Speaking during a tactical air and land forces panel, Carlisle said that number could reach as high as 600, although he said he doesn't believe the service life extension program will need to be that extensive. The Fiscal 2013 budget request is expected to include funding to start the research, development, test, and evaluation for the first three ship sets of the SLEP and to start the RDT&E for the avionics upgrade, said Carlisle. The Air Force also is conducting full-scale fatigue tests on its F-16 and F-15 fleets to determine the structural life of the aircraft. It's not yet clear when the F-35 will reach its initial operational capability, although Carlisle said it's likely to miss initial projections of 2016 by about two years. "We've got a lot of work to do, but it's going to be a good airplane and we have to have it," he said. (Carlisle written testimony)