U.S. Air Force Entertains New Design To Replace F-16

Lockheed Martin F-16
Credit: U.S. Air Force/Staff St. Joshua Dewberry

The U.S. Air Force chief of staff is entertaining a clean-sheet design to replace the F-16 and wants the tactical aircraft mix discussion to extend past the service and into the Office Of The Secretary Of Defense (OSD).

The service needs to determine what the “son of [Next Generation Air Dominance]” will be to replace the F-16, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown told reporters Feb. 17 during a virtual Defense Writers Group event.

Brown envisions a 4.5-generation, or fifth generation “minus,” as the F-16 replacement. This is similar to what the Navy did when the service decided to pursue the Block III Super Hornet. At the time, former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert called the Block III a 4.5 generation fighter.

The most important characteristic for the F-16 replacement is it include an open system that allows the Air Force to perform software updates, he said.

“Let’s actually take a look if there’s something else out there that we can build, and that’s what we’ve learned with our eSeries approach with the T-7, what we learned with NGAD,” Brown said.

Any decision about the future of the Air Force’s tactical aircraft fleet will require buy-in from Capitol Hill and elsewhere in the Pentagon, Brown says. He wants the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office to be part of the future tactical aircraft study that will inform the fiscal 2023 budget, Brown said.

Involving CAPE would bring OSD into the assessment. This is necessary because Brown predicts pushback from various communities, depending on the outcome.

“I don’t think that everybody’s going to exactly agree with what I say, but I want to actually have a starting point as a … departure point and dialogue of what is that best force mix,” Brown said.


And so, F-35 makes even less sense. Half a trillion later, it turned out to be a little more than a corporate welfare handout.
DRAOS -- it almost seems silly that an old Lockheed Martin (F-16) product is unable to fully replaced by a much newer one (F-35) due to the budget numbers not hacking it (no surprise there). Anyway, the F-35 was never about making sense. For starters, they didn't even bother assigning it the proper designation. It really should have been the "YF-24" or "YF-25" during the fly-off against the Boeing design, but that's another story... Then there's the ridiculous "concurrency" approach to production and revision. From beginning to end, it's always about dollars (or whatever currency of choice) of course. Call it a well-greased wealth transfer vehicle in the guise of a still-less-than-fully-functional stealth fighter.
Lockheed could (if they are willing to offer anything that competes with their prized F-35 cash cow) offer the USAF an open-architecture and enhanced version of the F-16V or (resurrected) F-16XL. That would seem to be the most straightforward way of fulfilling General Brown's call.

Saab's Gripen-E offers innovative 4.5-gen capabilities in a lightweight, affordable and versatile design that can operate from austere locations. Perhaps Boeing could partner with Saab again to offer an Americanized Gripen-EX utilizing U.S. radars and equipment, also modified for refueling via flying boom (instead of hose-and-drogue).

An RFP involving those two aircraft would present the USAF with some intriguing options to consider.