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The Air Force is finalizing its plan to upgrade the F-16s tasked with homeland defense, starting with those on alert to protect the nation's capital.

The commander of First Air Force, the numbered air force tasked with homeland protection, filed an urgent operational need request for new active electronically scanned array radars on the F-16s flown by Air National Guard pilots in his command. The service has moved quickly on the request, and will announce a final decision on its plan for the upgrades within the next month or two, said Maj. Gen. Timothy Ray, the acquisition director of global power programs, said Thursday at a House Armed Services Committee hearingon March 26.

"We are looking very closely at the capabilities it would require," Ray said. "We take this mission very seriously, defending the nation's skies. Looking at the F-16 and the options we have in front of us, we want to make it very clear in our minds that we are not limiting the capabilities in any efforts we take on."

The F-16s of the 113th Wing of the Washington, D.C., Air National Guard at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, would be the first to receive the upgrades.

In addition to the radar, tThe upgrade will be more than just the radar, it will include the sensor, a surveillance system and a command and control system, said Lt. Gen. James Holmes, the deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements.

The service estimates it would cost $3.2 million per aircraft to install an integrated AESA radar system.

"Those elements are falling in place here in the National Capital Region and we expect to move forward to provide a rapid capability there first, and then see how we could expand it across the country," Holmes said.

Earlier this year, the First 1stAir Force commander filed the request for the Guard Block 30 F-16s. An urgent operational need request identifies something that is needed "during a current conflict or crisis situation that if not satisfied in an expedited manner will result in unacceptable loss of life or critical mission failure," according to the Air Force.

The service in March filed a "sources sought" notice to contractors for information on the development of the radar for the F-16. While the initial request was for Air National Guard Block 30 F-16s, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told lawmakers that he would like to see the whole fleet outfitted with the new radars.

"We need to develop an AESA radar plan for our F-16s who are conducting the homeland defense mission in particular," Welsh told the House Armed Services Committee. "Our entire fleet — active, Guard and Reserve — none of them have been upgraded with that radar."

The service estimates it would cost $3.2 million per aircraft to install an integrated AESA radar system.

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