v1.0.0 / 3 of 4 / 01 apr 03 / greg goebel / public domain
* The F-16 has not only become a major weapon in the US inventory, it has also been exported to dozens of other countries. This chapter describes the career of the Viper in US and foreign service.
* Through the 1980s, the US Air Force built up their stocks of F-16s, deploying them at home and overseas. By the early 1990s, the USAF had obtained over 2,200 Vipers, almost half of total production. USAF F-16s didn't see much in the way of combat for about the first decade of their existence, though they were involved in combat in Pakistani and particularly Israeli hands during that time, as discussed later in this chapter.
The Gulf War in 1991 was the first major action for USAF F-16s. The F-16 was assigned to the attack role during the Gulf War and scored no "kills" against Iraqi aircraft, but the Vipers performed large numbers of strikes on ground targets and also flew "Fast FAC (Forward Air Control)" missions to spot targets for other strike elements. Three F-16s were lost in combat and one was lost in an operational accident during the conflict.
After the war the Viper flew combat air patrols over the northern and southern "no fly zones" in Iraq that had been set up under cease-fire conditions. The Iraqis were told to not fly aircraft in these areas and if they did the aircraft were fired on. This led to the first USAF F-16 "kill" on 27 December 1992, when a Viper pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Gary North, used an AIM-120 AMRAAM to shoot down an Iraqi MiG-25 Foxbat interceptor. This was the first combat use of AMRAAM. A month later, an F-16 shot down an Iraqi MiG-23.
USAF F-16s were very busy during various Western peacekeeping operations over the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, generally flying out of Aviano Air Base in Italy. The Vipers on occasions performed strikes and, using the HARM Targeting System, defense suppression. They also got involved in air combat. On 28 February 1994, USAF F-16s then shot down four Bosnian combat aircraft during the OPERATION DENY FLIGHT effort over Bosnia. Three were shot down by USAF Captain Robert "Wilbur" Wright, with one destroyed by an AMRAAM and two by Sidewinders. Incidentally, pictures of Wright show him to be a photogenic sort who looks exactly like the Hollywood idea of a fighter pilot.
Wright's wingman, Captain Scott O'Grady, had some excitement of his own when he was shot down by a Serbian SA-6 SAM over Bosnia on 2 June 1995. The adventure in which he evaded capture for six days and was recovered by search and rescue teams was played up in the media. Wright's triple-victory was downplayed for security reasons.
F-16s are also well-represented in the US Air National Guard, and USANG units have on occasion deployed overseas to participate in combat and peacekeeping actions. Stateside, USANG Vipers often served in the continental air-defense role, which seemed to be in decline after the fall of the USSR in the early 1990s. However, the attacks by Islamic terrorists on the United States on 11 September 2001, in which hijacked airliners were flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, led to a resurgence in continental air-defense activities, and USANG Vipers have been heavily tasked on air patrols to protect American cities.
Apparently all Vipers now in first-line USAF use are Block 40/42 and Block 50/52 machines. Earlier variants may persist in USANG service.
* As mentioned in an earlier chapter, even before the flight of the first production F-16 foreign users were interested in obtaining the type. Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway formed a group in 1974 to consider adopting the winner of the LWF competition as a replacement for their Lockheed F-104 Starfighters. This led the four-nation group to announce their intent to obtain a total of of 348 F-16s on 7 June 1975. The deal was called with good reason the "sale of the century". Some minor changes were made to the baseline F-16 design to accommodate European needs, though the Europeans didn't get all the changes they asked for.
The machines were to be provided by General Dynamics in kit form for assembly in Europe. The prime contractors were Fokker in the Netherlands, which was to build a total of 184 machines for the Netherlands and Norway, and SABCA in Belgium, which was to build a total of 164 for Belgium and Denmark. Subsystems and assemblies were built by firms all over Western Europe. For example, the P&W F100 engine was assembled by Fabrique Nationale in Belgium, while MBLE in Belgium built the AN/APG-66 radar. Some European assemblies were used in US production, as dictated by the terms of the international manufacturing deal.
In 1977, USAF Brigadier General James Abrahamson, in charge of the worldwide F-16 program, described the logistics of setting up international production as a "management nightmare". Along with the simple, monster problem of just getting all the nuts and bolts collected and assembled into flying machines, made all the worse because European production was being brought up in parallel with American production, there were cultural differences to consider. European firms tend to have more inflexible work rules than American firms, which had the result of making European-built F-16s about a million USD more expensive than their American equivalents. The European firms also took 50% longer to get them out the door.
