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Nov. 9, 2010—The Air Force is exploring upgrades across the F-16 fleet to keep these aircraft flying until new F-35 strike fighters replace them, said Lt. Gen. Philip Breedlove, the Air Staff’s head of operations, plans, and requirements.

While USAF is committed to the F-35 as the future of its tactical air fleet, it is important to make sure the existing fleet of fourth generation aircraft, like the F-16, remains potent until F-35s are available in sufficient numbers, he told reporters last week in Washington, D.C.

Accordingly, the Air Force will be making appropriate investments in the F-16s in upcoming budgets to keep them structurally sound and capable in the face of increasingly sophisticated threats, said Breedlove, whom the Senate has confirmed to the rank of four-star general for appointment as USAF's vice chief of staff.

"We have already begun the discussion about how we move the current Tacair fleet to the right, in time, such that we maintain that operationally viable capability that we need," he explained.

One of the Air Force's and Air National Guard's more persistent concerns has been the fate of the ANG’s F-16 Block 30 aircraft, as these aircraft are slated to reach the end of their service lives prior to the arrival of the F-35s.

Breedlove said there has already been "fruitful discussion" with the heads of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command. And already Air Force officials have decided to make mostly "structural changes" to "pre-block" F-16s—Block 30 aircraft and earlier—to extend their operational life, he said.

The Air Force will also examine F-16 Block 40 and Block 50 aircraft "tail by tail," he said.

"Quite frankly, we will need to look at some of our newer F-16s to put the right amount of capability on to address that threat, which continues to rise across time," he said.

This would involve some sort of structural modification to almost all Block 40 and Block 50 aircraft, as well as avionics changes in some, including new communications, navigation, and radars, in some instances, he said.

There will be no blanket upgrade approach, Breedlove emphasized, as some aircraft require more robust capabilities than others. Analysis is informing Fiscal 2012 budget decisions, some of which have already been made, he said.