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Dogfight! F-16V Viper versus J-39E Gripen: Who Wins?

Dogfight! F-16V Viper versus J-39E Gripen: Who Wins?

The rapidly approaching target is locked in the F-16V FCR (Fire Control Radar). Through his HUD (Heads-Up Display) and the JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System) helmet the pilot can see a diamond hovering in space, right where the locked target should be. However, it’s too soon to visually make out an aircraft. He squints, there is nothing to see but clouds and blue sky.

The FCR screen says something entirely different and much more ominous is out there. He is locked to a fast moving target, and it’s pointing straight at him. Hot aspect. The closure rate is fantastic, well over 1,000 knots.

His experience tells him that this is no cargo plane, it’s no apparition either. It’s got to be a fighter, and the other pilot is coming straight at him, certainly trying to kill him.

His RWR (Radar Warning Receiver) bleeps in his ear, and a symbol appears on the screen at the 12 o’clock position. The approaching bandit has locked up his Viper.

He cross checks the diamond in his field of view. It’s still off the nose and level. The radar system says they are ten miles away now, and the closure rates have increased to 1,100 knots.

This other pilot means business.

He’s approaching aggressively and it will no doubt be a head on pass. There is no longer time to out-maneuver this unknown fighter, as turning now would simply set up a nice sweet shot for the approaching bandit, and put our F-16 into some kind of WEZ (Weapons Engagement Zone).

Like knights in a joust, he’s got to stay nose on to the bandit, stay aggressive and be ready to launch weapons, and fight. It’s too late to turn and run away.

Five miles! Still no “tally” but he can see the diamond drifting slightly low and off the left side of the nose. It’s going to be a head-on pass, down the left side. This is it! Eyes outside, get the tally!

A black dot, no bigger than a fleck of dirt on the canopy is the first thing he notices. It’s an easy tally at three miles as the enemy craft crosses in front of a white cloud. It reminds him of an ant crawling on a bed sheet. Within two seconds he can now see the definitive shape of a triangle, with a nose and a canopy. Maybe canards?

The aircraft will pass each other in another two seconds.

The fighters both roll towards each other, set lift vectors on each other and prepare for the canopy-to-canopy pass. The gray shape inside the diamond blooms instantly, as if it exploded. Not into parts and pieces, but instead into a live airplane, with color, markings, insignia, a clearly visible canopy, and missiles, all easily seen in the split second heartbeat of this pass—then it’s gone.


he shouts on the radio. He adjusts his lift vector to the adversary’s plane of motion, and pulls back on the stick. Here come the Gs

“Fight’s On!”
The F-16V versus the J-39E. Both are considered “top of the line” fourth generation fighter aircraft. Both have exceptional radars, cueing systems, engines, and technology. Who would win this fictional dogfight between the new mighty Viper “V” and the superb J-39E Gripen? Let’s dig a little deeper.

First the similarities. And I’m not going to split hairs here. I could care less if one aircraft carries a few more bullets, or can go 200 nm farther, or 5,000 feet higher.

I care about the stuff that the fighter pilot cares about…the “meat” of the aircraft, and what it can really do, on a real day with real weapons and fuel on board. Not some artificial test results published on the internet under certain and exact circumstances.

How do the systems and capabilities of the machine help the pilot?

Both fighters can do Mach 2, fly about 50,000 feet MSL (Mean Sea Level), and both are fantastic multi-role, single-seat fighters. Each has long range and heat-seeking missiles, as well as an array of dumb and smart bombs, and air-to-surface missiles at their disposal. Both have fly-by-wire controls and can in-flight refuel. They each have an AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, and fuel loads are similar.

Both have solid HUDs and HMCS (Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems) and can carry external targeting and laser pods. Both also can haul Link-16 datalink, ROVER (for secure video communication with ground parties), and satellite communication capabilities, and both are also touted as being able to super cruise, with limited air-to-air weapons on board. Impressive no doubt.

Now the differences.

The F-16V
The F-16V is the same ole F-16 your pappy flew, but with a few more modern enhancements that makes this Viper much more deadly. While the “V” retains all the incredible capabilities of the normal F-16, this new variant carries some new goodies that the J-39E doesn’t have.

