Why the Air Force needs the Fighting Falcon
The Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Studies recently published a study that recommends the early withdrawal and disposal of the Air Force’s fourth generation fighter jets.
Despite the call to “totally cede” these fourth-generation platforms, the study, titled Future Fighter Force Our Nation Requires: Building a Bridge, recommends that the Air Force “retain” a large number of F-16 Fighting aircraft. Falcon. Why? A compelling reason, besides the fact that it costs less to operate a Fighting Falcon compared to fifth generation platforms, may be related to the success of the Fighting Falcon modernization program and its life extension program. of life (SLEP).
Today’s Fighting Falcon dates back to the 1970s, a circumstance that raises questions as to how the fighter aircraft has maintained its relevance and combat performance in the modern and much larger threat environment of ‘today. The SLEP has improved the upper wing skin and fittings. In addition, he adjusted the partition and the canopy.
Part of the equation concerns an effort to integrate some of the technologies from the F-35 fighter jet into the Fighting Falcon, such as an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. Radar allows the Fighting Falcon to find, detect and track enemy threats at greater distances. SLEP is expected to extend the Fighting Falcons’ flight time from approximately six thousand to seven thousand flight hours up to eight thousand hours or more. On top of that, the upgrades prompted the Air Force to fly the Fighting Falcon for up to twelve thousand hours. Lockheed Martin, who developed the EASA radar, claims it can track up to twenty targets at a time, a scenario that allows the Fighting Flacon to be more effective in war of the great powers.
Thus, the AESA radar is a massive upgrade beyond the mechanical scanning radar previously carried by the Fighting Falcons. The AESA radar can scan in a 360 degree sphere that includes horizontal, vertical and diagonal vectors. In recent years, the Fighting Falcon has received new cockpit avionics, such as moving map displays, cockpit video, digital graphic displays, and new target tracking systems. Upgraded Fighting Falcons utilize a high level of onboard automation designed to free up a pilot’s workload.
It’s worth noting that Lockheed Martin is not just focusing on these upgrades. The company has built a new variant of the F-16V Viper that uses new computers, software and a high-definition cockpit display. Additionally, the “V” model comes with a new data bus, electronic warfare suite, missile warning sensor, and helmet-mounted spotting system. This is the technical starting point for Lockheed Martin’s next-generation F-21, which will be built specifically for India. The F-21 will be equipped with AESA radar and a next-generation targeting system known as infrared search and tracking technology (IRST). The IRST, which is widely used in F / A-18 Super Hornet fighters, is a long-range passive sensor that searches for and detects infrared emissions. Like EASA, IRST can track multiple targets at once and operate in an electromagnetic warfare environment. The IRST is a long-range passive sensor, which will allow the Fighting Falcon to perform air-to-air targeting.
These innovative improvements to the Fighting Falcon might not allow it to compete with Russian or Chinese fifth-generation stealth fighter jets. Still, these upgrades may explain why the study recommends keeping the Fighting Falcons.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National interest. Osborn previously served in the Pentagon as a highly trained expert in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. Osborn also worked as an on-air presenter and military specialist on national television networks. He has appeared as a visiting military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also holds an MA in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.