Recently, according to U.S. media reports, the U.S. Air Force is considering repurchasing F-16 fighters to replace some of the F-35A stealth fighters originally ordered.
The U.S. Air Force originally planned to purchase 1,763 F-35A stealth fighters, but now it is possible to reduce this number to 1,050. Then, the remaining funds from the order for 713 F-35A stealth fighters will be used to purchase F-15EX, F-16V and unmanned fighters.
The idea of the U.S. Air Force can be said to be quite unusual. We know that the U.S. Air Force has always attached importance to the development of advanced aviation technology and strived to form a greater equipment performance advantage with rival countries.
Therefore, since World War II, the U.S. Air Force has basically maintained a regular rhythm of the old and new, and will never go back to purchase the old generation of equipment after the new generation of equipment has been in batches.
However, after entering the second decade of the 21st century, the U.S. Air Force has changed its usual practice, not only ordering the first batch of F-15EX multi-purpose heavy fighters, but also the idea of continuing to purchase F-16V Viper multi-purpose fighters.
You know, the U.S. Air Force has now received more than 250 F-35A stealth fighters and formed an initial combat capability. So, what are the secrets behind this huge transformation of the U.S. Air Force?
The whole stealth dream is broken, and the U.S. Air Force is more pragmatic.
Once upon a time, the U.S. Air Force fantasized about building its combat aircraft fleet into a unique “full stealth lineup” in the world – F-22A and F-35A stealth fighters cooperated to become the main force of the charge; the B-2A and the next generation of B-21 stealth strategic bombing As a strong backing, the machine gives full play to the strong strength of long-range accurate strike.
In addition, RQ-170, “Avenger” Valkyrie and other stealth drones for different purposes form a “swarm” air combat network system, which has become a “power multiplier” for manned stealth fighters.
However, the ideal is full, and the reality is very backbone. Over time, the cruel reality slowly shattered the dream of “full stealth lineup”. The F-22A and F-35A stealth fighters do show a huge performance difference compared with the fourth-generation non-stealth fighters such as the F-15 and F-16, but under the pressure of high domestic financial “high debt”, the high cost is also difficult for the United States to bear.
The F-22A stealth fighter was the most expensive fighter in the world at that time when production was discontinued in 2012, and it still holds this record. The number of F-35A stealth fighters ordered by the U.S. Air Force was originally calculated on the basis of a cost of about $50 million per aircraft. At present, although Lowe Ma has reduced the factory price of the F-35A stealth fighter to about 80 million US dollars, in fact, there is little room for further price reduction, which is far from the ideal psychological price of the U.S. Air Force.
In addition, the maintenance and guarantee cost of F-22A and F-35A stealth fighters is much higher. Compared with the fourth generation of non-stealth fighters such as F-15 and F-16, the F-22A and F-35A stealth fighters took a lot of time and manpower and material resources on the maintenance of stealth coatings, which once made the United States Air Force very headache.
Therefore, we often see that part of the surface of the fuselage of the F-22A and F-35A stealth fighters will fall off, but the U.S. Air Force still conducts normal flight training, which is to save money for centralized maintenance.
Moreover, the delivery speed of the F-35A stealth fighters cannot satisfy the U.S. Air Force. Lowe Ma produces three models of F-35 stealth fighters at the same time, of which F-35A stealth fighters also include orders from other countries. Especially since last year, due to the huge impact of the coronavirus epidemic, Lowe Ma has had to postpone the full-speed production increase of the F-35 stealth fighter.
For the U.S. Air Force, the delivery of only dozens of F-35A stealth fighters a year is far from making up for the loss of life of the fourth-generation non-stealth fighters in active service. Therefore, the U.S. Air Force simply abandoned the “dream” of “full stealth lineup”, which seems impossible to be realized at present, and more pragmatically optimizes and integrates the equipment system to achieve the integration of the fifth generation stealth fighters, the fourth generation of non-stealth fighters and various types of drones.
The confrontation of great powers, consumption has become the mainstream.
Another thing we need to note is that although the U.S. Air Force repurchased the fourth-generation non-stealth fighters such as F-15EX and F-16V and drones, it has clearly put forward the concept of “consumable aircraft”.
In this regard, the author believes that there are two meanings.
First of all, the so-called “consumable” of fourth-generation non-stealth fighters such as F-15EX and F-16V should refer to normal missions and non-war military operations. For example, pilot training, exercises, live ammunition target shooting should also include tasks such as intercepting military aircraft from other countries, air defense identification area testing, provocation and so on.
When performing such tasks, the fourth generation of non-stealth fighters such as F-15EX and F-16V tend to have greater flexibility. If stealth fighters such as F-22A and F-35A are used, it is likely to further escalate the tension of the confrontation between the two sides, mistakenly regarded by the other party for paramilitary operations, and even lead to “shooting”.
Secondly, F-15EX and F-16V are called “consumable aircraft” in another meaning, which refers to combat use in wartime.