The V model gets some new displays in the cockpit. There is limited data and photos of these new displays, however it is supposed to have a color MFD (Multi-Function Display) in the center position, in addition to other new advanced displays on the sides. Gucci!

It is surmised that this new cockpit display also contains some amount of sensor fusion. A cockpit that is said to be “sensor fused” allows for multiple incoming data pathways to present themselves on one display. In a sense, overlaying all the battlefield knowledge onto one presentation.

This aids the pilot’s workload and SA and eliminates the need for him or her to use a lot of “brain bytes” to interpret and react to the situation around him as he gets data from different systems on board the jet. It’s like flipping burgers on five grills at the same time, versus having one grill with everything on it.

The last two key distinctions for the new Viper are a little less “meat and potatoes” however, they are extremely important. The F-16V has actually flown, and is being tested right now. This is paramount, and also means that the concept and design has been funded and should be entering low rate production. The F-16V could be on the battlefield soon.

Secondly, the F-16V is building upon an already existing and proven combat design. Sure, the J-39 is an already existing design too, but further investigation reveals that the E model will have a whole new powerplant, avionics, fuel tanks and capacities, and cockpit.

It’s the shell of a J-39, but it’s entirely new. It’s about as similar to the old J-39 as a modern laptop is to a toaster. The new E model will require multiple test programs and flight hours to see IOC, so it’s an entirely different animal. Additionally, the baseline J-39 has seen limited actual combat operations, while F-16s fly thousands of combat hours a month over various global hotspots.

While less tangible, these key differences give the F-16V a huge edge in the global combat arena.

The J-39E
The J-39E is a fairy tale unicorn…but a bad ass fairy tale unicorn at that! It has a reported cockpit suite that embraces sensor fusion, the future of cockpit displays. It has a lower RCS (Radar Cross Section) than a traditional Gripen, and supposedly it will also have an IRSTS (Infra Red Search and Track) system that can detect and track targets passively, using their heat signature alone. Some capability against certain low RCS stealthy targets are being touted with the IRSTS, but that capability is yet to be tested and documented on the new Gripen.

The J-39 also has a smaller engine than the F-16V, but this canard-carrying bird is also lighter. The Viper’s GE powerplant produces almost 30,000 pounds of thrust for the Viper’s max takeoff weight of 48,000 pounds. Compare that to the new engine (same as the F/A-18) on the J-39E with it’s 22,000 pounds of thrust for the much lighter 31,000 pound max takeoff weight Gripen.

That’s a 0.625 ratio for the F-16 and a 0.70 ratio for the Gripen E if you’re bad at the math. At max weight, the J-39E has a better thrust-to-weight ratio, and a fuel burn rate at combat power settings will be slightly lower than the F-16 as well.

Lastly, some sources say that the J-39, with its large forward canards can sustain flight at much higher AoA (Angle of Attack) than the F-16. Over 50 degrees AoA, as compared to the 35 degree limits of the F-16.

Both fighters are limited by fly-by-wire flight control logic and “HAL” as we call it, but the canards and thrust-to-weight ratio of the J-39E should give it a slight advantage in the slow-speed “phone booth” regime.

But recall that the E model Gripen is still in development. That’s a big “what if” for Saab and any country looking to purchase a few new E models. Brazil ordered some J-39Es back in October of 2014, but as of August 2016, none have been delivered. Saab is still in “development.”

Only time will tell whether or not this bad ass unicorn will pass all the tests and enter full rate production.

The Verdict
The F-16V is the clear winner here, because it exists and flies today. It is the most combat proven design in the history of fourth generation multi-role fighter airpower, and it is actual flying and being tested now. I vote for IT as the obvious winner of the F-16V versus J-39E mock-fight.

However, (as a former F-16 operator, this part pains me to say) that if the J-39E becomes a reality, and all the discussed items become real too, IT will be the clear winner. The lower RCS design, the IRSTS, and the higher thrust-to-weight ratio give the J-39E the edge for the top spot on the fourth generation multi-role fighter podium. It will be one highly capable and extremely difficult unicorn to defeat by any capable adversary!

