It is hard to imagine how major military operations of the 21st century would have successfully been possible to engage without the Falcon Fighter/Attacker commonly known as F-16.
The USA defeat in the Vietnam War of 1960s sparked-off the pursuit of an aircraft that is yet to be the world leading space warship.
One that is much faster – supersonic, highly maneuverable, provides better visibility of the enemy, great power efficiency, and is easy to control – these and other more features are what make F-16 an air superiority fighter.
Talking about easy control, the Viper (F-16) as nicknamed by pilots worldwide is the first fighter aircraft that was deliberately built to sustain 9-g turns – something falling freely from above experiences 1-g, which is acceleration due to gravity equalling to 9.81 m/s2.
In more physical terms, this means if the aircraft is ascending; a pilot feels nine times heavier than his normal weight and if it is descending he feels exactly the opposite.
F-16’s thrust-to-weight ratio is greater than one, providing power to climb and accelerate vertically, which is a very necessary capability for a warship to dodge the enemies’ missiles.
In addition, it has an internal M61 Vulcan cannon and can employ a full complement of United States Air Force (USAF) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) weapons and stores, including the latest generation of precision - guided ordnance.
It’s full armament range from guns to B61 nuclear bomb and all kinds of missiles in between the range.
Its speed can go as high as Mach 2 plus (2,414 km/h) above sea level covering a combat radius of 550 km on a hi-lo-hi mission with six 450 kg bombs aboard.
The F-16s have fought many invasions, defended their nations against air attacks, dismantled terrorists’ bases and served in peacekeeping missions worldwide.
The very remarkable F-16 combats successes comprise of the Israel – Bekaa Valley and Osiraq raid of April and June 1981 respectively.
Eight Israeli Air Force (IAF) F-16s, escorted by F-15s, executed an air-to-ground operation dubbed “Operation Opera”, which left the then under construction Iraqi nuclear reactor Osirak severely damaged.
The following year, Israeli F-16s engaged Syrian Air Force for two consecutive days leading to 44 air-to-air kills, mostly of MiG-21s and MiG-23s. IAF suffered no air-to-air losses during this attack.
During the Soviet-Afghan war, between May 1986 and January 1989, Pakistan F-16s shot down at least ten intruders from Afghanistan and Pakistan in an ongoing hurt against the Taliban in Swat valley.
In the Operation Desert Storm of 1991, 249 USAF F-16s ﬂew 13,340 sorties in strikes against Iraq, the most of any coalition aircraft.
Three aircrafts were lost to confirmed enemy action. Since then until the invasion of Iraq in 2003, USAF F-16s patrolled the Iraqi UN restricted airspace in southern Iraq scoring a series of air-to-air victories.
The NATO employed F-16s during Bosnian peacekeeping operations coded “Operation Deny Flight” between 1994 and 95 in ground-attack missions and enforcing the no-ﬂy zone over Bosnia.
The F-16 also fought in Venezuela, Herzegovina, Lebanon, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan. Africa though is the most war-torn continent; F-16’s are not reported to have been employed in any of her wars.
To stay updated with the fast growing Aerospace technology, a series of upgrades have been made since its first production for the USAF in 1976 by General Dynamics. Each time an upgrade is made a new block of F-16s is produced covering both single-seat and two-seat variants.
Early versions of F-16s produced before 1984 cover variants A (single-seat) and B (two-seat) in Blocks of 1 to 20 with an increment of 5. The most recent upgraded version cover E (single-seat) and F (two-seat) variants in a single Block 60 specifically funded by and built for United Arab Emirates.
The F-16 is a blockbuster. It has been featured in many movies such as; Blue Thunder in 1983, X2 in 2003 and the last year’s Eagle Eye.
Due to its widespread adoption, the F-16 has been a popular model for computer ﬂight simulators; appearing in over 20 video games and it is one of the only two aircrafts available in the built-in ﬂight simulator in Google Earth.
So far over 4,400 F-16s have served 25 foreign air forces worldwide since production approval in 1976. The notable operators include; Belgium, Chile, Denmark, Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Israel, Morocco, Netherlands, Oman, Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and of course United States who is also the inventor and creator of the F-16s. Note that only two African countries own F-16s.
The cost to buy one F-16 C/D was US$18.8 million in 1998, which means 16 F-16s are worth the cost to build a state-of-art airport like the one proposed in Bugesera or start-up businesses that would employee hundreds Rwandans.
This is why it is not a worthwhile undertaking for a “third economy” country, to spend her scarce resources on. Social security comes first before National security.
According to the web source, the F-16 is scheduled to remain in service with the USAF until 2025 after which it will be replaced by the F-35 Lightning II, which is scheduled to enter service starting 2011.
The Author is a Rwandan Graduate student specializing in Aerospace Systems and Fluid Mechanics at Rochester Institute of Technology in the US.