Pierre Sprey’s ridiculous, wildly optimistic claims about the F-16 debunked

Pierre Sprey, the co-designer (with Harry Hillaker) of the F-16, continues, to this day, to extol the virtues of his brainchild and deride newer, better fighters (American and foreign) such as the F-22 and the Flanker family. In 2009, he ridiculously claimed that:

“The Su-30MK is simply another modification of the Su-27, a not-very-high-performing Russian imitation of our F-15 that had its prototype flight in 1977. The new version is significantly heavier and has poorer dogfight acceleration and turn than the original, mainly because of all the weighty and draggy gadgetry (e.g., canards, vectored thrust nozzles) added to allow these spectacular maneuvers [performed at airshows – ZM].

The more of these turkeys the Russkies sell, the longer the now-ancient F-16 (designed in 1972) will reign supreme as the world’s best fighter. And the less reason we will have to buy F-22s at $355 million each.”

Sounds very optimistic and bullish. But are Flankers “turkeys” and is the F-16 “the world’s best fighter” as Sprey claims? Absolutely not.

In this analysis, I will repeat some of what I said in September in rebuke to Sprey’s similar claims and add new information.

The F-16 is decisively inferior to all Flanker variants, including the Su-27, Su-30, Su-33, J-11, and Su-35. This is for a number of reasons.

In BVR combat, its inferior radar and missiles of inferior range, combined with its significantly inferior speed of Mach 2.0 (compared to Mach 2.25 and Mach 2.35 for the newest Flanker variants) and combat ceiling (60,000 feet versus 62,000 feet for the Su-35) would get it killed. If you have a superior radar, missiles of superior range, and can increase their nominal range still further by flying faster and higher than the enemy, you get a first look, first shot, first kill capability, and that makes you a winner.

If it comes to close combat, you will win if your fighter is better kinematically and aerodynamically, i.e. has better thrust/weight, thrust loading, and wing loading ratios than the competition. You also need to have a faster fighter which can egress safely out of the fight if need be.

Why does this matter? Because in air-to-air combat, victory is determined first and foremost by who can enter and egress from the fight with impunity, and who can acquire and hit the enemy first (i.e. first-shot capability). If you don’t have these capabilities, you will inevitably lose.

The F-16 flies far lower and far slower than the F-22 or its foreign competitors, with at a top speed of just Mach 2.0 and even that on a heat-emitting afterburner (compared to the F-22’s Mach 2.25 top speed, its supercruise ability, and its slit, stealthy engines). It cannot egress from the fight safely if it runs out of missiles. It would be easily chased, tracked, and shot down by the F-22 or by enemy aircraft.

The F-22, with its AIM-120D AMRAAM missiles and its APG-77 AESA radar, can have a first-look and first-shot capability, shoot down its enemies or, if it runs out of missiles, egress from the fight safely, quickly and undetected. It can engage and disengage at the pilot’s wish.

But of course, the F-16 won’t be fighting against the F-22. It will be fighting (if at all) against enemy aircraft such as the Flanker, the PAKFA, and the J-20. So let’s compare the old, 1970s’ vintage F-16 fighter to these modern Russian and Chinese aircraft:

The metric          F-16      Su-35S           J-11                       PAKFA          J-20           Su-30        Su-33
Dry thrust (kN)          76.3       86.3×2     89.17×2           N/A          74.5×2       74.5×2
Thrust w/afterburner (kN)           127        142×2     129.4×2                     157+x2           180         122.5×2     125.5×2
Max speed (Mach)               2          2.25          2.35                            2+               2                  2          2.17
Combat radius (km)           550            NA             NA                            NA         2000                NA             NA
Service ceiling (ft)        50000        59100        62523                        65600        65617           56800
Rate of climb (m/s)           254         280+           300                           350           N/A               230            246
Wing loading (kg/m2)           431           408           385                    330-470           N/A               401            483
Thrust/weight ratio     1.095:1         1.1:1       1.04:1                       1.19:1           N/A              0.98          0.83
Number of weapons carried (max)             11             12             10  4 internal, 6 external           N/A                 12              12
Supercruise             No           Yes             No                           Yes           N/A                No             No
Range (mi)           N/A          3600         2070                           N/A         3418             3000          1864
Internal fuel capacity (lb)           N/A                        22711
G limit               9                               9               9             8+

