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20th FW performs mission-critical F-16 modernization

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Erin Stanley
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The summer of 1978 meets the spring of 2023 as 45 years of progress and modernization to the F-16 Fighting Falcon airframe continues in the form of ongoing mission-critical upgrades to the 20th Fighter Wing’s (FW) fleet here in line with the U.S. Air Force’s Service Life Extension Program (SLEP).

In conjunction with SLEP, maintainers assigned to the 55th, 77th and 79th Fighter Generation Squadrons (FGS) worked together over the past year to install the APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar, a multifunction, active electronically scanned array radar, replacing the legacy APG-68 model and providing 22 modification upgrades to the more than 70 F-16s at Shaw.

These modifications give the fleet the same advanced radar equipment that is standard for fifth generation F-22 Raptors and F-35A Lightning II aircraft, ensuring 20th FW aircraft are ready for tomorrow’s missions, today.

“What this upgrade means for Shaw is that not only just one or two jets in a formation are the most lethal, but the increased situational awareness across the formation is going to be incredible, making us a total lethal force,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Matthew “Cash” Croghan, 79th Fighter Squadron chief of weapons. “Our adversaries haven’t slowed down getting new technology, so it’s critical that we ensure the F-16s stay relevant and stay lethal to be able to compete with [them.]”

The updated F-16 radar systems allow pilots to use Synthetic Aperture Radar mapping to detect and deploy weapons against air-to-air and air-to-ground threats at much longer ranges, keeping the aircraft in the fight as the 20th FW progresses into the next decade of threats.

“These modifications not only enhance the training that aircrew and pilots receive, but also better equip them in an Area of Responsibility environment,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Bryan Ellis, 79th FGS specialist expeditor. “All the units on Shaw will be more lethal, more combat-ready, and able to perform better against new types of threats we may encounter [down range].”

These upgrades enhance the Wild Weasels’ real-world and training capabilities, allowing 20th FW pilots and aircrew to train to the nation’s adversaries’ more advanced threats, which ultimately allows the 20th FW to be more lethal and survivable in combat scenarios. Paired with initiatives like the South Carolina Electronic Warfare Range (SCEWR) Initiative, which innovatively uses standard training airspace in new, dynamic ways, 20th FW pilots are leveraging a full range of tools to sharpen their combat capabilities.

“We are upgrading to the foundational capabilities that will make the F-16 a valuable part of the U.S. Air Force’s ‘4 plus 1’ future fighter fleet,” said 20th Operations Group Commander Col. Kevin Lord.

The training value and real-world impact to missions cannot be overstated, he added, referencing U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr.’s comments in the March 2023 timeframe that the F-16 will be included in the Air Force’s long term plans.

“Upgrading our F-16s with the most advanced equipment cements what we already know: that our pilots can deter and defeat any adversary in the ever-changing threat landscape,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Kristoffer “Smirk” Smith, 20th FW commander.

The upgrades are expected to continue as the 20th FW modernizes its fleet into the next year, making the wing the U.S. Air Force’s largest combat-capable active duty F-16 wing providing combat airpower to combatant commanders around the world.