Whatever the problems, things were made to work. The European production lines opened in the spring of 1978, with the delivery of a sample F-16A to SABCA in June. The first European-built F-16, a SABCA-built F-16B, performed its initial flight on 11 December 1978. Service deliveries began on both sides of the Atlantic in January 1979.
* The Belgians obtained a total of 160 F-16A/Bs, including 136 F-16As and 24 F-16Bs, in Blocks 1, 5, 10, and 15. The last Belgian F-16s were delivered in 1991. All the Block 1 and 5 machines were upgraded to Block 10.
Belgian machines were fitted with an ESD Carapace ECM unit, featuring antennas on the sides of the engine inlet, and a brake chute. The brake chute was not included in early production but was retrofitted. The Belgian Air Force also tested the Matra Magic 2 AAM as an alternative to the Sidewinder, but the French missile was apparently not adopted as a standard weapon. In 1993, Belgium committed to upgrade 48 of their Vipers through the Mid-Life Upgrade program. 45 early Block F-16s were retired to help pay for the MLU.
* The Danes obtained a total of 70 new-built F-16A/Bs, including 54 F-16As and 16 F-16Bs. As with Belgian F-16s, Danish Vipers included Block 1, 5, 10, and 15 machines, with the Block 1 and 5 aircraft gradually brought up to Block 10 spec. 61 Danish F-16s were upgraded through the MLU program.
Three ex-US ANG F-16As obtained in 1994 as attrition replacements and brought up to a common spec with other Danish F-16s. Three more hand-me-down F-16s were obtained in the late 1990s, and apparently three more were to be delivered at last notice.
* The Netherlands obtained a total of 213 F-16A/Bs, including 177 F-16As and 36 F-16Bs, with the last delivered in 1992. As with the other members of the four-nation group, the Vipers were delivered in Blocks 1, 5, 10, and 15, with the Block 1 and 5 aircraft later upgraded to Block 10. The Block 15 machines were given the OCU upgrade in the early 1980s. 36 aircraft were retired in the 1990s to help fund the MLU upgrade for most of the survivors.
Dutch F-16s were mostly tasked with the close-support mission, but have also participated in peacekeeping air patrol operations in the Balkans. A few Dutch F-16As were wired up to carry the Oude Delft Orpheous reconnaissance pod on a centerline pylon, and were known by the designation "F-16A(R)". The pod was originally carried on the F-104 Starfighter and includes cameras and an infrared linescanner.
* The Norwegians received a total of 74 F-16A/Bs, including 60 F-16As and 14 F-16Bs, once more consisting of Blocks 1 / 5 / 10 / 15, and with all Block 1 and 5 machines upgraded to Block 10 spec. Two F-16Bs were ordered as attrition replacements from the Fort Worth plant in the late 1980s. 56 were upgraded in the MLU program.
Norwegian F-16s are tasked with air defense and have coastal defense as a secondary mission. The primary coastal defense weapon is the Kongsberg Penguin light antiship missile. Norse Vipers They fly from small dispersed airstrips, and so they have had a brake chute from the outset. In fact, the Norwegians were the first to obtain Vipers with this feature.
* Greece has purchased 140 F-16C/D Vipers under the "Peace Xenia" series of foreign-sales programs:
Greek Vipers are fitted with drag chutes, and its Block 50/52 machines feature the Litton AN/ALR-93(V)1 countermeasures suite, with an RWR, missile warning system, and jammer, and the ability to automatically control chaff-flare dispensers. The Greek Air Force has also acquired sets of LANTIRN pods for their F-16s.
* Hungary signed a deal for 24 refurbished ex-USAF F-16A/Bs in early 2001. Current status of this deal is a little unclear, as the disastrous floods that hit Central Europe in 2001 led governments in the region to scale back defense procurement programs to free up money for fixing all the damage caused by the floodwaters.
* Also in early 2001, Italy signed a deal to lease 34 refurbished F-16A/Bs, including 30 F-16As and 4 F-16Bs, with the aircraft to be supplied in 2003 and 2004 and returned in 2010. The lease deal is intended to provide Italy with a stopgap solution between their F-104 Starfighters and their long-delayed Eurofighters.
Italy has leased some Panavia Tornado F.3 interceptors as well, but that lease ends in 2006. Other members of the Eurofighter group have apparently been very nervous about the Italians leasing F-16s as it raises the visibility of the Viper at the Eurofighter's expense, but the Italians simply felt they needed the interim capability and couldn't wait.
* Poland signed a deal for 48 Block 62 F-16s in 2002. 36 F-16Cs and 12 two-seat F-16Ds will be delivered, beginning in the spring of 2006 and with final deliveries in 2008. The type will replace old MiG-21s. The F100-PW-229 engines for the aircraft will be locally built as an offset deal, through the WSK Rzeszow branch of P&W.
