• The U.S. Air Force is reportedly looking into buying new F-16 fighter jets.
  • The Air Force received its first F-16s in 1978, and the plane has been in continuous service since.
  • Upgrades for the foreign market have ensured new jets with modern tech are ready to go.

    The U.S. Air Force is seriously considering ordering more F-16 fighter jets, more than 42 years after the service received its first “Fighting Falcon.” The Air Force, which once vowed it would never buy a non-stealthy fighter again, appears to have had a change in heart. The extreme cost of stealthy fighters like the F-35 probably has something to do with it.

    According to Aviation Week & Space Technology, the Air Force is reviewing its tactical air requirements for the 2020s and is giving real thought to purchasing more F-16s. The Air Force currently flies over 900 F-16s, including 783 single-seat F-16Cs and 151 F-16Ds. The average age of the F-16C fleet, per Air Force magazine, is 28.7 years.

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    General Dynamics originally designed the F-16 to be an agile, lightweight, inexpensive multi-role fighter meant to balance the more capable—and more expensive—F-15 Eagle.

    Early F-16s carried just two Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles and 10,200 pounds of bombs and missiles on external hardpoints. General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin eventually built more than 4,500 Fighting Falcons, and 25 countries, including Turkey, Norway, and Iraq, ultimately adopted the plane.

    Over the years, the F-16 evolved to gain a more capable active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, longer-range AMRAAM radar-guided missiles, and fuselage-conforming fuel tanks. The Air Force hasn’t bought a new F-16 since the early 2000s, and most of the new upgrades have been driven by export orders to countries like Israel and South Korea.

    taiwan defence military drill

    A Taiwanese F-16V releases flares, 2020.

    SAM YEHGetty Images

    The latest version, known as F-16 Block 70/72 or F-16V, incorporates the new APG-83 AESA radar, infrared search and track targeting capability, a new flight control computer, and the new Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS), which prevents the plane from crashing into the ground if the pilot becomes unconscious or disoriented.


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    The Air Force’s F-16 fleet was originally supposed to be replaced by the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, and the service never intended to buy a non-stealthy fighter again. Unfortunately, the F-35A’s cost of $110 million per plane, while gradually decreasing, is still nowhere near the $50 million originally promised.

    Plus, as the Air Force buys these new F-35s, it must also pay to fly them—and that isn’t cheap. Each F-35 costs an eye-popping $44,000 an hour to fly. That translates into an investment of $44 million for every 1,000 hours of flight time, or just under one-third the cost of the plane itself.

    The F-35 was supposed to be the F-16 of its time, but it appears the F-16 could once again repeat its role as a low-cost fighter—more than 40 years after it first entered service.


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