The US Air Force is drawing up plans for a Falcon Star structural enhancement package to sustain the operational life of the large numbers of early Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter versions in its fleet and overseas.

Falcon Star is intended as a follow-on to the Falcon Up structural strengthening initiated in the early 1990s. The work package will vary according to the version of the aircraft, but is designed to give each aircraft at least 8,000h service life. The USAF is talking to foreign F-16s operators about programme participation.

The air force is targeting its Block 25, 30/32 and 40/42 F-16C/Ds delivered between 1984 and 1991 and possibly the remaining Block 10 and 15 F-16A/Bs of the Air National Guard. "Whether we upgrade these aircraft has still be determined as the number of A/Bs to be operated is not decided," says Lt Col Vincent Adamski, Air Combat Command (ACC) F-16 weapon system team chief.

The planned six-year programme of modifications could start in fiscal year 2002, subject to programme objective memorandum (POM) approval. Avionics and propulsion improvements aside, the structural upgrade is projected to cost between $250 million and $500 million depending on the scope of work.

"We could use other targets of opportunity to obtain research and development funds to get cracking earlier-but it's not overly urgent. We've got an aggressive aircraft structural programme and quite a lot of time to play with. We usually look at POM cycle over six years and we've got plenty of cushion," says Adamski.

The ACC will work with the USAF's Ogden Air Logistics Center in Utah and Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems to develop a F-16 modifications roadmap. It will rely heavily on the manufacturer's Aircraft Structural Integrity Programme (ASIP) which monitors fleet usage. "With ASIP we know exactly how many g exceedences we're getting. What we're trying to do is shape all of those low, medium and high tolerances-and see how clear a picture each aircraft scorecard will give use," says Adamski.

Lockheed Martin designed the F-16 to have an operational life of 8,000h within a set flight profile, but the ACC warns that many will fall short of this because of prolonged combat usage without corrective action. The 100 F-16A/Bs in service average 4,000h, the 600 Block 25 and 30 C/Ds 3,000h and Block 40s around 2,250h.

• The New Zealand Cabinet has approved an air force lease of 28 F-16s through the US Foreign Military Sales system. Two five-year leases and a reactivation package are worth NZ$362.8 million ($190 million).

New Zealand will pay an average of NZ$12.5 million a year for 13 F-16As and 15 F-16Bs as well as NZ$238 million for a reactivation package that will include new engines and a 30-month airframe refurbishment.

At the end of the lease, New Zealand has an option to buy the fleet for NZ$287 million.

Source: Flight International