The US Air National Guard is considering to retire its fleet of F-15C/D Eagle jets currently in use for air defense, and replacing them with F-16s. If this goes ahead, the F-16s would have to be upgraded with better radars and more endurance.
The announcement came as a surprise on Wednesday. The Air National Guard used the F-15 for Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) plus other air defense duties, but finds the 45-year old design to expensive to use. Nevertheless, the F-15 is still regarded as the best air superiority fighter jet ever made, with 104 consecutive air-to-air victories in its career against zero loses.
What is most surprising however, is the mention of using F-16s to replace the Eagles. A number of Air National Guard units already flew F-16s before they started using their current F-15s. In the past, a specialized F-16ADF (Air Defense Fighter) was used by these units, as well as F-16C/D jets. The F-16ADF was never deemed very suited and was therefore retired in the Nineties.
Using F-16s again for air defense would mean upgrades in terms of radar and endurance. Upgrading retired US Air Force F-16s – which are now making way for the F-35 – into F-16V models is a likely option, but even new-built jets are being considered. These will then have to be built in South Carolina, since Lockheed Martin is to move F-16 production from Texas to here. This September, the last F-16 will leave current Lockheed Martin production in Fort Worth, Texas.
Of note: the US Air Force also still uses F-15C/D models in active service, operating them from airbase in the continental US and from airbases in the UK and Japan. The Air National Guard announcement therefore seems a bit odd and perhaps should mostly been seen in the light of Donald Trump’s plan to increase defense spending. The Air National Guard seems to want to make sure it gets its piece of the pie.
French aircraft manufacturer Dassault has received the green light from Paris to start working on the Rafale F4, the latest variant of the French fighter jet. Minister for Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian this week authorized the start of development of the new Rafale F4, which follows the F3R standard.
Dassault in its response said it wishes to thank the French Ministry of Defense, the Defense procurement agency (DGA), the French Air Force and the Navy for their confidence.
The new variant is part of a continuous effort to adapt the Rafale to changing needs through a succession of standards, according to Dassault. It’s safe to say the F4 will incorporate increased performance and weapons capabilities, plus possibly increased situational awareness and information sharing features also. As early as 2023, a first version of the F4 standard will follow the F3R standard, which is scheduled for qualification in 2018.
“I am also delighted that the Defense Ministry underlines the need to continue with acquisition of the Rafale, beyond the 4th tranche currently in production, in order primarily to meet the needs of the French Air Force”, stated Dassault CEO Eric Trappier.
The survivability of the future main combat jet of the US armed forces and many of their allies is again in doubt. Despite praising Red Flag Exercise after-action reports on deployed US Air Force and US Marine Corps F-35s, Airheadsfly.com feels the effectiveness in tomorrow’s air war against – let’s say – Russian or even Swedish fighter jets is not as rosy as we are “made” to believe.
A “Twenty-to-One kill ratio” by US Air Force F-35As and “extremely capable across several mission sets” for US Marine Corps F-35Bs. Wonderful statements in beautiful analyses on the most modern 5th generation fighter jet of US-allied armed forces going to “war” over the combat ranges of Nevada from Nellis Air Force Base. If we believe these reports flying the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II into combat is like winning the jackpot on The Strip in adjacent Las Vegas city.
But what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas? What is not clear in neither the US Air Force statements as in the recent released report written by Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121’s Lt. Col. J.T. Bardo is how realistic the scenarios played at Red Flag are. We have no doubt they do mirror future war situations, but we do question if the more capable enemy aircraft are really put into play.
“Overall, the F-35 was far more survivable than the participating legacy aircraft,” commander Bardo writes on the six Marines F-35Bs participating in Red Flag 2016-3. Of course, the newer jet should be able to do a better job than the 4th generation F-16 Block 30 and 40s that were deployed. But can it match the Russian Sukhoi Su-37s or Swedish SAAB JAS 39C/D Gripen MS20s?
The “professional adversaries” (Aggressor aircraft) during the Red Flag 2016-3 were above all 1980/1990s-era F-16s of the US Air Force 64th Aggressor Squadron as well as 1960s-era McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawks flown by the Draken International paramilitary organisation. Hardly comparable to the most modern aircraft of today.
