The US Air Force says it’s too soon to say whether the service will swap out retired Boeing F-15C and F-15Ds for updated Lockheed Martin F-16.

During a 22 House Armed Services Committee, Representative Joe Wilson asked the director of the Air National Guard whether replacing the F-15C and F-15D fleet would have a negative impact on air superiority. Lt Gen Scott Rice answered that updated F-16s could fill the gaps left by the retired F-15s.

This week, Lockheed announced it would move its F-16 production line from Fort Worth, Texas to Greenville, South Carolina. Lockheed is also competing for the US Air Force’s T-X trainer contract and the company leverages pieces from the F-16 to build its T-50 trainer. Wilson represents a district in South Carolina, although it does not include Greenville.

While Wilson’s question led to a flurry of queries at the Congressional hearing, the USAF maintains plans to retire and replace the C and D models are pre-decisional. The retirement plan is one option the USAF could pursue in the future, but is not imminent, an air force spokesman tells FlightGlobal. Much like the USAF’s plans to retire the A-10 Warthog, the retirement option would depend on the service’s number of F-35s and possible addition of light attack platforms, she adds.

Retirement is not happening and the discussions referenced this at the Congressional hearing are "very, very pre-decisional," an Air National Guard spokesman tells FlightGlobal.

The USAF's deputy chief of staff for operations told Congress he was not sure if the retirement plan was formal.

“But I know we’re looking at maximizing the use of what limited total obligation authority we have,” Maj Gen Scott West says. “And to minimize the number of systems that we operate but still be able to accomplish the mission is what we’re always trying to do.”

Gen Rice agreed those discussions were part of planning choices for fiscal year 2019, but remained pre-decisional. The plan to upgrade existing F-16s with AESA radars was one of several options the USAF entertained last fall, but the service is still discussing them.

Rep Martha McSally, a former A-10 pilot, countered that F-15 serves a unique air-to-air mission, while F-16 does not bring the same expertise.

“That’s correct,” Rice says. “But I think that we’re getting beyond that and I think as we get into the digital age...the system will be even more important than the platform itself.”