Lockheed Martin (General Dynamics) F-16 Fighting Falcon - United States, 1978
Detailing the development and operational history of the Lockheed Martin (General Dynamics) F-16 Fighting Falcon Lightweight Multirole 4th Generation Fighter.
Entry last updated on 11/14/2017; Authored by Dan Alex; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The multirole-minded Lockheed F-16 Fighting Falcon has proven a favorite in the export market with over 20 operators committed to the type.
The General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin) F-16 "Fighting Falcon" was a product of Cold War-development and introduced along the lines of agility, lightweight classification and controlled costs - a multirole fighter to serve alongside the air superiority-minded McDonnell Douglas F-15 "Eagle". First flying on January 20th, 1974, the F-16 was formally introduced on August 17th, 1978 and has since seen production reach over 4,500 units with sales to over 25 foreign parties. Modernization programs have helped to evolve the F-16 in reaching all-new capabilities over the modern battlefield, allowing the system to retain a viable presence in the exceedingly computer-controlled airspaces of today. Its multirole nature allows the standard aircraft design to undertake a variety of roles as required and customizability allows each operator to field local weaponry, systems and equipment as needed.
Despite its given name of "Fighting Falcon", the F-16 is also recognized under the nickname of "Viper". As it stands by today's classification conventions, the F-16 is deemed a "Fourth Generation Fighter" now that the Lockheed F-22 Raptor has officially ushered in the era of the "Fifth Generation Fighter". However, the costs associated with 5th generation types ensure that many 4th generation models will continue flying into the 2030s.
The F-16 in U.S. service (and perhaps elsewhere) is expected to be replaced by the highly touted Lockheed F-35 "Lightning II" stealth-minded strike fighter. However, mounting delays and cost overruns in the program have extended the useful service lives of existing Fourth Generation Fighters like the F-16s for the near future, prompting various modernization programs to be enacted in keep the aircraft flying for years to come. Additionally, the procurement costs associated with new technology will keep the F-16 a mainstay of foreign air powers for the foreseeable decade and perhaps beyond.
The F-16 was born from the USAF's LightWeight Fighter (LWF) program emerging in the early 1970s. The program intended to validate the prospect of a light, single-engine, single-seat fighter form against the norm of heavier, twin-engined designs which proved the call of the day. The field originally included submissions from Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed, LTV and Northrop but this was eventually whittled down to the two major players in General Dynamics and Northrop. General Dynamics put forth their "YF-16" against Northrop's "YF-17" and two prototypes each were allowed under the competition. The YF-16 went airborne for the first time on January 20th, 1974 and differentiated from the Northrop design by its single-engine approach (the YF-17 utilized two in a side-by-side arrangement). After a year of evaluations, the USAF formally selected the YF-16 as its LWF winner and production mounts took on the finalized F-16 designation, earning itself the nickname of "Fighting Falcon" (the YF-17 eventually evolved to be selected as the U.S. Navy's F/A-18 "Hornet" in another subsequent program).
After the USAF arranged for production to begin in 1975, the aircraft was also taken on by European parties aligned with American interests. This included the likes of Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands and Norway who agreed on localized production of the type. The first production-quality F-16 went airborne for the first time in 1978 marking the start of a now-storied aviation career.
At the time of its inception, the F-16 became the first production-quality military fighter to feature Fly-By-Wire (FBW) controlling. This was coupled to a "relaxed" airframe design to allow for maximum effort from the onboard digital processing scheme and improved responsiveness considerably.
Externally, the F-16 became a well-contoured, streamlined aircraft with extensive blending used in the wings and fuselage. The pilot sat in a cockpit that was well-forward in the fuselage length, given a very commanding view of the surrounding area through a large, unobstructed canopy. The cockpit included a HOTAS (Hands-On Throttle And Stick) configuration (sidestick controller) for piloting efficiency as well as a noticeably-reclined (30-degrees) ejection seat. The nose cone housed the radar system which was coupled to in-flight systems and the weapon stores. The main wing appendages were swept along their leading edges and each wingtip supported an AIM-9 "Sidewinder" short-range air-to-air missile. The empennage consisted of a single vertical tail fin and a pair of horizontal planes. Ventral strakes were noted under the tail unit. The engine was buried deep within the fuselage and aspirated through an oblong air intake found under the cockpit and exhausted through a single ring at the base of the tail rudder. Each main wing supported multiple ordnance hardpoints with the inboard most plumbed for fuel stores. There also proved a centerline hardpoint, also plumbed, which helped to grant the aircraft considerably increased operating ranges. The undercarriage rather narrow-track in its arrangement and all-centralized around the belly. The undercarriage consisted of three single-wheeled legs with two main legs under center mass and a nose leg just aft and under the cockpit.