The aircraft will be fitted with the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-68(V)9 mechanically-scanned radar; the ITT AN/ALQ-211 Advanced Integrated Defensive Suite, which is also being obtained by Chile; the Link-16 datalink; and some Polish-specified avionics gear. The F-16s will have conformal fuel tanks and will be armed with AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9X AAMs, the AGM-154 JSOW, and US-built LGBs. The Poles expect to buy about 24 Lockheed-Martin Pantera targeting pods, as well as six reconnaissance pods.
* Portugal obtained a total of 20 Block 15 OCU F-16A/Bs, including 17 F-16As and 3 F-16Bs, with initial deliveries in 1994 under the "Peace Atlantis" program. In the late 1990s Portugal also received 25 ex-USAF machines later in the 1990s, including five spares hulks.
* A number of Middle Eastern and North African countries are F-16 operators. Bahrain obtained 22 GE F110 powered Block 40 F-16C/Ds in the 1990s, including 18 F-16C single-seaters and 4 F-16D two-seaters, under the "Peace Crown I / II" programs.
* As a "reward" for signing the Camp Davis peace accords in 1979, both Egypt and Israel received the F-16, one of the most modern fighters the US had to offer. Egypt obtained a total of 220 Vipers in four batches through the "Peace Vector" series of programs:
* Iran was interested in acquiring the F-16 under the Shah's reign, eventually coming to an agreement to buy 300, but the overthrow of the Shah by the Islamic Revolution put an end to this plan.
As mentioned, as a "reward" for signing the Camp David peace accords in 1979, both Egypt and Israel received the F-16. Many of the initial Israeli F-16s were obtained from production originally slated for Iran. Four batches of Vipers totalling 260 machines were obtained under the "Peace Marble" series of programs:
The Israelis have 102 "F-16Is" on order for initial deliveries in 2003. These are apparently Block 60-class machines with conformal fuel tanks and advanced avionics. Details are unclear.
In Israeli service, the F-16A/B became the "Netz (Falcon)", while the F-16C became the "Barak (Lightning)" and the F-16D became the "Brakeet (Thunderbolt)". Most Israeli Vipers have drag chutes and are painted in a distinctive sand-and-brown camouflage scheme, with Number 105 Squadron aircraft featuring a vivid sand-colored scorpion painted down the tailfin.
Israeli Vipers have featured a number of modifications and special fits. At least some of their Block 5 F-16A/Bs have been fitted with improved countermeasures gear. All F-16Ds feature a dorsal spine like that fitted to the AFTI F-16, which is apparently used to house defense-suppression electronics and an Elisa-built jammer. This configuration appears to use the back seater as a dedicated "weapons system operator". Some Israeli F-16s have also been apparently fitted with Israeli-built ELta 2021B radar in place of the original US-built AN/APG-66 or AN/APG-68.
Of course, Israeli Vipers also carry Israeli-built external stores. Rafael Python heat-seeking AAMs are often carried in place of Sidewinders, and the Rafael Litening targeting pod is used for precision strike.
The Israelis have been one of the F-16's most enthusiastic users. In fact, the Israelis were often too enthusiastic for American comfort, and were the first to use it in combat. On 7 June 1981, eight F-16s staged a raid on the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq, being built at Twartha near Baghdad. Israeli intelligence had determined that the facility was being built to synthesize plutonium for for nuclear weapons. The raid was timed to take place when the reactor site was at its highest state of development prior to actually going on line.
The eight F-16s, with six F-15s providing top cover, cut across Jordanian and Saudi airspace at low level. They were fired on by Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries after entering Iraqi airspace, but the Iraqis scored no hits. The same could not be said of the Israelis, who hit the site with unguided bombs and thoroughly wrecked it, caving in the reactor containment dome. The Israelis got back home without losses. The Reagan Administration protested the "military recklessness" of the raid and suspended deliveries of F-16s for a time.
The Israelis have claimed a total of 44 kills with the F-16, mostly against Syrian MiG-23s during air fights over Lebanon in 1983:1984. One Israeli Viper was said to have killed four MiGs on a single sortie.
* Jordan obtained a batch of 16 hand-me-down US Vipers, including 12 F-16As and 4 F-16Bs, which were apparently ex-USANG ADF variants. The Jordanians are to get further shipments of refurbished aircraft to a total of 36 to 48.
