T-7 Red Hawk trainer could replace the F-16 fighter in the US

A verdict concerning the future of the F-35 program might take another 4-5 years to be finalized, thereby obliterating the program’s current structure completely. 

T-7A Red Hawk performs like a fighter and is an F-16 challenger
Photo credit: Boeing

Conversations regarding the necessity of deciding on the successor of the F-16 fighters have been initiated within the Pentagon. This decision is destined to arrive given an impending program review. Throughout these discussions, it has been suggested that the F-35 could be a logical successor, not only for the F-16 but also for the F-15, the A-10 strike aircraft, and the F/A-18 fleet.

There have been noted inconsistencies in the implementation of the Joint Strike Fighter program, specifically regarding the single-strike fighter concept. Significant examples include the procurement of the F-15EX and, even more critical, the production rates that are currently insufficient for the US Air Force to replace the F-16 with the F-35 at an optimal speed. 

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

Moreover, authoritative reports sourced via Jane’s contend that the issue of producing a cost-effective and efficient aircraft is now once again under thorough examination and discussion.

In an official statement, it has been disclosed that a planned reduction in the fighter fleet is in motion, where the current number of seven will be brought down to four. The fleet will, in its new configurations, comprise the high-performance F-35 as its mainstay, the F-15EX replacing the F-16 for heavy-duty bombing operations, and disposable capacity roles. Additionally, there will be a fresh integration of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles [UAVs], reminiscent of the well-known XQ-58A Valkyrie model, which will serve as joint combat systems. 

The specified deadline for drawing up the substitution for the F-16; a frequently utilized and cost-effective fighter, is slated to be established within 4-5 years. There are multiple alternatives under consideration, such as a modernized version of the F-16 itself, and the F-7 fighter born out of the T-7 Red Hawk trainer, amongst other options.

T-7A Red Hawk performs like a fighter and is an F-16 challenger
Photo credit: Boeing/Saab

The impending mid-1940s decommissioning of the 600-plus F-16 aircraft currently utilized by the United States necessitates considerations regarding replacements. 

While the F-35 is poised to replace a significant portion of these, an official additionally emphasized the need for a cost-effective operational mechanism akin to the T-7 Red Hawk. 

The F-22, with its high flight-per-hour cost of $75,000, starkly contrasts with the desired financial model, prompting uncertainty regarding its future within the hypothetical timeline of the 2040s. 

BulgarianMilitary.com posits that aircraft equal in affordability and functionality to the F-7, heavily influenced by the T-7 Red Hawk, allegorically resemble the Korean FA-50 Block 20. This aircraft serves to fulfill everyday peacetime duties, such as patrolling, thereby ensuring continued aviation readiness amongst personnel. 

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

In a potential conflict scenario, it would be relegated to second or third-echelon duties due to its ability to employ the majority of a full-fledged fighter’s arsenal. The aircraft holds this expected role not only in Korea but also in Poland. 

Comparison of the F-35 with labor-intensive tasks casts it in the metaphorical role of a workhorse. The projected role of the new aircraft, in contrast, resembles a donkey, tasked with the most menial duties. Neither mentioned as a potential sixth-generation aircraft nor lauded for its superior capabilities and features, it is rather praised for its economical operation, simplicity, and potential mass production. 

The emphasized point is not that a single or dual type of aircraft will fulfill service requirements, but rather that concerted, balanced evaluation is urgently needed. This is especially important given the impending comprehensive rearmament of the US Air Force.

T-7A Red Hawk performs like a fighter and is an F-16 challenger
Photo credit: Wikipedia


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