When it comes to manoeuvrability and range the F-35 is by far outmatched by its modern Russian rivals, such as the Sukhoi Su-35BM/S equipped with trust-vectoring (movable) engines. The Lightning II flies only a two-thirds (1,200 mls / 2,200 km) of the distance the Su-35 (1,980 mls / 3,600 km), while having tankers in a bandit-rich environment is not considered a likely scenario.
JAS 39 Gripen MS20
True, the F-35 has the stealth advantage but according to sources within Swedish SAAB and the Swedish Air Force the newest MS20 software upgrade of the JAS 39 Gripen jet enables the aircraft’s radar and other systems to detect and counter these stealthy aircraft quite well. Although it is unlikely American jocks will fly against Vikings the new Meteor missile has given the JAS 39 Gripen – as well as the French Rafale – a lethal weapon against enemy aircraft over the 60 miles (100 km) range.
The Swedes have fielded the upgraded Gripen MS20 and Meteor mainly to cope with the Russian Sukhoi PAK A/T-50 stealthy air-supiority fighter and the non-stealthy Flankers of the 4+ generation. But the technology as such can – in the wrong hands – quite likely turn a F-35 into a smoking hole in the ground as well.
What the largest country of Scandinavia has, is quite likely to be available soon in some sort to the jocks flying for Moscow. Add the newest generation of Russian electronic counter measures and the Red Bear outclasses the American Eagle. Especially if the threat from the ground is added. Russia’s S-400/40N6 surface-to-air missile system can kill targets up to 250 miles (400 km) away at speeds up to Mach 5.9 (4,500 mph or 2,000 m/s).
Moreover, Russia is traditionally keeping a better pace between aircraft and missile technology, while US puts more money into its aircraft technology and let its pilots often fly with somewhat antiquated anti-air weaponry and having its ground forces operating with less-good-than-what-the-Russians-have missile batteries.
Believe vs Make-believe
We do believe the F-35s state-of-the-art sensors give its users a great asset in any war scenario, but with still lacking basic things as stand-off weapons, the ability to bring just four air-to-air missiles to the air war in order to remain stealthy (all weapons internal) and with the newest electronic counter and detect developments made by other defence manufacturers worldwide the survivability as advertised by the Red Flag after-action reports may very well be nothing more than make-believe.
Belgium’s F-16 jets are to keep flying until 2028, when the last will be replaced by a yet to be determined new fighter jet. According to reports in Belgium, the first new fighter jet should enter service in 2023. For five years, the new jet will operate alongside the F-16, after which the curtain will fall for the latter.
The Belgian government in Brussels has put aside 3.5 billion EUR to replace 54 F-16 with a total of 34 new jets. Candidates are the Lockheed Martin F-35, Dassault Rafale, Saab Gripen, Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and Eurofighter Typhoon. The F-35 is widely regarded as the most likely choice for the Belgians. A final decision is expected in 2018.
Of the original European Participating Air Forces (EPAF) in the seventies, Belgium will use the F-16 the longest. The other participating countries – the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark – all already selected the F-35 as their F-16 replacement. Norway is expected to loose its F-16 by 2021, with the Netherlands following in 2023. Denmark should not be far behind.
Belgium back then was actually also the very first European nation to receive the F-16. The first jet was delivered on 29 January 1979 after being assembled by SABCA
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on Tuesday received its first two Boeing EA-18G Growlers. Both jets are part of an Australian order of twelve jets. The Growlers are electronic warfare variants of the F/A-18F Super Hornet and are capable of disrupting, deceiving or denying a broad range of military electronic systems, including radars and communications.
The 12 EA-18G Growlers will be based at Amberley airbase and will operate in conjunction with Australian air, land and sea forces. The Growlers are a vital part of plan Jericho, wich aims to transform the RAAF into one of the most advanced air forces in the world by seeking maximum network integration with Australian army and navy forces.
All remaining Australian Growlers are due for delivery this year. The country already operates a fleet of 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets, plus 71 older F/A-18A/.B Hornets.