In fact, this is also a major shift in the U.S. Air Force from trying to maintain equipment differences with its opponents in the past to a more realistic recognition of forming a power balance with its opponents.
During the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force maintained a generational advantage over the Soviet Air Force for a considerable period of time. Especially in the 1970s and 1990s, the United States and its supporting allies, such as Israel, have always formed a battlefield advantage of the old generation of fighters with a new generation of Soviet-powered fighters on the main fighter plane.
So much so that in the Middle East battlefield, even the Arab countries obtained the most advanced MiG-23 fighter from the Soviet Union at that time, and were defeated by the Israeli Air Force equipped with advanced American-made fighters such as F-15s and F-16.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, although the Soviet Air Force had begun to equip the fourth-generation fighters such as the Su-27 and MiG-29 in batches, the United States had already pushed the ATF fifth-generation fighter project to the bidding test flight stage. It can be imagined that if the Cold War did not stop abruptly in 1991, but continued, the U.S. Air Force could still be ahead of the Soviet Union’s fifth-generation stealth fighters.
However, with the rise of some emerging world powers, the United States realized that it is no longer a “unipolar world” that can dominate alone, but a “multipolar world” with a more balanced power contrast.
Especially in the face of the rapid development of this emerging power air force in the main battle aviation equipment in the past decade, the United States Air Force, which claims to be a “science and technology army”, finally feels that it can no longer maintain the advantage of poor equipment performance.
Therefore, when confronting an opponent whose strength is constantly approaching itself, the U.S. Air Force can no longer rely on its own superior equipment to defeat the opponent’s inferior equipment, forming a large battle loss ratio, as in the past.
Then, the U.S. Air Force can only face a comprehensive air confrontation between the world’s powers. At this time, it needs to consider whether its own strength can withstand huge wartime “consumption”.
From the perspective of the U.S. Air Force’s own equipment strength, more than 100 F-22A and more than 1,000 F-35A stealth fighters are the core of the air combat system and must not be consumed in large quantities.
Then, only the fourth-generation non-stealth fighters such as the F-15 and F-16 can be “consumptioned” in the confrontation with the air forces of emerging powers.
Of course, the ideal “consumables” of the U.S. Air Force are drones. However, until military drones truly achieve complete intelligence and autonomy, the U.S. Air Force can only rely on manned fourth-generation non-stealth fighters to fight against the emerging power air force.
In addition, the U.S. Air Force is likely to believe that the stealth fighter fleet of more than 180 F-22As and 1,050 F-35As is enough to fight against the stealth fighter fleet of the emerging power air force.
Even if the U.S. Air Force is unable to form a equipment replacement relative to the emerging power air force at present, at least in the number of stealth fighters, the former can maintain an advantage in the future. Well, the victory or defeat of the confrontation between the two sides may be determined by the competition between the fourth generation of non-stealth fighters equipped by the two sides.
The people are not good, and the “viper” in the air is strong.
Although it is defined as a “consumable aircraft”, in fact, the performance of the new generation of F-16V Block70/72 fighters is still very powerful. The number “V” is the abbreviation of Viper “viper”. From the original “Battle Falcon” to today’s “Viper”, the F-16 fighter has been continuously improved and developed, and is still one of the most powerful fourth-generation non-stealth fighters.
The core of the aircraft is the AN/APG-83 SABR active phased array radar developed by Northrop Grumman, which belongs to the development model of the AN/APG-81 active phased array radar of the F-35 stealth fighter. The engine has also been improved accordingly: Block70 uses General Electric’s F110-GE-129 engine with a maximum thrust of 131 kN; Block72 uses Pratt & Whitney’s F100-PW-229 engine with a maximum thrust of 130 kN.
In fact, since it is a brand-new production, Lowe Ma is likely to continue to improve according to the specific needs of the U.S. Air Force based on the current F-16V Block70/72 fighters, including the integration of a part of the F-16E/F Block60 “Desert Falcon” and the Indian bidding F- 21 The technical content of the design scheme does not even exclude the use of DSI technology in the inlet design to improve flight performance.
After all, the world’s earliest DSI technology test was carried out on F-16 fighters.
In terms of airborne weapons, the precision missile-made drugs of the U.S. military in active service and the upcoming equipment of the troops can be mounted, including “Ham” high-speed anti-radiation missiles, JSOW series dispensers, JSM long-range air-to-surface cruise missiles, GPS guided bombs, etc.
Combined with phased array radar and advanced aiming pods, accurate ground strike energy The strength is further improved.
In terms of air, it can carry advanced air-to-air missiles such as AIM-120D, AIM-126 and AIM-9X, and can also compete with the fifth-generation fighter aircraft with the cooperation of early warning aircraft and electronic warfare aircraft.
To sum up, the overall technical level of the upgraded F-16V has reached the level of four and a half-generation fighters, which is at the same level as the Su-35, J-10C, Gusty Wind and other fighters, to meet most of the future combat needs of the U.S. military.