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Longer life for F-16s and Duluth's Air National Guard?

The Department of Defense is expected to announce that it's extending the service life of Block 40 F-16s to 2018. That could be good news for Duluth's 148th Fighter Wing, which is scheduled to have its older Block 25s replaced with Block 40s in 2...

The Department of Defense is expected to announce that it's extending the service life of Block 40 F-16s to 2018.

That could be good news for Duluth's 148th Fighter Wing, which is scheduled to have its older Block 25s replaced with Block 40s in 2013 -- just two years before the newer model is slated to be phased out.

The Air Force released a long-term plan in January that considers Duluth and 40 other bases across the nation as potential homes for the F-35 Lightning II fighter. Receiving F-35s could ensure that the 148th, which employs about 465 people full-time and more than 1,000 total, would exist beyond 2040.

But first the 148th needs a plane that will carry it until F-35s are available.

"Negotiations are still continuing -- our federal, state and local officials are still pursuing something a little bit newer that has more longevity," Flanagan said. "That's what we hope for."

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While supporters of the 148th were hoping for the latest Block 50 F-16s, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England has indicated that the department will extend the life of the Block 40s that Duluth is expecting, according to Sen. Norm Coleman's office.

The 148th has not heard officially that the life of Block 40s is being extended, Flanagan said. Nor could the Department of Defense Public Affairs Office confirm England's decision Thursday.

Block 25s are the oldest F-16s in the U.S. Air Force arsenal, dating from the early 1980s. Block 40s mostly were produced between 1988 and 1995. Block 50 F-16s, the current production model, were first produced in the early 1990s.

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