Slovak F-16 is ‘wild’ and successfully stacks up against F-35

Slovak Air Force has just welcomed the first pair of F-16 fighter jets from America—a part of a $1.8 billion contract inked back in December 2018. The agreement stipulates a total of fourteen of these robust aircraft. 

Slovak F-16 Block 70 is a 'wild' and successfully stacks up against F-35
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin, based in Greenville, South Carolina, marked the delivery at their fresh production facility. Despite earlier hitches that slowed down production at the Greenville site, Slovakia anticipates the summer arrival of these aircraft. Taking the delays into account, the final batch of F-16s from this contract is now projected to land by 2025.  

The motive behind the acquisition of the F-16s was to replace the MiG-29A and MiG-29UB fighters, originally bought from the Soviet Union during the closing years of the Cold War. Remarkably, these older planes have been donated to Ukraine by Slovakia, where they’ve been involved in numerous aerial skirmishes with Russian aircraft. 

Slovak F-16 is a 'wild' and successfully stacks up against F-35
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

The new F-16 is something different

When the Soviet MiG-29 was introduced, it was lauded as a more sophisticated fighter than the well-established F-16. This is largely due to its superior flight performance, its innovative use of both long and short-range missiles, and the groundbreaking integration of helmet-mounted sights—a technology that was pioneered by Soviet jets. 

However, time and technological advancements have a way of changing perceptions. Today, the capabilities of those early batch MiGs are deemed rather rudimentary, especially when you look at them through the lens of 21st-century standards.  On the flip side, the F-16s, which have been recently purchased, incorporate an array of technologies that have been innovated in the three decades since the Cold War came to an end. 

Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

Newest F-16

Slovakia’s order of F-16 Block 70s introduces ‘4+ generation’ fighter jets boasting avionics that rival the state-of-the-art F-35 stealth fighters in terms of complexity, making these the most technologically advanced F-16s ever built. 

One of the key draws of this fresh F-16 variant is its seamless incorporation of the APG-83 dynamically scanned array radar. It not only enhances its prowess in electronic warfare but also furnishes extraordinary situational awareness for a compact fighter of its class. 

US-made F-16 in the sky over the Black Sea: predator or prey?
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

This radar’s superior complexity helps to offset the constraints the F-16 has traditionally faced owing to the diminutive size of the sensors it can accommodate, given its profile as a lightweight fighter aircraft.

Block 70 has a distinctive flaw

Despite the numerous enhancements in F-16 Block 70 models, one area where it falls short compared to previous iterations is in engine strength. The F110-GE-129 engine only provides a maximum thrust of 131.2 kN, making it considerably less powerful than the F110-GE-132 engine found in F-16 Block 60 models, shipped off to the United Arab Emirates.  

Australia has shown how rapidly it can cloak its F-35 fleet
Photo by Sergeant Craig Barrett

It’s important to consider that while F-16s have watched new orders dwindle in recent times—mainly due to customers gravitating towards the fifth-generation F-35s—these vintage warbirds hold an edge when it comes to operational costs and maintenance demands.  

Interestingly, the Slovak Air Force is set to see its fighter availability rates shoot up, juxtaposed next to other European Fleet examples like Norway and Belgium who’ve signed on for F-35s. The outcome? Aircrafts parked far less often, giving them additional airtime for every precious hour of flight. 

The Slovak F-16 is a ‘wild’

Interestingly, Slovakia is the sole country that, despite its eligibility to procure F-35s without political constraints, chose to invest in the F-16 instead. 

It’s worth noting that the F-35 is consistently marred by reliability issues – with around 800 known defects and the count still ticking. Conversely, the F-16 stands as the second oldest still-in-production fighter class globally. The true appeal of the F-16 lies in its tried-and-true nature and considerably less complex structure. 

When looking at the European competition, particularly the Rafale and Eurofighter, they can’t quite match the cost-effectiveness of their American counterparts. Boasting higher operational costs and lower availability rates even in their home countries, these European variants often pale in comparison to the tried-and-true F-16.

Slovak F-16 is a ‘different level’

With its upgraded capabilities and particularly its enhanced sensors and armaments, the F-16 Block 70 has triumphantly risen above its older counterparts. Its forebears, churned out throughout the Cold War years and well into the 2000s, were stuck with mechanically scanned array radars and previous generations of avionics and weaponry. 

Furthermore, this particular model is predicted to be compatible with the American AIM-260, an air-to-air missile that could parallel, or even surpass, the Chinese PL-15 in terms of being the most capable for aircraft of fighter-sized dimensions. What’s interesting is the stark contrast between Slovakia’s procurement process and that of Ukraine. While Slovakia acquires this top-line model, Ukraine awaits early production units of the F-16 – versions which are now regarded as practically obsolete. Indeed, these early output models do not offer any substantial improvements over Ukraine’s current MiG-29 fleet. 

Interestingly, it’s worth noting that the U.S. Air Force hasn’t added any new F-16s to their ranks since 2005. However, ongoing issues with the newer F-35 have sparked discussions about potentially revisiting procurement of the older lightweights, or even considering a completely different class of simple, lightweight fighter airplanes.

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