Air Force Commander Wants New F-16 Replacement To Support F-35

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The commander of the Air Force says he needs a new clean sheet fighter to replace some of the 1,000 F-16s that long ago reached their best before date. In a news conference last month, reported by Air Force Magazine, Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown said he wants a lighter, less sophisticated and cheaper aircraft in numbers so he can save his advanced, but notoriously unreliable, F-35s for the kinds of battles they’re best suited for. “I want to moderate how much we’re using those aircraft,” he said. “You don’t drive your Ferrari to work every day, you only drive it on Sundays. This is our ‘high end’ [fighter], we want to make sure we don’t use it all for the low-end fight … We don’t want to burn up capability now and wish we had it later.”

Students of history might remember that the F-35 was originally intended to be the Swiss army knife replacement for all the 1970s hardware that still forms the backbone of the Air Force. But at $100 million a copy and packed with buggy systems that are magic when they work, Brown said the Air Force finds itself needing a somewhat lower tech fighter for the trenches to take some pressure off the fifth-generation Lightning II. He said he doesn’t want yet another update on the F-16 but a new “fourth-and-a half/fifth-gen minus” platform. “Actually, I want to build something new and different that’s not the F-16; that has some of those capabilities, but gets there faster, using our digital approach.” The new fighter will be part of a study he launched to establish tactical aviation requirements but he’s clear on one point. The Air Force fleet averages 28 years old, he said, and “that’s not going to compete well with adversaries. That’s why this force mix study is so important: to bring down the average age, to have something relevant not just today, but well into the future.”

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16 COMMENTS

  1. Surely he needs only buy the Rafel? Special offers now, only €70 million a pop and it can go from carriers…
    Or if Sir is a bit stretched right now (dreadful how people will sell things that don’t work and then do not honour the guarrantee) we still have some Mirage 2,000s, a lovely craft which still is capable of throwing a nuke bomb 250 km with pin-point accuracy…
    And shooting at men with AKs riding motor bikes — as a friend we can offer you a squadron or three at a special price, just for you, of only €20 million a plane.

    • Completely agree, YARS. The F-35, like the old F-111 was supposed to do everything, but does none of them well. If we follow the same path for a “new” F-16, it will probably cost 2-3 times as much, be years behind schedule and still have the same reliability problems as the F-35. The Air Force should buy one less F-35 and spend the money on upgrading the A-10 fleet. Best close ground support aircraft ever. Eisenhower was right because he had seen that problem from both sides.

    • Generally speaking, the vendor strives to give the customer what is asked for. The bad record of the Swiss army knife approach to fighter aircraft can’t be entirely laid on the military-industrial complex.

      • Actually, you can blame the military-industrial +procurement complex. The policy of using common airframes and engines to perform multiple roles sounds great for a peacetime force, where everybody involved in manufacturing, logistics, and spares has the easiest time possible as a result. But these are weapons of war, and as such they will be asked to perform in more tightly-focused ways than a generalized design can manage. And of course, down the road the “lessons learned” will be revealed like something nobody was able to figure out before…

  2. Even the F-16 would never have happened had the usual military processes had their way. A ‘rogue’ officer named John Boyd had friends in high places and cared far more about aircraft performance and cost than career progression. The F-16 itself ended up loaded with equipment and capabilities it was not intended for, reducing its dogfighting ability and driving up its cost.
    Recommended reading: “Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War”

    Realistically, I cannot see a successful lightweight fighter design getting to operational status without once again getting loaded down with ‘gold plating’ of various kinds. A more likely path to success would be buying and ‘Americanizing’ Saab Gripens or similar.

    • Cameron, you are absolutely correct. Sometimes I wonder just who the heck is running ‘MY’ USAF. Every time a new Chief of Staff shows up, some new crazy idea pops out.

      I served in uniform supporting flight test at Edwards AFB for 15 1/2 years late ’72 to mid ’88 and was ‘around’ for 12 more years as a civilian doing ‘other things.’ The 70’s and 80’s were a heady time when all the new airplanes that still fly were developed. I was there the day the accidental first flight of the YF-16 occurred during the YF-16 / YF-17 fly off competition. There’s a nifty YouTube video showing same. In those days, the “Test Forces” were called “Joint Test Forces” (JTF’s). (Somebody decided we didn’t test ‘joints’ so the names later changed to Combined Test Forces CTF.) At first, the operation was called … are ya ready … the Lightweight Fighter (LWF) JTF. After the YF-16 (rightly, IMHO) won the competition, the USAF demanded that the Northrop YF-17 “Cobra” data and drawings, et al, be given to them. Subsequently, they gave it all to McDonnell Douglas who developed the design into the F-18 for the Navy to replace their A-7’s and F-4’s and complement the F-14. Ultimately, the early F-18’s couldn’t deal with weight gain so they morphed into the later Rhino versions in the 90’s. The F-16 did the same thing as time moved forward. Both designs may have started out as a Lightweight Fighter but morphed into something totally different. I will say that I’ve flown in the F-16 and it is a helluva airplane. Compared to the F-15, it IS a sports car already. There’s absolutely no reason the systems and airframe couldn’t be modernized, as needed, and continue life as is. Read on.

