Eternal Life of the F-16
Development contracts have begun to convert old F-16s into drones (QF-16) as replacement for old QF-4s based on Vietnam era F-4s. These drones are used for target practice and radar decoys, for pilot training, SAM/radar testing and Airborne missile testing. The F-4 was never a very good aircraft and its poor handling and lack of engine production has caused the AirForce to look elsewhere. Initially, six F-16s will be converted, but the AirForce plans to aquire at least 220 over time.
Another aspect is the possibility future combat may include sacrificial waves of unmanned drones as bombers. Recent war game analysis of a combat with China showed conversions of their old Migs could drain defensive systems. The ability to convert old F-16s, as well as F-15s, in the same manner is something the US has had at its disposal. There's also no shortage of these aircraft, as the 3rd-largest air force on Earth is America's boneyard.
Iraq looking to buy F-16s
" Iraq has renewed talks to buy up to 36 U.S. F-16 fighter jets in a deal worth billions that Washington hopes will help contain neighboring Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported July 11. ... It (also) said Oman was also looking to purchase 18 F-16s at an estimated cost of $3.5 billion. ..."
Taiwan still trying to buy F-16s
"... A recent report commissioned by Lockheed Martin estimates the sale could be as high as $8.7 billion and generate 16,000 annual jobs for the life of the program. ... Taiwan's requests for (66) F-16C/Ds and an upgrade package for 146 aging F-16A/B fighters have been on hold since 2006 and 2009, respectively. ..."
Despite being decades old, the F-16 remains one of the best fighter jets available. Romania is also in the process of purchasing 24 refurbished F-16s and Chile is buying used F-16s from the Netherlands. The USAF operates 1,245 F-16s (701 active forces, 490 National Guard and 54 Reserve) with the intention to continue flying them until 2025. DHS also flies F-16s as interceptors.
US: over 2,200 including 40 to the Navy
Israel: over 300
Netherlands, Turkey, Belgium, Egypt: over 200 each
Greece, Taiwan, S.Korea: around 150-200 each
Norway, Singapore: around 50-100 each
Others with under 50
F-16 Block 100 - Proposal
As well as other countries looking at upgraded models (called Blocks) of the F-16, the US needs a highly-upgraded F-16 as a 1/2-priced and more nimble alternative to the F-35. Improvements would be in fuel load and survivability for patrol/strike missions of the Air Force (alongside the F-15) and compliment the F-35 on Aircraft Carriers (like the F-18 was to the F-14). Technologically the F-16 is very modern and only small tweaks, along with physical design changes, would make it a Gen4++ aircraft, greater than the current F-18 or EuroCanards. Like the current F-16, some systems wouldn't be available for export.
Here's the physical changes. Keep in mind airframes are full-packages where one change affects everything else.
F-35 development and production has made lightweight, stealth and bullet resistant wingskins and backstraps available and relatively inexpensive. Greater production only drops price further.
To improve range, some F-16s are already outfitted with CFTs (Conformal Fuel Tanks) atop the wings, alongside the back. This increased fuel load and location should be a permanent feature incorporated into the new, composite F-16 wing and back, but reshaped as a smoother curved surface integrated aerodynamically.
Additionally, the F-15 has proposed a variant of their CFTs instead designed as internal weapon bays. This 'cleans' the surface for a lower radar cross section as well as improved aerodynamics. There's enough room above the landing gear doors, below the wings on an F-16 for a single-door internal bay housing either one AIM-120 or 2 HellfireIIs or 2 AIM-9s on each side (the F-15 shown is dual-door). The increased sectional area below the wing from these bays would be offset by the greater increase above the wing from fuel.
But all this increased sectional area kills the effectiveness of the horizontal stabilizers (tail). Moreover, what's the point of reducing cross section if you keep the vertical tail - reflecting like a billboard - as well as the old inlet? A "stealth inlet" was developed back in the late '90s. A more substantial change to the F-16, required by the add-ons and stealth reduction, is to make it a V-tail like the YF-23 BlackWidow. This would require greater development of the fly-by-wire software, already needed from changing the aerodynamics, but also F-16 pilots would need to retrain for the V-tail.
The "America Special" would get one last upgrade, not to be exported. Conversion from the F110 engine run for decades and all across the world, to a single F119 powering the F-22 Raptor. The F-16 really needs the increased power to compensate for the add-ons as well as the low heat signature to complete the stealth development. The 2D thrust vectoring, higher supercruise speeds for greater range are both bonuses, as is reducing maintenance cost for the F-22 by reducing F119 cost through increased production.
I wonder how easy it will be to hack "skynet".
Aug 4, 2011 "RABAT - Morocco took delivery on Aug. 4 of a first batch of 24 F-16 fighter jets from the United States as part of its air force modernization program, a senior U.S. officer said. Four F-16s were delivered to Morocco, Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward of the U.S. Air Force told reporters in the southern city of Marrakesh. Another seven would be delivered at the beginning of 2012 and the remaining 13 in the following months, she added..."
These F-16s beat out France's top-end Rafale Fighter for the contract. The sales to Iraq, Taiwan and Oman are still pending Congressional approval.
There's also a deal approved for Pakistan, but like all military sales, it's not final until they arrive.
~ 18 new F-16s with option for 18 more
~ 26 surplus USAF F-16s as well
~ 60 upgrade kits for Pakistan's existing fleet
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