* The Turks are major users of the F-16, having obtained a total of 240 F-16C/Ds beginning in the mid-1980s under the "Peace Onyx" series of programs. Most of these machines have been built by Turkish Aerospace Industry (TUSAS in its Turkish acronym) in Murted, Turkey. Eight were delivered from Fort Worth, with two more provided to TUSAS in kit form, and the rest built by TUSAS.
Initial production was of GE-powered Block 30 Vipers, with 43 Block 30 machines obtained in all, including 34 F-16Cs and 9 F-16Ds. This was followed by 117 Block 40 Night Falcons, including 102 F-16Cs and 15 F-16Ds, and then 80 Block 50 Vipers, including 60 F-16Cs and 20 F-16Ds. A number of sets of LANTIRN pods have been obtained for the Block 40s. Turkish Vipers have performed peacekeeping duties in the Balkans.
* In early 2000, Lockheed Martin closed a deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the sale of 80 Vipers, including 55 single-seat F-16Cs and 25 two-seat F-16Ds. These aircraft were the latest Block 60 variant, and to the discomfort of the USAF were more advanced than any type of F-16 flown by the US. F-16 Deliveries are expected to begin in 2004 and continue through 2007.
* Indonesia obtained a total of 12 Block 15 OCU F-16A/Bs, including 8 F-16As and 4 F-16Bs, with initial deliveries in 1989. They replaced MiG-21s in Indonesian service and were painted in a distinctive salamander camouflage scheme. Indonesian F-16s feature drag chutes.
* Pakistan obtained a total of 40 Block 15 F-16A/Bs, including 28 F-16As and 12 F-16Bs, with initial deliveries in 1983 under the "Peace Gate" program. Pakistan's F-16s saw a surprising amount of air combat during the Soviet war in neighboring Afghanistan during the 1980s. Soviet aircraft would often follow Afghan Mujahedin fighters fleeing over the border into Pakistan, and the Pakistanis would take them on. Pakistani F-16s claimed about a dozen kills. Apparently they also lost an F-16 to another F-16 in a "friendly fire" incident while in pursuit of an intruder. This may have been the first and possibly the only Viper to be lost in air combat.
In the early 1990s Pakistan was to receive 28 more Block 15 OCU F-16A/Bs, including 13 F-16As and 15 F-16Bs, but the order was frozen in response to American worries about the Pakistani nuclear program. The 28 aircraft were mothballed in the "boneyard" at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. They were pulled out of storage in early 2003, with 13 of them provided to the USAF as test and evaluation machines, one of them transferred to the US Air National Guard, and the remaining 14 transferred to the US Navy for use as aggressor aircraft.
* Singapore has obtained four batches of Vipers under the "Peace Carvin" series of programs:
* South Korea has acquired a large fleet of F-16s in two steps. The first step was fairly small, with the country obtaining a total of 40 Block 32 F-16C/Ds in 1986 and 1988, including 30 F-16Cs and 10 F-16Ds, under the "Peace Bridge / Victory Falcon" program.
In the 1989, South Korea then considered a much larger fighter buy and decided to buy 120 F/A-18 Hornets, but the deal fell through and the government decided to buy 120 Block 52 F-16s instead. The initial 12 of this batch were supplied from Fort Worth, with the next 36 provided in knock-down kit form for assembly in South Korea by Samsung Aerospace, and the rest built by Samsung Aerospace. Initial deliveries of the South Korean Block 52 Vipers were in 1994, with the mix consisting of 95 F-16Cs and 45 F-16Ds. These machines are being fitted with the Northrop Grumman / ITT "AN/ALQ-165 Airborne Self-Protection Jammer (ASPJ)".
* Although the US cut off Taiwan from advanced arms shipments in the 1970s, this policy turned around to an extent in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1992, the US government approved a sale of 150 F-16A/Bs to the island nation, with initial deliveries in 1997 under the "Peace Fenghuang" program. As mentioned in an earlier chapter, these were in the form of the unique "Block 20", apparently more or less similar to the Block 15 MLU standard. The order included 130 F-16As and 20 F-16Bs. The Taiwanese Vipers carry the AIM-7 Sparrow.
* Thailand has obtained a total of 46 Vipers, not counting two spares hulks, in three phases:
* Venezuela obtained 24 Block 15 F-16A/Bs, including 18 F-16As and 6 F-16Bs, with initial deliveries in 1983 under the "Peace Delta" program. They have drag chutes, were at least originally painted in a two-tone brown-green jungle camouflage pattern, and were later put through the Block 15 OCU upgrade. Venezuelan F-16s fought in a coup attempt in 1992 in defense of the government.
The only other Latin American nation to order the F-16 is Chile, which placed an order for ten "Block 50+" machines in 2002. Details of this deal are unclear.