F-16 Viper could fly alongside Su-30 in Vietnam People’s Air Force

The Vietnamese People’s Air Force currently maintains a fleet of ten Su-27 Flanker combat aircraft, complemented by 35 Su-30s and 34 Su-22s. Included in their inventory is also a reserved MiG-21 “Fishbed”, which was put in standby mode in 2010. In a surprising twist, there’s speculation of a possible addition of American aircraft to Vietnam’s arsenal soon. 

USAF new F-16 'dark grey' camouflage scheme goes mainstream
Photo credit: USAF

The first indication of this evolution came in 2021, as Vietnam placed an order for at least three T-6 Texan II trainers from American manufacturer Beechcraft. The delivery of these aircraft is still pending. This apparent shift is concurrent with the thawing of relations between Vietnam and the United States, a development largely driven by shared concerns regarding China. 

This change was underlined during a recent visit by U.S. President Joe Biden to Hanoi. During this visit, introductory dialogues were initiated to establish an agreement for a vast arms sale. This is viewed as the next step in defining the burgeoning partnership between the United States and Vietnam. 

As Reuters reports, citing two reliable sources, there is talk of Vietnam’s People’s Air Force acquiring F-16 fighters. If this conjecture is validated, it could mark a significant enhancement in Vietnam’s defense capabilities, especially if the acquired fleet includes the advanced F-16 “Viper”. Constructed by Lockheed Martin, this machine showcases a range of state-of-the-art features such as an AESA radar, an advanced mission computer, superior connectivity, and a terrain observation display. 

F-16 fired a 5th-gen missile with upgraded circuit guidance cards
Photo credit: USAF

An official from the Biden administration shared with Reuters that the U.S. enjoys a “productive and promising” security relationship with Vietnam. There seems to be a strong Vietnamese interest in U.S. defense systems, particularly those that improve their maritime surveillance capabilities and other means of transport. This might soon include military aircraft.

What will the F-16 give to Vietnam?

The acquisition of the US F-16 fighter jets by Vietnam will significantly enhance its combat capabilities. While Vietnam already possesses the Russian Su-27 and Su-30 fighter jets, the addition of the F-16s will provide a more diverse and advanced fleet.

Su-30 has used Khibiny EW during an interception of the F-35
Photo credit: Dzen.ru

The F-16 is known for its agility, advanced avionics, and superior air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities. This will allow Vietnam to effectively engage in both air-to-air combat and ground attack missions, thereby expanding its operational flexibility and effectiveness on the battlefield.

The F-16s will also bring several technological advantages to Vietnam’s air force. These aircraft are equipped with advanced radar systems, which will enhance Vietnam’s situational awareness and enable it to detect and track enemy aircraft more effectively.

Additionally, the F-16s are equipped with advanced electronic warfare systems, allowing Vietnam to disrupt and counter enemy radar and communications systems. The acquisition of the F-16s will also strengthen Vietnam’s interoperability with the United States and other countries operating F-16s. This will facilitate joint training exercises, information sharing, and potentially even joint operations in the future.

The three planes are a challenge

F-16 and the Russian Su-27 and Su-30 aircraft are indeed incompatible in several aspects. One major factor contributing to their incompatibility is the difference in design philosophy and technology used in their construction.

The F-16 is a lightweight, single-engine, multi-role fighter jet, while the Su-27 and Su-30 are heavy, twin-engine, air superiority fighters. This difference in design leads to variations in performance capabilities, maneuverability, and overall flight characteristics.

Su-27 Flanker fighter jet
Photo credit: Creative Commons

Another aspect of incompatibility lies in the avionics and weapon systems employed by these aircraft. This can result in communication issues, difficulties in sharing data, and challenges in coordinating joint missions or operations.

Furthermore, the incompatibility extends to maintenance and logistical support. The F-16 the Russian Su-27 and Su-30 have different maintenance requirements, spare parts, and support systems. This can pose challenges when conducting joint exercises or operations, as the availability of necessary resources may vary.

In terms of flight together, the incompatibility between these aircraft can lead to difficulties in coordinating tactics, formations, and overall mission planning. The varying performance characteristics, such as speed, range, and altitude capabilities, can limit the effectiveness of joint operations.

Additionally, differences in radar capabilities and electronic warfare systems can hinder effective coordination and situational awareness, potentially compromising the success of combined missions.

US is taking into service the newest hunter of the Russian S-400s - AGM-88 HARM F-16
Photo credit: Dzen.ru

US-Vietnam deal’s factors

The decision to possible sell F-16 fighter jets in the future to Vietnam is driven by several factors. Firstly, it is part of the United States’ broader strategy to strengthen its ties with Vietnam and enhance its presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Vietnam is seen as a key partner in maintaining regional stability and countering China’s growing influence. By providing Vietnam with advanced military equipment like the F-16s, the US aims to bolster Vietnam’s defense capabilities and enhance its ability to protect its sovereignty.

China and Vietnam

Indeed, the disputes between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea are a significant factor in the US decision. China claims almost the entire South China Sea, including areas that are internationally recognized as part of Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone.

Spotted: Turkish KAAN stealth also with inverted canopy as on F-35
Photo credit: SavunmaSanayiST.com

This has led to tensions and occasional clashes between the two countries. The US views China’s assertiveness in the region as a threat to its own interests and the interests of its allies, including Vietnam. By selling F-16 fighter jets to Vietnam, the US is indirectly signaling its support for Vietnam’s position in the disputes and its commitment to maintaining a balance of power in the region.

It is worth noting that the US lifting its decades-long arms embargo on Vietnam in 2016 paved the way for the potential sale of F-16 fighter jets. This decision was driven by a desire to deepen defense cooperation with Vietnam and strengthen its ability to defend itself.

The US has been gradually expanding its defense ties with Vietnam, including joint military exercises and increased defense trade. A possible sale of F-16 fighter jets is a natural progression in this growing partnership and reflects the US commitment to supporting Vietnam’s security and sovereignty.


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