Armament-wise, the F-16 was granted a 20mm M61 Vulcan 6-barreled Gatling-type internal cannon for close-in work. Beyond its typical wingtip missile armament, the aircraft eventually supported medium-range air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, precision-guided munitions and conventional drop ordnance (cluster bombs, general purpose bombs, runway denial weapons, etc...).
All told, the F-16 has evolved to become a proven, multi-faceted war machine which enables it undertake a plethora of mission types - from interception to patrol and general strike to anti-radar. Foreign buyers have also added localized ordnance options to the existing F-16 armament suite for a more customized approach to war. Beyond the given armament options, the F-16 also supports mission-specific equipment such as Electronic CounterMeasures (ECM) pods, targeting pods, sensor pods and chaff/flare dispenser pods. The original radar was the Westinghouse (Northrop Grumman) APG-66 series.
The F-16 has matured along many variant lines since its adoption. The original single-seat multirole model was the F-16A and these were joined by two-seat F-16B models which added a second cockpit. In 1984, improved forms emerged as the F-16C and F-16D (single- and twin-seat models respectively). These brought about improved avionics and radar functionality as well as "all-weather" capability and ground strike qualities. In supporting the newer AIM-120 "AMRAAM" medium range air-to-air missile, the aircraft was granted a Beyond Visual Range (BVR) engagement/kill capability. The tail fin was extended slightly forward and a new wide-angled HUD was introduced. Production of F-16s has spanned across several notable "Blocks", each containing changes all their own. C/D models also made up the F-16N/TF-16N mounts used in US Navy aggressor training.
The popular F-16C "Block 50" model is powered by a single General Electric F110-GE-100 series afterburning turbofan engine outputting 17,150lbs of dry thrust and28,600lbs of thrust with reheat applied. The aircraft is capable of reaching speeds of 915 miles per hour (sea level, March 1.2) and can see speeds top Mach 2 in at altitude. Ferry range is 2,600 miles with fuel drop tanks applied while a combat radius under relatively heavy bomb load is equal to about 350 miles. The airframe can reach a service ceiling of 50,000 feet with a 50,000 feet-per-minute rate-of-climb - these qualities making it a sound, quick-responding interceptor.
The F-16 E- and F-models (single- and twin-seat versions respectively) are more offerings and feature the more powerful F110-132 series afterburning engine. They are also outfitted with AN/APG-80 AESA (Active Electronically-Scanned Array) radar and all-modern avionics. This particular model series formed the basis of the "F-16IN" ("Super Viper") intended for India's MRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) program but eventually dropped from contention. The similar F-16I designation marks a twin-seat development in use by the Israeli Air Force.
The F-16 has served across many air powers beyond the U.S. since its arrival. Procurement and, in some cases local production, were granted to allies in Belgium, Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Israel, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and Turkey (among others). The remerging Iraqi Air Force has relatively recently committed to the purchase of F-16 Fighting Falcons for its revitalized inventory (announced September 2010). These aircraft will carry the designation of "F-16IQ". The Japanese Air Force relies on a heavily-modified, dimensionally-larger and locally-produced version of the F-16 as the Mitsubishi "F-2". South Korean F-16s are recognized as "KF-16" and are produced locally by Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI). Italy operated as many as 30 leased (ex-USAF) F-16s between 2001 and 2012 but have since given up the type. Nevertheless, the F-16 certainly remains a potent and popular multirole performer.
The F-16 happened to appear at a time when its combat services could be put to use rather immediately. The type stocked the US military at various levels (and service branches) and was also selected to headline the "Thunderbirds" aerial acrobat group. The first, high-level combat service ofF-16s occurred during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 where its multirole capabilities were put to good use in defeating the Iraqi air defense network. Following the war, the F-16 stayed on station in enforcing the "No Fly" zones over northern and southern Iraq. F-16s also participated with European air forces in joint operations over the Balkans during instability and civil warring in the region. Despite their several decades of service, F-16s remain a primary component of US air operations and should remain so for the near-future. The F-16 has also served well under combat conditions with Israel. Israeli F-16s proved particularly useful in its 1982 Lebanon War against Syrian fighters and remain in constant readiness for today's volatile Middle East region. Israeli F-16I Block 52 models feature Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFTs), advanced ECMs and a two-seat cockpit arrangement.
