A Kunsan Air Base F-16 squadron began swapping its jets last week for upgraded models from an Alaska base, part of an ongoing avionics improvement program.

The upgraded F-16s make it easier for pilots to get and share crucial information while flying. And because those jets are being used at more bases, it’s easier for pilots to begin flying when they deploy to new locations.

Lt. Col. Thomas Klopotek, commander of Kunsan’s 80th Fighter Squadron, said the arrival of the first four jets from Eielson Air Force Base is “huge.”

“It allows us to go from one base to the next without having to train for a different aircraft every time,” he said. “It’s going to save us a lot of time and hopefully money, and hopefully make us better pilots because of it.”

Kunsan is getting the jets as part of the Common Configuration Implementation Program. The air base is the first in South Korea to get the upgraded jets, and its 80th Fighter Squadron will receive about 20 of the aircraft by next summer.

The Air Force flies three blocks of F-16s, essentially three production versions outfitted with different avionics packages. Kunsan’s 80th Fighter Squadron pilots now fly the oldest of those jets — Block 30s, built in the late 1980s. The Air Force is putting retrofitted Block 40s and Block 50s at active duty bases, and sending the older Block 30s to Guard and Reserve units.

The Block 40s and Block 50s, built between 1989 and 1994, have been retrofitted with similar equipment, including an improved communications system that lets pilots share information with each other and people on the ground more quickly.

“It’s a way that I can have access to a lot more information that’s available in the network,” Klopotek said. “We can do that in almost real-time fashion.”

The upgraded Block 40s also have color multifunction displays, a more powerful computer system and a new helmet system that projects flight information directly onto the pilot’s field of vision. In other words, pilots can see the display anywhere they turn, and they don’t have to look straight ahead.

Kunsan pilots who have not flown the upgraded Block 40s will undergo eight hours of academic training, learning new checklist procedures and fly one to three training flights.

Kunsan’s Block 30s will be sent to Eielson, where they will be painted like fighter jets from the former Soviet Union and other countries and be used as “aggressors” during training flights.

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