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GAO: Upgrade estimates on F-16 need updating

Nov. 23, 2012 - 12:28PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 23, 2012 - 12:28PM  |  
An F-16 Fighting Falcon from the Alabama Air National Guard participates in a training sortie during the Green Flag-West 13-2 exercise Nov. 4 over Nevada. The Government Accountability Office wants the Air Force to update its estimates for potential F-16 upgrades.
An F-16 Fighting Falcon from the Alabama Air National Guard participates in a training sortie during the Green Flag-West 13-2 exercise Nov. 4 over Nevada. The Government Accountability Office wants the Air Force to update its estimates for potential F-16 upgrades. (Staff Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal / Air Force)
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The Government Accountability Office is urging the Air Force to update its cost estimates for potential F-16 upgrades and provide an independent review, saying that the service's initial cost estimates are not fully credible.

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The Government Accountability Office is urging the Air Force to update its cost estimates for potential F-16 upgrades and provide an independent review, saying that the service's initial cost estimates are not fully credible.

A GAO report released Nov. 15 states that the Air Force's cost estimates to update 350 F-16s mostly followed cost-estimate best practices, and lacked the independent review and sensitivity analysis that would accurately project cost changes if the number of fighters to be updated was to increase.

"As a result, decision-makers do not have the visibility of how much the total costs will be and how they may increase if program quantities increase or additional work is required on some aircraft, which could hinder their ability to assess budgets and affordability," the report states.

Because it is facing numerous delays and cost increases on its next-generation F-35 program, the service has said it plans to upgrade 350 F-16s at a total cost of $2.61 billion — $1.79 billion for capability upgrades and $820 million for a service life extension program.

The upgrade is called the combat avionics programmed extension suite, CAPES, which includes four changes to the Fighting Falcon. The jet's mechanically scanning array radar will be replaced with an active electronic scanned radar, the service will install a new high-resolution display unit, install an electronic warfare suite to integrate communications and display equipment, and the jet will get an integrated broadcast service.

These upgrades, combined with the SLEP to test the long-term durability of the aircraft, are expected to add at least 2,000 flight hours to the jet and keep it flying past 2030.

"We want to make sure that the life of the aircraft is extended long enough to fill any potential gaps that we might have with the fifth-generation fleet," Col. Joe Beissner, chief of the combat aircraft division at Air Combat Command, said recently.

In 2009, the Air Force presented a report that determined upgrading F-16s to keep the fleet at required strength would cost just 10 percent to 15 percent of the cost of buying new F-16s, F-15Es or F/A-18 E/Fs.

The service said 350 would be upgraded, but that up to 650 could be updated if the need arose. But, the GAO said, since the Air Force did not provide a projection for how much it would cost to increase the total number to that amount, the estimates do not have full transparency and decision-makers lack accurate information.

In its response to the report, the Defense Department said the Air Force had updated its estimated cost for 350 aircraft, but not the maximum of 650.

The Air Force Cost Analysis Agency has also reviewed the service's cost estimates for the fiscal 2014 budget development process, and would submit its new estimates for an independent review.

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