The F-16 design is certainly not without faults and several notable accidents and incidents have occurred to the line, some resulting in death, over the decades dating back to a Fort Worth, Texas incident on May 8th, 1975. The latest incident was the loss of a USAF aircraft and pilot on January 28th, 2013 over the Adriatic Sea near the Italian coast.
As a single-engine design, much faith is placed on reliability of the F-16 system to bring its pilot home safely. Twin-engined aircraft can rely on the power of a single installation in the event of failure to one unit. However, both expenses and complexity are ramped up in a twin-engined design.
The F-16XL Cranked-Arrow Falcon
The F-16XL existed as a technological offshoot of the base F-16 fighter line. The primary modification became its "cranked-arrow" delta wing design which allowed for better lift, control, range and ordnance carrying. Its primary purpose was initially to serve as a test platform for high-speed research though it did end up competing (unsuccessfully) against a modified two-seat McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle to replace the outgoing General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark interdictor strike-fighter. This emerged as the F-15E "Strike Eagle". Only two prototype F-16XLs were ever completed and both went on to serve NASA in the decades up to 2009.
The Proposed Navalized Falcon
The Vought "Model 1600" was a Vought/General Dynamics attempt to promote a navalized variant of the F-16 to the United States Navy. The proposed produce never matured with the F/A-18 Hornet being selected in its place. Interestingly, the F/A-18 held roots in the YF-17 which competed (unsuccessfully) against the YF-16.
The Falcon Future
Despite its excellence in service, the F-16 is a design built upon 1970s technology and operators have already - or will eventually - move on from the design to a more modern offering. Euro-players like Belgium are entertaining F-16 replacements and may lean in the direction of the Lockheed F-35 Lightning II Fifth Generation Aircraft. Other contenders include the Boeing Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, and Saab Gripen. Belgian F-16s are expected to serve into the early 2020s before replaced fully by 2029.
The last Fighting Falcons, these for the rebuilding air service of Iraq (through the F-16IQ models), will be delivered in 2017.
There remains potential that the nation of Pakistan will invest in the purchase of eight F-16 aircraft. These are expected to be delivered for 2019 should the deal pass through.
August 2016 - Lockheed is pushing forward a deal with India that, should the Asian power purchase a stock of advanced F-16 (Block 70) aircraft, the company would arrange for local production in India.
October 2016 - Romania has become one of the newest operators of the F-16 product in an attempt to modernize its fighter stock. Deliveries of ex-Portuguese Air Force "Fighting Falcons" to Romania began in late September 2016. The deal includes twelve total aircraft as well as technical and training support. The F-16 is expected to succeed the aging (though upgraded) line of Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 "Fishbed" fighters (Lancer guise).
November 2016 - South Korea has green-lighted an upgrade program covering 134 KF-16 aircraft to the F-16V "Viper" standard. Lockheed is set to handle the conversions.
March 2017 - The nation of Poland declined to support the purchase of refurbished F-16 Falcons (A- and B-models). Some 50 to 100 fighter jets are sought for the expanding and modernizing Polish Air Force.
March 2017 - Belgium has formally requested proposals from Dassault, Saab, Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin and Boeing to replace its fleet of F-16 multirole fighters. In contention are the French Rafale, Swedish Gripen (E/F), British Typhoon, Lockheed Lightning and Boeing Super Hornet.
September 2017 - It was announced that the United States State Department has approved a sale of nineteen F-16V Fighting Falcon models in the modern "Viper" configuration to the nation of Bahrain. The deal is worth $3.87 billion USD.
September 2017 - It was revealed that Indonesia is upgraded part of its Fighting Falcon fleet which consists of A- and B-models. At least nine are to be modernized with new avionics and other changes intend on bringing the fleet near Block 52+ standard.
October 2017 - With its national economy on the rise, F-16 operator Greece is looking to upgrade its mish-mash stock of Fighting Falcons to more modern standards. Some may be modernized to the potent "Viper" standard.
October 2017 - The United States State Department has approved the sale of F-16V aircraft to the nation of Greece. These will feature modern radar and software as well as communications gear.
November 2017 - The United Arab Emirates has committed $1.65 billion to upgrade its fleet of F-16s (Block 60) with Lockheed Martin in an effort to modernize the multirole platforms.