Nate “Buster” Jaros is a retired USAF F-16 fighter pilot, current Lockheed Martin test pilot, LO SME, aviation enthusiast, and author. He has written a book for General Aviation pilots called Engine Out Survival Tactics: Fighter Pilot Tactics for General Aviation Engine Loss Emergencies. You can find it at most major retailers or at

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Bulgarian Military News

Bulgaria Will Pay the First Instalment for Repair of the MiG-29s. The Atlantic Council Disputes the Signed Contract

Bulgaria has decided to repair the MiGs for € 40 mln.

SOFIA (Bulgaria), April 25, 2018, Author: Boyko Nikolov (Bm), Photo: Airgroup 2000

Today, at a regular meeting of the Council of Ministers, the Republic of Bulgaria approved the payment of the first instalment of BGN 26 million for repair of the Bulgarian MiG-29s.

The money is foreseen in the budget of the Ministry of Defence for repair of the aircrafts in question in accordance with the signed agreement between the Bulgarian country and the Russian company RSK MiG.

In its entirety, the financing in question should provide Bulgaria with execution of the undertaken engagements for air defence and implementation of the NATO’s collective defence mechanisms and the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of the European Union.

Today it became clear that the contract with the Russian Federation is being disputed by the Atlantic Club. In accordance with the Organization whose members are lots of military specialists and other experts, there are particular texts that are in favour of the Russians. For example, it is left to RSK MiG to define what the deadlines for execution of the activities under the contracts will be, regardless of the priorities of the Ministry of Defence.
Aviation experts, including the president Rumen Radev, disputed the scope of the order by indicating that the purchase of new machinery shall be considered as a priority.

It shall be reminded that the agreement itself is worth the total amount of BGN 82 million and was offered in the end of last year when the Ukrainian company UKROboronProm referred to the Commission for Protection of Competition and tried to stop the procedure on awarding of the public procurement.

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Bulgarian Military News

Modernization of the Bulgarian Air Force – not Related to the Situation in Syria

Modernization of the Bulgarian Air Force – not Related to the Situation in Syria

SOFIA (Bulgaria), April 13, 2018, Author: Galina Zdravkova (Bm), Photo: Bulgarian MiG-29/Krasimir Grozev/

The Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Krasimir Karakachanov stated in a talk show of the Bulgarian national television channel bTV on Thursday (12th April) that the current procurement initiatives for fighter jets are not related to the present situation in Syria.

Karakachanov said, “This is a Project from 2016, voted on 1 June 2016.”

The Defence Minister also reminded that when in 2016 the National Assembly voted the costs (BGN1.5 billion) concerning the project for purchasing of fighters, the amount was without VAT, because VAT was not due on such deals. Only 6 months later the Law was amended and VAT is now due on such deals. Therefore, in the project that will be now submitted for review, it shall be explicitly stated that the amount for purchase of the fighter jets is BGN1.5 billion without VAT. Another change will be the number of the purchased aircrafts. It will be specified that they are to be minimum 8, and not 8 or 9 as previously stated. The idea is more participants to be invited, so that the shortlist to be expanded with possible invitations to Boeing (for new F/A-18E/F Super Hornet), Israel (for used F-16 Block 30), and Lockheed Martin (for used and new aircrafts). In this way, when the participants are more, it would be possible an offer to be received for more than 8 aircrafts within the foreseen budget. The condition is the aircraft to be manufactured by a NATO or EU member state.

“We have to modernize our Armed Forces, because 90% of the armaments and machines are manufactured by the USSR before 1989,” explained the Defence Minister and added that the MiG-29s may be used 10-11 years more, for the purposes of which he has arranged signing of an agreement directly with the manufacturer for their maintenance. On 10th April, reported that Krasimir Karakachanov also intends the old Su-25 single-seat, twin-engine jet aircrafts also to be repaired. The Bulgarian Air Forces have 14 Su-25s as of the moment, but only 4 are in operation. The idea of the Defence Minister is all 14 Su-25 aircrafts to be repaired and put into operation. He did not specify when and how that would happen.

