F-16 the United States Air Force admits that the F-35 failed to replace the old F-16 fighter jet fleet and announced the need for a new aircraft. The new jet will be less expensive and have less technologically advanced than the F-35s.
According to United States Chief of Staff General Charles Q. Brown, the USAF is launching a research and months-long study for tactical aviation needs, seeking a force mix that describes the short and long-term requirements and it will be available in time to address it in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget request.
General Brown said they are looking for a new ‘fifth-generation-minus’ aircraft, whose capabilities stand between the old F-16 Fighting Falcon and the new 5th-generation F-35 fleet. The new fighter aircraft would be 4.5th-generation.
Ageing F-16 fleet:
The F-16 is a multi-role aircraft developed by General Dynamics. It was first entered production in 1976. Lockheed Martin took over the F-16 production line from General Dynamics in 1993.
The F-16 Fighting Falcon is an aging jet having more than four decades in service in the Air Force. It not only serves the United States Air Force but 25 other Air Forces from around the globe.
The newest variant of F-16s was brought into the Air Force in 2001. The aircraft is falling behind the technological curve and modern-age war requirements. So ordering more F-16s is not an option.
USAF started developing the successor of F-16, twenty years ago. As advanced and cutting-edge technologies added to it, the program became more complex and expensive. Other nations were brought into the next-generation aircraft development program when it grew too expensive and the USA was unable to handle the program expense.
The F-35 program was initially considered to resolve the dilemma of USAF for next-generation fighters. Because the Air Force needed the new fighter to replace its old F-16s and also to meet its modern age warfare requirements.
F-35 jet as the next-generation fighter aircraft is the most expensive one. The lifetime cost of the program was estimated at around $1.5 trillion over the course of 50 years which makes it the most expensive in US history. Per unit cost of the F-35 is nearly around 100 million dollars. While considering a new fighter jet, the cost of the F-35 is just a single factor. There are many
other F-35 program limitations arising now even as the USAF is using the 5th-generation jet for nearly 15 years.
Now the F-35 aircraft when used in combat zones and in real-time environments, it suffers from some structural flaws and challenges.
The engine shortage problem is the most recent one. The main cause of the problem is the longer repair and maintenance time than expected. According to some military analysts, the situation will improve but it will take months. Some military news outlets have estimated that until 2022, about five to six percent of the total F-35 aircraft have been grounded due to the engine shortage problem.
The F-35 software consists of 8 million lines of code and it is facing a bug in its coding. The US Department of Defense brings research teams from three universities to mitigate the problem. These universities include the Software Engineering Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, Applied Physics Lab from John Hopkins University, and Georgia Tech Research Institute.
The 5th-generation aircraft also suffered from a touchscreen problem. All the hard flipped switches from the control and the functions are shifted on the touchscreen in the F-35, but the pilots face problems while controlling the functions through the touchscreen. Pilots say the touchscreen will not work 20 percent of the time unlike physical switches that they are confident have been activated.
USAF General Brown also wants to limit the usage of F-35 jets. He compared the jet with a Ferrari. He said you don’t take your Ferrari every day at work. You just drive it on weekends. It is our ‘high-end’ fighter and we don’t have to use it in low-end operations.
On the other hand, the US adversaries like Russia and China have their own 5th-generation fighter jets. Those jets are less expensive than the F-35.
Russia is operating the Su-57 as the most modern, 5th-generation fighter jet. It is indigenously developed by Russia without the help of any other nation. It is considered as the air-superiority fighter used for attack operations. There is still a question that the F-35 could stand up to the Sukhoi Su-57 in a one-on-one dogfight. Because the Su-57 is the most agile and maneuverable aircraft.
China has also developed its own 5th-generation J-20 Mighty Dragon fighter jet. It is considered to have the parallel capabilities of the USA’s F-22 Raptor. Raptor is considered the technologically most advanced fighting platform currently operated by USAF.
USAF has started working on the new 4.5-generation jet. But bringing all the new aircraft to its inventory is not an easy task. Because the F-16, which is the most successful aircraft of its time and is used by many air forces around the globe takes years of development and testing to make it a capable aircraft.