Jordanian air force mobilizes F-16s in defense of Israeli airspace

On April 14, the F-16 fighters of the Royal Jordanian Air Force [RJAF] were rapidly deployed to intercept Iranian drones headed for Israel. These drones, part of Operation True Promise, had been launched as a reaction to an Israeli strike on an Iranian diplomatic structure in Syria. 

Jordan asked for 16 F-16 Block 70 fighters and 21 GE engines
Photo credit: Wikipedia

This operation stands out as one of the most consequential and direct military interventions in Israel’s favor by an Arab state in history. The incident underscores the budding close relations Israel has fostered with several Western-aligned Arab kingdoms, with Jordan and Morocco being the primary ones. 

Since 2011, Jordan has been a pivotal player, backing the military efforts of the West, Israel, and Turkey against its neighbor Syria. Historically, Syria has been one of Israel and the U.S.’s main adversaries since the early days of the Cold War.

Israel has supported Jordan

Historically, Jordan has been a recipient of military assistance from Israel, including inheritances of military aircraft in the 2010s alongside frequent bilateral military drills. But, this camaraderie has not been without its share of controversy. 

Post the violent Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip in November 2023, which led to a dramatic loss of civilian lives, allegations of a Gazan genocide started buzzing worldwide, creating a strain in Jordan-Israel relations. Such sensitive issues often stem from Western and regional sources. 

Making the situation more complex, a significant number of Jordanians are of Palestinian descent. This demographic fact inevitably intensifies the challenge for the Jordanian government to smoothly maintain its evident alliance with Israel.

M7.4 Richter quake damages Republic of China's elite F-16V squadron
Photo credit: Reddit

The deals of Jordan

In the late 20th century, Jordan’s Air Force gained a noteworthy asset: F-16 fighters. Notably, these were equipped with the relatively modern AIM-120 air-to-air missiles, unlike their counterparts in neighboring countries like Egypt and Iraq. It’s believed that the current fleet comprises around 47 of these formidable machines, with the initial order of 16 fighters placed in 1995 and subsequent delivery happening between 1997 and 1998. 

Interestingly, on January 19, 2023, the Ministry of Defence of Jordan announced a fresh order. This time, they sought 12 F-16 fighters built to the latest Block 70/72 standard, signed under a hefty contract worth $4.21 billion. Effectively, each of these cutting-edge aircraft, with its associated weaponry and maintenance gear, costs a tad above $350 million. Astonishingly, that’s about triple the cost of the same batch of aircraft purchased by Taiwan in 2019 – each of those ranged below $125 million. 

At Mach 1.9, the F-16 rapidly reduces speed and quivers - US pilot
Photo credit: USAF

This notable price difference, nearly threefold the $120 million per unit that Israel is shelling out for the brand-new F-35 fighters, has raised many eyebrows. Questions about potential corruption in the deal have begun to circulate. However, there’s also an undercurrent of realization that in the case of a larger, region-wide conflict, Iran and other Western Bloc opponents will not only have Western, Israeli, and Turkish forces to contend with but also the formidable supporting forces from several Western-aligned Arab states.

Jordanian F-16A/Bs

In the realm of cutting-edge airborne technology, the F-16s of the Royal Jordanian Air Force stand out, touting a wide range of high-tech weaponry and systems. A significant unique feature is the AN/APG-68 radar – an advanced piece of technology offering unrivaled detection capabilities. 

US autonomous F-16 Viper is set as a core of an F-35 combat squadron
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

Paired with the AN/ALR-69 Radar Warning Receiver, an innovative system that warns pilots about potential radar threats, these planes further boost their defense with the AN/ALQ-131 Electronic Countermeasures Pod. This remarkable system jams enemy radar, enhancing the aircraft’s stealth and making it even more formidable in antagonistic settings. The F-16s are outfitted with an impressive arsenal of missiles and bombs, including AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, as well as AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missiles. For close-quarter combat, the aircraft comes equipped with a 20mm M61A1 Vulcan cannon. 

On the avionics front, the F-16s boasts state-of-the-art systems, showcasing a Heads-Up Display [HUD] which projects essential flight and targeting data onto a clear screen in the pilot’s line of sight. Also worth noting is the hands-on throttle and stick [HOTAS] control system, facilitating the pilot with seamless control over the aircraft and its corresponding systems without needing to remove their hands from the controls. To top it all off, these aircraft are fitted with an advanced navigation arsenal, like the Inertial Navigation System [INS] and a Global Positioning System [GPS].

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