WESTFIELD, Mass. (WWLP)- The U.S. Air Force recently announced $12 billion in funding will go towards bringing upgrades to 435 F-15 fighter jets at bases across the country. The 18 F-15’s at the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield are among them.
Col. Tom Bladen, the 104th Fighter Wing’s Operations Group Commander told 22News, “Barnes has already received some of the upgrades previous to this mainly in the form of a new advanced radar system, as well as a new targeting pod that allows us when we’re flying our alert missions to basically track and identify different airplanes during the nighttime hours mainly.”
Additional upgrades and the timeline in which they will happen at Barnes have not been released.
The U.S. Air Force said some of the upgrades to F-15’s across the country will include new radar technology, advanced infrared search, and track capabilities.
Initially the F-15 fleet was to be replaced with the F-22 Raptor, but production came to a halt with budget issues in 2009 and only 188 were ever purchased by the Pentagon. With rival nations like China and Russia closing the technology gap, the Air Force is hoping to extend the F-15 lifespan.
Col. Alexander Haldopoulos, Commander of the 104th Fighter Wing Maintenance Group said he has his concerns, “The F-15 has been around since 1972, if it carries forward to 2040 like some are saying well that’s nearly 70 years of capability.. And that’s happened before in some of our larger airplanes, bombers, tankers, transporters. I don’t think that’s ever happened before in the fighter realm.”
The Air Force said many of the F-15’s will also be modified to carry 16 missiles instead of the standard 8. Upgrades will also be made so the F-15 can easily communicate with the other modern aircraft like the F-22.
At the same time Barnes is one of several bases currently being considered for the Air Forces newest fighter jet, the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter. If chosen, the first F-35’s would arrive in 2022.