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USAF to assess need for ‘post-F-16' affordable mass

With the F-16 providing the US Air Force with its affordable mass, the service will shortly begin considering what follows the aircraft type in the future. (Janes/Gareth Jennings)

The US Air Force (USAF) is to shortly begin assessing its longer-term requirement for an “affordable” aircraft that it can operate in the post-Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon timeframe.

Speaking under the Chatham House Rule, an official said the work will begin in the coming few years to field a combat aircraft type with a cost per flight hour that is sustainable and which can be acquired in meaningful numbers.

“We are committed to go down from seven fighter fleets to four – so that's the very-high-end [Lockheed Martin] F-35 as the workhorse, the [Boeing] F-15EX as a high volume truck, pre- or post-Block F-16s as affordable capacity, [and the unmanned Collaborative Combat Aircraft],” the official said on 6 November.

“However, in about four or five years, we are going to have to make a decision about what affordable mass is going to look like in the future – will it be another version of the F-16, the F-7 [a fighter version of the Boeing T-7 Red Hawk trainer], or will it be something that we haven't yet thought about? Whatever it is, we will not be able to guard the Super Bowl at USD75,000 an hour in a [Lockheed Martin] F-22.”

According to Janes World Air Forces, the USAF fields 750 single-seat F-16C and 139 twin-seat F-16D aircraft. The service received its Block 40/42 F-16C/Ds in 1989, with deliveries of the first Block 50/52 aircraft starting in 1994. In 2020 it announced that the latest Operational Flight Program (OFP) M-series 7.2+ upgrade would be retrofitted to more than 600 Block 40/42/50/52 F-16s.

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