Maj Gen Scott West, Director of Current Operations and Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, HQ USAF, told the Senate House Armed Services Committee on March 22 during a ‘Current State of the USAF’ hearing that the Air National Guard had tabled a ‘predecisional’ consideration of replacing the F-15C Eagle with the F-16C in the homeland defense role. Retiring the ANG F-15C/D fleet would be taken as a cost-saving measure.
Speaking about current USAF readiness, Gen West said: ‘The average age of our fleets is 27 years old. [We are] sustaining older fleets with less than required manning.’ He said this has a direct effect on readiness. ‘The F-15C was our air superiority fighter, now F-22 has taken that role. We have capacity in the F-16C community to racapitalize with a new radar to serve the same capacity the F-15C has done.’
‘Right now it’s planning, we haven’t made the choices yet,’ said Lt Gen Scott Rice, ANG director. ‘There about four or five different things, one of the options is retiring the F-15Cs and then replacing them with F-16s with upgraded radars.’
The ANG and the three active duty F-15C squadrons are in need of a substancial upgrade. Boeing has tabled the F-15 2040C and a host of refinements for the F-15C in the air superiority role. However the USAF has made little secret of its concerns over cost. The F-16C radar upgrade has stalled on many occasions, and presumably this latest move is aimed at realizing the F-16C upgrade plan, but at the expense of the F-15C. It may also indicate that the F-35A is acquitting itself to the air superiority role somewhat better than the air force had originally expected.
Lockheed Martin might also see this as a chance for a major return-to-works or even new-build option for USAF F-16s. Lockheed says it will deliver the last F-16 from its Fort Worth factory in September, then take a two-year break in production to move the line to Greenville, South Carolina, dovetailing with Stateside T-50A production if it wins the USAF’s T-X competition.