In brief:
The Project for purchase of fighter jets for replacement of the old Bulgarian MiG-29s started in 2016 when Bulgaria’s parliament approved a plan in June to get eight new or second-hand fighter jets between 2018-2020.

In 2017, Bulgaria picked the Swedish offer in preference to the offer from Portugal of second-hand U.S. F-16s equipped with U.S. weaponry and an offer from Italy of second-hand Eurofighter Typhoon fighters.

In the end of 2017, the Project was returned to the very beginning.

This year new participants are to be invited to the competition for selection of a supplier of new fighters for the Bulgarian Air Force, one of which is Israel.

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Bulgarian Military News

Israel Will Enter the Competition for Bulgarian New Fighters

Israel Will Enter the Competition for Bulgarian New Fighters

SOFIA (Bulgaria), March 19, 2018, Author: Galina Zdravkova (Bm), Photo by Wikipedia

According to the said by the Minister of Defence Krasimir Karakachanov on Monday (March 19, 2018), Israel will be invited to participate in the competition for selection of a supplier of new fighters for the Bulgarian Army, reported

Karakachanov further explained that it will be requested from Israel an offer for a new modification of the F-16 Block 30 aircrafts, which is a much better option than the offered by Portugal and France fighters. The Minister also reminded that the large projects for modernization of the Bulgarian Army shall be again reviewed by the Council of Ministers and commented that they will not become more expensive if delayed.

It shall be also reminded that the initial procedure for selection of a supplier of new fighters was almost completed when irregularities were found after a parliamentary examination. After that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had the option of requesting new offers from the existing shortlisted candidates – SAAB (Sweden) for new Gripens, the USA and Portugal for used F-16 fighters, and Italy for used Eurofighters, but as of the moment the MoD is considering another option of expanding the range of possible offers to the maximum.

Despite all statements by the Minister of Defence, however, the Government of Bulgaria has not shown yet firm intention of purchasing new fighters instead of overhauling the old Russian MiG-29 jets.

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No comment, just the time sequence of facts

No comment, just the time sequence of facts

SOFIA (Bulgaria), December 19, By Boyko Nikolov (Bm), Photo:

During the mandate of caretaker government of Ognyan Gerdzhikov, the commission appointed to choose new supplier of military aircrafts for the Bulgarian air forces adopted a decision. Few days later the newly elected parliament and government took up their duties and returned the project in the very beginning.

Boyko Borisov launched the statement

“I have certain doubts that “Gripen” are the best fighter aircrafts”

and the President Radev stated that

“MIG 29 do not conform to the modern requirements”.

Due to some problems the Bulgarian MIG aircrafts were landed in order to be repaired and our Italian partners were invited to guard the Bulgarian sky. At the same time our military pilots refused to fly on the outdated Russian aircrafts and this way we remain without any “adequate” air force protection. The government adopted an urgent decision to grant BGN 20 million for the repairing of the available MIG-29 aircrafts and the Ministry of Defense opened a public procurement procedure with the same subject to the value of BGN 80 million. Simultaneously, the Minister of Defense Karakachanov stated that in addition to the current participants he will invite Boeing with its F-18 Super Hornet for participation in the tender.

The President tested personally Dassault Rafale in France and was fascinated by the flight, he was forced to answer a journalist`s question “Is Bulgaria able to purchase such an aircraft?”.

Minister Karakachanov is a little confused, because he has established that according to the Bulgarian legislation in force, amendments to documentation under public procurement procedures referring to the military industry whose value exceed BGN 100 million shall be approved by the Parliament, which applies also to the participants in the procedure. This automatically returns the procedure to its starting position and in order to re-open it Mr. Karakachanov shall present a new investment project before the Parliament.

And one particular detail – the initial sum of BGN 1.5 billion is decreased with BGN 300 million due to amendments of the law in the last year, currently the law envisages that military projects shall be charged with 20% VAT.

My personal opinion is that this choice of new fighter aircrafts will serve as an indicator of the political effectiveness of the government for the future. What this indicator shows now? I don`t dare to say!

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