The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a light-weight fighter-bomber designed in 1972 for the USAF/EPAF by General Dynamics (later absorbed by Lockheed). Shortly after entering service, the F-16 revealed itself as an extraordinary weapons system in air-combat and ground-attack. One of the main reasons for this was its multimode AN/APG-66 Doppler radar. The radar a maximum range of 80 nautical miles. It has four air-to-air and seven air-to-surface modes, including ground- and sea-attacks. For its self defense, the F-16 carries the ALR-69 radar warning and the ALE-40 chaff and flares dispenser. It can also take external ECM pods. Whereas the first F-16A/B's were primarily day light fighters, the Mid Life Update program (MLU), proposed by Lockheed, allows them to perform in all weather. The ECM capability will be enhanced, equaling the standard F-16C/D.
In the beginning air combat weapons were limited to the internal 20 mm canon M61A1 and the AIM-9 family air-intercept missiles. However, soon they were wired to carry AIM-7M and AIM-120 medium range missiles. Israeli's aircraft were armed with Rafael Phyton 3 missiles and Pakistani aircraft have flown with the Matra R.550 Magic 2.
For ground attacks, the F-16 can take guided munitions as well as conventional bombs. It can shoot the AGM-65 Maverick, AGM-88 HARM and the Penguin antiship missile.
- The system HOTAS (Hands on Throttle and Stick) allows the pilot to use all the controls needed in combat without looking at them. The stick is beside the pilot and not between his/her legs. This arrangement was found to be very comfortable and today it's even incorporated in some airliners like the Airbus A-319.
- Seat reclined to 30¼. This characteristic is intended to diminish the stress on the pilot during great accelerations (Gs). A F-16 pilot told this writer that the seat made it harder to turn back in air combat. It's a strange position and few others planes have incorporated. This points out an successful design.
- Bubble canopy. This offers superb visibility in all directions. The pilot's sight is only restricted by the frame of the HUD.
- Electric quadruple Fly-by-Wire without manual reversion. This controls the plane during the flight. It eliminates the possibility of loosing control. If the pilot tries to perform some maneuver which endangers the aircraft (like trying an 8G turn with the airframe limited to 6 by external ordnance) the system overcomes the order. It allows an easy handling, letting the pilot to concentrate on the most important thing: To operate successfully the weapon systems.
The F-16 has seen combat in different theatres and missions with excellent results. Israel was the first country to use the F-16 in combat. In 1981, a few weeks after arrival in country, F-16s attacked and destroyed the Iraqi nuclear facility of Osirak (operation Opera). For that mission, eight Falcons were escorted by an air cover of F-15s. Fourteen of the sixteen bombs dropped hit the target, proving the accuracy of the F-16's delivery systems. The bombs used were unguided ammunitions.The following year, Israeli F-16s saw action again over the Bekaa valley, when the Israeli Defence Force destroyed Syrian anti-aircraft sites. In the fighter role the Falcons got a score of 44 to none against Syrian Migs.
The second air force to use the plane was the Pakistani Air Force. Between 1986 and 1988, they downed eight Soviet and Afghan planes (four SU-22, two Mig-23, one Su-25 and an AN-26) violating Pakistani air space while chasing Mujahedin partisans. In most cases, Sidewinder missiles were used, but al least once the kill was made by cannon.
Desert Storm saw the American F-16s engaged in ground attacks. According to USAF, 249 aircraft were deployed and accomplished 13,340 sorties. They flew against chemical and conventional weapon facilities. They bombed airports and chased the mobile Scud which Iraq fired against Saudi-Arabia and Israel. For these missions, the F-16s used bombs, cluster bombs and Maverick missiles.
The only two Iraqi planes that the F-16s downed, fell two years after the war was over (December 1992 and January 1993), when Iraqi warplanes violated the south and north no-fly zones in Iraq. In both cases a Mig-23 was the victim of the new AMRAAM missile.