      There’s another airplane few people know about … the F-16XL. In 1981, YF-16’s #3 and #5 were handed back to General Dynamics to be converted into a cranked arrow delta-wing design in response to a USAF “Enhanced Tactical Fighter” program to replace the F-111 Aardvark which didn’t work out so well (another Swiss Army knife idea by McNamara). McDonnell Douglas submitted a variant of the F-15 and won the competition with its F-15E Strike Eagle … which flies to this day. One of the F-16XL test pilots was a friend of mine; he raved about it. The two modified F-16XL’s are in storage at the Edwards AFB Flight Test Museum.

      There’s no reason that something like the F-16XL couldn’t be resurrected, all systems modernized as needed while retaining commonality with existing airplanes when possible. WAIT !! The USAF is now accepting just exactly such an idea with its F-15EX. Why the hell can’t they do that with the F-16XL?

      General Brown … are ya listening ?? Call me.

      Now then, another airplane that peeps me off is the early 80’s Piper PA-48 “Enforcer.” Google it, boys …

      • There’s a very good video about the F-16XL (aka F-16E) here:

        youtube.com/watch?v=ecM1-ISNeHE

        The USAF supposedly didn’t pick the F-16XL because it didn’t have supercruise but NASA Dryden (now Armstrong) proved they could make that happen with an idea that Jim Bede had … forcing laminar flow via an internal wing suction pump. The XL’s substantially larger wing could carry 16 MK82 500 lb bombs … equivalent to a B-17G !!

  3. For those unaware, China has been at war with the US since the 1950’s (Taiwan Strait crisis, Korean War.)

    The more the US bungles weapons programs like the F-35, the more of a disadvantage we create for ourselves. In the case of the F-22, only about 190 were made, and we need quantity (thousands) for a war.

    The recent acromonious Alaska conference was staged by the CCP to see what our reaction is to being provoked. The US failed the Scarborough Shoals test under Obama, and this is just the next test.

    Trump/Pompeo set in motion an almost complete set of policies to contain China, but Biden has foolishly rolled those back, enabling the CCP/PLA to finance their military weapons programs and BRI expansionism at our expense. We are at the brink of war because of our perceived weakness, similar to WW2. When we’re underestimated, we end up footing the enormous bill when proving our adversaries were wrong.

    • There’s a third leg in that ‘stool,’ Yars … the Congress / Administration. As we’re recently learning, they’re now back into the mode of turning swords into plowshares by inadequately funding the military or using it in ways it was never designed for (or even legal). The stellar performance of our military in the first and second Gulf Wars has — foolishly — led them to conclude we don’t need any more “toys” or new equipment but James B has it right. If we ever get into “it” seriously, we’re going to have a problem, I think.

      One Administration begins by approving and funding weapon development ideas requested, the military incorporates those ideas into their long range planning and then a subsequent Administration changes funding or ideas and … everything is out the window. In order to get enough Congressional votes to initially fund or later continue to fund a large weapon system, contractors have learned to distribute the manufacturing locations all over the Country. I remember Rockwell bragging that the B-1 had manufacturing locations in 48 of the States. Lockheed-Martin has done the same with the F-35. That’s why killing it is going to be hard. IMHO, however, it NEEDS to be done.

      As you say, we can’t put all the blame on the military. And we can’t put all the blame on the Contractors … they’re in the business of developing and delivering a product to meet a specification the military is either directed to develop or thinks it wants / needs. Often, they under price a new system knowing that if they fail, usually the Government will bail them out. The REAL problem is lack of short, medium and long term planning on the part of ALL participants, Congress included.

      The revolving door of senior military officers retiring into major positions within the “Complex” is another issue needing resolved. Even civilians are doing it … remember Darlene Druyun? What SHE did and what Boeing did resulted in the USAF having a tanker … nearly 20 years later … that can’t do it’s full mission. Same thing as the F-35. Who’s on first? What’s on second? Sad.

      The whole thing is an incestuous relationship. The mythical “we” better wake up FAST !!

  4. I’m just not sure that a war can be won by airpower anymore. Drones, satellites, smart missiles, lasers, anti-viral defenses, even some type of defense against economic warfare. An adversary wouldn’t need to fire a shot to paralyze our country using advanced software techniques to attack our infrastructure. It may not matter what kind of aircraft we have.