Joint chiefs chairman in Colo.: F-16 units’ fate undecided
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AP) – Air Force units that fly aging F-16 fighter jets on homeland security missions may not learn their future for two years, the nation’s top military officer said Monday.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it could be 12 to 24 months before the Defense Department decides the future of F-16 units.
He spoke with about 100 members of the Colorado Air National Guard at Buckley Air Force Base outside Denver.
The guard includes a squadron of F-16s that are already past their expected life span but have been updated with new software and structural improvements.
The squadron is one of the U.S. Northern Command’s alert sites, which scramble jets in homeland security emergencies.
Northern Command, based at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., has scrambled Colorado F-16s twice this year.
In January, they escorted an AirTran Airways flight after a report about an unruly passenger aboard.
Three weeks ago, they escorted a United Airlines flight jetliner after a Qatari diplomat caused a scare by smoking in a lavatory and then joking about trying to light his shoe.
F-16s will eventually be replaced by F-35s, but it’s not certain when, or what units get them first.
“I didn’t come here today with an answer to that,” Mullen said when asked about the Colorado squadron’s future.
He said it’s more expensive to keep older jets in the air than newer ones, and that will play a role
Lt. Col. Tim Conklin, an F-16 pilot with the Colorado unit, said the F-16 was designed to last for 4,000 hours of flying time, but after upgrades, many in Colorado have reached 6,000 hours.
Some would need further upgrades to keep flying until the F-35s arrive, Conklin said.
The Colorado squadron has about 23 F-16s, and some are more than 20 years old, he said.
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