USAF F-16s saw combat again over Bosnia. On April 12, 1993 they shot down four Serbian Super Galebs that had bombed the city of Bujogno. They also flew attack sorties in that theatre. Turkish and Greek F-16s were on the edge of shooting because of the litigation those countries have about some islands in the Aegean sea. On December 27, 1994, two Greek F-16 intercepted a section of Turkish F-4. They flew mock combat for a while until one of the F-4s lost control and spinned into the sea.
At last, Venezuelan F-16 shot down two OV-10 Bronco and a Tucano during the recently failed military coup.
It's worth mentioning that the trainers (F-16B and F-16D) are fully combat capable. In fact, two of the eight ship formation that bombed Osirak were "B" and one of the two Iraqi Mig-23 was downed by a "D".
In South America
Use of the F-16 in Latin America deserves some considerations: It's a very sophisticated airplane for South-American standards. So, due to their high cost, there will never be enough of them in an air force. The less units there are the more will be their worth.
Then no air forces should risk to use them in missions that could be accomplished by A-4, F-5, Kfir, SU-22 or even the Pucara (an Argentinean plane designed to counter insurgency war). It would be self-destructive for the country who use its resources in such way.
In ground attacks the F-16 should only be used against high-priority targets. Something that was revealed in the gulf war was that erecting a AAA barrier is easier (and probably cheaper too) than aiming a sophisticated anti-air system against a little moving target. In this aspect the F-16 seems to be in the disadvantage against any twin engine plane. A single engined plane will crash after loosing an engine (something highly possible after flying between flack) while a twin can make it back to base on the remaining engine. On the other hand, a single engined aircraft is smaller and thus harder to find and track than a twin engined aircraft.
Given its high economy cost the most effective use of the F-16 would be with stand-off weapons (guided bombs and missiles) to allow the plane to remain outside the most dangerous zones. Anti-aircraft missiles could be spoofed by self protection systems.
The capability of the aircraft to perform both in air-to-air and ground-to-ground will depend on the hardware that the American government is willing to sell. Medium-range missiles as well as guided munitions would give the owner a big advantage over its neighbor.
If the F-16 were sold in South-America, the most likely buyers would be, besides Venezuela who already has them : Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Chile and Argentina already showed their interest for the F-16 in the past. Venezuela currently flies them and could buy more of them. Peru has the Mirage 2000, which seems to cover their need for interceptors and it is anyway, together with its recent enemy Ecuador, subject to an arms embargo caused by their most recent war. It is necessary to remember that the sale of A-4M to Argentina was the alternative offered by the US government in a moment of armament sales restrictions.
If incorporated in Argentina, the F-16 would not take over the mission of the A-4M but it could be integrated into a defense system composed by the A-4 plus our Mirages III/V. The current military reforms as much in structure as in budget will be decisive for this.
In consideration of the purchase of the F-16, one can wonder if there is a necessity for it and how this interacts with the (bad) economical situation we are living. The incorporation would not just involve a new plane but of a totally new logistic system which, we think, would duplicate the price per unit.
Traditionally the United States imposes itself as the guardian of the international order. In that role they tried to restrict the arms sales to countries with (for them) objectable governments with the capacity to buy them and delivered some to countries with no need (nor money) for them. In Latin America the USA discouraged the delivery of high technology hardware, supposedly to avoid an arms race. But this politic has played more against the USA than against the other governments. Taking advantage of the restrictions imposed on American companies by its own government, other countries (in the aerial aspect France and Israel) sold their own products even when the US products were preferred.
So limiting arms sales due to a supposed military equilibrium worked against the United States. Not the Mirages 2000 of Peru nor the IAI Kfirs of Colombia are low technology. It is always possible to buy weapons roughly similar to the American's in other places (Europe, Israel, Russia), sometimes even at less cost.
The United States government is starting to realize this and acts accordingly. Today, it is highly probable that high-tech weapons like the F-16 will be sold to Latin-America. That's not due to a change in American policy but to a clearer view of the commercial aspects of the arms sales. Selling planes means work for the own industry. The USA has understood that if they do not sell their planes, another one will do this very happily. And no one likes to loose. The F-16 will soon be flying in South-American skies. What there is to see is which flags will grace its tail.