Fighting Falcon: The End of an Era? (excerpt)
Fighting Falcon: The End of an Era? (excerpt)
(Source: Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses; issued Jan 19, 2018)
By Kishore Kumar Khera
On November 14, 2017, four decades of continuous production of the Fighting Falcon (F16) ceased at Fort Worth, Texas.1 The facilities are being relocated to South Carolina and would take approximately two years to become fully functional. They will provide maintenance support for the existing fleet of F16s till their phase out. So far, Lockheed Martin, the company that now owns the F16, in conjunction with multiple production lines in Belgium, the Netherlands, Turkey, Japan and South Korea, has delivered 4588 F16s to 26 countries.2 An order of 16 aircraft for Bahrain3 and upgrade work for Singapore’s F16 fleet will stretch the manufacturing and upgrade facilities till 2023.4 The rate of phase out of the F16’s existing inventory has been much faster than its production for over a decade. With no further orders, the F16 may gradually fly into oblivion.

The F16 is a product of the Light Weight Fighter programme launched in the 1970's. The operational necessity was to outmatch the Soviet workhorse MiG21 in terms of combat manoeuvre. A number of novel concepts were incorporated in the design and later production models of the F16 including bubble single frame canopy, side-mounted control stick and the 30 degree reclined pilot seat. However, it was the concept of relaxed static stability in combination with Fly By Wire (FBW) and a very powerful power plant that made the F16 the pioneer of the 9G club.5 Its induction into the United States Air Force (USAF) in 1979 was followed by induction in the air forces of various NATO partners from 1980 onwards. Gradually, its export to a large number of countries in Asia was permitted. Post-Saddam Iraq is the latest recipient of this aircraft.

The combat aircraft inventory in the world has changed in the last five decades. From a peak of over 38,000 in 1988,6 it declined substantially after the end of the Cold War. Currently, there are 79 types of over 16,275 combat aircraft operational in the world.7 In the period after the Vietnam War, the MiG21 was the most popular combat aircraft in terms of numbers. It was closely followed by mass-produced Chinese J6 (MiG19). Over 11,400 MiG21s produced in the erstwhile USSR along with those licence-built in India and Czechoslovakia were deployed in nearly 60 countries. But in the last three decades, the predominance of the MiG21 and J6 has been replaced by that of the F16, F18, and F15 aircraft. These three types originated in the USA and now form 30 per cent of the combat aircraft inventory in the world.

The F16 is at pole position with a 16 per cent share, as shown in Graph I.8 Although the number of F16s produced pale in comparison to that of MiG21, the former has had considerable impact on the prevalent operational environment. Had it not been for strict US government control on the sale of military hardware, the F16 would have found a larger market because of its combat capability. In fact, it was offered to India for the first time 25 years after its induction in the USAF. (end of excerpt)


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