The F-16 is a lightweight, multirole fighter capable of air-to-air, CAS, SEAD, interdiction, FAC-A, tactical nuclear delivery and all-weather strike missions.
The “Viper” makes up roughly half the fighter inventory, carries the majority of PGMs in service, and is one of the most maneuverable fighters ever built. The prototype YF-16 first flew Feb. 2, 1974, competing in the USAF Lightweight Fighter competition. After selection, F-16A flew on Dec. 8, 1976, followed by the two-seat F-16B on Aug. 8, 1977. Deliveries began in August 1978, and USAF declared F-16A IOC in October 1980.
F-16C/D deliveries began at Block 25 in 1984, adding the APG-68 radar and AMRAAM missile as well as cockpit, airframe, and avionics improvements. Block 30/32 added the HARM missile and more powerful engines, and Block 40/42 introduced the terrain following LANTIRN pod and wide-angle HUD for high-speed night/all-weather penetration. These airframes boasted higher take-off weight and G-limits and an expanded flight envelope starting in 1988.
Block 50/52 was introduced to replace the F-4G in the “Wild Weasel” SEAD-role mounting the HARM missile, longer-range radar, and even higher performance engines. The F-16 entered combat during Desert Storm in 1991 and scored its sole air-to-air kill during Southern Watch on Dec. 27, 1992.
Most upgrades are managed in Pre-Block (Blocks 25-32) and Post-Block (Blocks 40-52) tranches. The fleet is now cockpit-standardized with color MFD, modular mission computer, Helmet Mounted Integrated Targeting (HMIT), and Link 16. The Operational Flight Program (OFP) continuously updates the F-16’s software. Iteration 7.2+ debuted in 2020 introduced JASSM-ER and enhanced AMMRAM, as well as cockpit workload and weapon accuracy and lethality improvements.
The fleet is undergoing significant combat system modernization centered on the new AN/APG-83 AESA radar. ANG alert aircraft pioneered full operational capability with AESA in 2020, following urgent efforts to combat cruise missile threats. A total of 330 Post-Block aircraft will be upgraded through FY25, and also receive digital RWR (as part of a notional, fully-integrated EW suite), as well as mission computer and cockpit display upgrades.
Development is focused on these follow-on upgrades, as well as Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (A-GCAS) for Pre-Block aircraft. Ongoing mods also include SLEP, MIDS/JTRS for higher capacity, jam-resistant Link 16, Aggressor improvements, Mode 5 IFF, and A-GCAS.
Contractors: Lockheed Martin (previously General Dynamics); Northrop Grumman (AESA).
First Flight: June 19, 1984 (F-16C).
Delivered: July 13, 1984-2005 (F-16C/D).
IOC: 1981 (Block 25-32); 1989 (Block 40/42); 1994 (Block 50/52).
Inventory: 781 (F-16C); 155 (F-16D).
Operator: ACC, AETC, AFMC, PACAF, USAFE, ANG, AFRC.
Aircraft Location: Aviano AB, Italy; Edwards AFB, Calif.; Eglin AFB, Fla.; Eielson AFB, Alaska; Holloman AFB, N.M.; Homestead ARB, Fla.; Kunsan AB, South Korea; Luke AFB, Ariz.; Misawa AB, Japan; NAS JRB Fort Worth, Texas; Nellis AFB, Nev.; Osan AB, South Korea; Shaw AFB, S.C.; Spangdahlem AB, Germany; and ANG in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, District of Columbia (flying from Maryland), Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin.
Active Variant: •F-16C/D Block 30/32. Multinational Staged Improvement Program II upgraded with new engines, flown by ANG, AFRC, and test/aggressor units. •F-16CG Block 40/42. Optimized for night/all-weather attack. •F-16CJ Block 50/52. Optimized for SEAD with long-range radar, engines, and weapons.
Dimensions: Span 32.8 ft, length 49.3 ft, height 16.7 ft.
Weight: Max T-O 37,500 lb (Block 30/32); 42,300 lb (Block 40/42); 48,000 lb (Block 50/52).
Power Plant: GE Aviation F110-GE-100, 29,000 lb thrust (Block 30); Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220, 24,000 lb thrust (Block 32/42); F110-GE-129, 29,000 lb thrust (Block 50); F100-PW-229, 29,000 lb thrust (upgraded Block 42, Block 52).
Performance: Speed Mach 2+, ferry range 2,002+ miles.
Ceiling: 50,000 ft.
Armament: One M61A1 20 mm cannon (500 rd); up to six AIM-9 Sidewinder or AIM-120 AMRAAMs air-to-air missiles, most air-to-surface weapons in USAF inventory (nuclear and conventional).
Accommodation: Pilot (C), two pilots (D), on ACES II zero/zero ejection seats.