Funding to upgrade engines in F-16 fighter jets will give the Toledo-based 180th Air National Guard Fighter Wing a fleet as modern as any in the nation, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) said last night.
"This is a tribute to all who have worked so hard to distinguish themselves in the field of flight," Miss Kaptur said. "They deserve this."
The 180th, with its base at Toledo Express Airport, would get $30 million of $68 million approved yesterday by the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee as part of the 2010 defense appropriations bill, said Miss Kaptur, a subcommittee member.
The bill to fund Defense Department programs could be considered by the entire House next week, she said.
"What this does is it secures the jobs and the military presence of the fighter wing in our region," Miss Kaptur said.
With the funding, the 180th will complete a project begun several years ago - to install powerful Pratt & Whitney 229 engines in all 18 F-16s at the Toledo air base.
"It modernizes the aircraft," said Ohio National Guard Adjutant Gen. Gregory Wayt. "It's going to extend the life of the aircraft."
The new engine adds 5,000 pounds of thrust, a 20 percent increase, to an F-16.
"When we're putting our pilots in harm's way, they need the speed and maneuverability that that engine provides," General Wayt said. "By putting the engine in the aircraft, it makes it the equivalent capability of the newest F-16 aircraft" - at 15 percent of the cost, he added.
Each engine costs about $5 million.
General Wayt said the engine upgrades bring efficiency and versatility to the fleet. For instance, only the F-16s with the new engine could be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, which meant "we were wearing out the fleet quicker," he said.
He said the old engines removed from F-16s are given to F-15 wings of the Guard, which in turn upgrades their fleets.
"We save the taxpayers' money two ways with this," General Wayt said.
The Toledo air base has about 1,000 guardsmen, he said.
Upgrading the engines "has been a top priority of our Guard base for many years," Miss Kaptur said.
But before yesterday, funding to upgrade the
F-16s came "a drip at a time," she said.
"Finally we have a commitment to upgrade these craft as we await the next generation, the joint strike fighters," Miss Kaptur said. "This really upgrades our units. It means our fighter wing can be confident they have the latest technology. It's the best fighter jet in the world."
Four years ago, as the Defense Department conducted a periodic review of bases, community and civic leaders lobbied the Pentagon to keep the 180th at Toledo Express.
"Save the 180th" was the rallying cry. F-16-shaped magnets with the slogan, "Retain the Toledo Air Guard," adorned cars and trucks, mailboxes and refrigerators throughout northwest Ohio.
The Toledo air base remained open after the review, even gaining personnel and equipment from bases that closed.
The upgraded aircraft could add value to the Toledo air base when the Defense Department next conducts a review.
"We're in a better position," Miss Kaptur said.
General Wayt said each review process sets its own standards. Still, because the F-16s at the 180th will be upgraded, "that aircraft will be around awhile in Toledo," he said. "This is a good news story for Toledo."
The fighter wing's primary mission is to train and be ready with units for active duty in case of emergency or war. The unit is estimated to contribute $85 million annually in payroll and purchases to the local economy, according to Miss Kaptur's office.
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