As you can clearly see from the table, the newest Russian and Chinese designs (with the partial exception of the Su-30 and Su-33) outmatch the F-16 by almost every criterion, including dry thrust, thrust with afterburner, thrust/weight ratio, wing loading (a lower one is better), service ceiling, top speed, rate of climb, and, in most cases, the number of weapons carried. Furthermore, the only A2A missiles American fighters carry today are the radar-guided BVR AIM-120 and AIM-7 missiles and the infrared guided AIM-9 Sidewinder missile. The US currently has no long-range (BVR) IR or passive anti-radiation missiles, while Russia and China do. Thus, a Flanker, PAKFA, or J-20 could launch mixed waves of radar-guided, infrared-guided, and passive anti-radiation BVR and then WVR missiles at the F-16, making sure that if one missile fails to kill the F-16, another missile will.

And the F-16 cannot prevail in WVR combat. For a dogfighter, the F-16 has an usually high (by modern standards) wing loading of 431 kg/sq meter, a low T/W ratio of 1.095:1 (compared to 1.19:1 for the PAKFA and 1.1:1 for the Su-35S), and a poor rate of climb (just 254 m/s). The J-11’s wing loading is just 385 kgs/m2, the Su-35’s is 408, the Su-30’s is 401, and the PAKFA’s will be only 330 kgs/m2.

The only advantages it has over some of these aircraft is that it can carry a grand total of 1 weapon more than the J-11 or the PAKFA, and it has a better T/W ratio and a better wing loading ratio than the Su-30 and the Su-33 (i.e. two older Flanker variants). Still, it is inferior, by most counts, to these aircraft as well.

For WVR combat, aircraft agility (determined by the T/W ratio, wing loading, and drag) is of supreme importance. And by that standard, the F-16 is inferior to all comers (except the Su-33, found only on Russia’s Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier).

Moreover, the Flankers’ thrust vector control engine nozzles and canards actually improve their agility and turning capability instead of inhibiting it.

Furthermore, the F-16 is not stealthy, while the PAKFA and the J-20 are, and has no supercruise ability, while the Su-35 and the PAKFA do, and the J-20 likely will (especially if Russian Saturn type AL-31F117S, Lyulka AL-41F, or Woshan WS-10G engines are used; it has been alleged that the Russians supplied AL-31F117s engines for J-2o prototypes).

A few years ago, AirPowerAustralia subjected the F-35 (the F-16’s planned successor) to a comparison with the Su-35S. In all categories, the F-35 was rated equal or inferior to the Sukhoi. If you substitute the F-16 for the F-35 and know the Fighting Falcon’s characteristics, you’ll know that the F-16 is just as inferior to the Su-35S, for the reasons already stated, including: lower top speed, lower combat ceiling, inferior missiles, inferior turning capability, lack of capability to outturn enemy missiles, a smaller missile load, inferior countermeasures, a vastly inferior radar (with just 1000 modules), lack of capability to safely egress from a fight, etc. Just compare the F-16 to the Su-35S and you’ll realize this. In fact, in 2008, APA did compare the F-16 (and all other Western fightertypes) against the Flanker family, and found that the F-16 is decisively inferior and the only Western fighter capable of defeating the Flanker family is the F-22.

Nor does it surprise anyone who is not biased and is knowledgeable about combat aircraft: the F-16 was NOT designed to compete with the Flanker family. It was designed to act as a battlefield interdictor and to defeat 3rd and early 4th generation Soviet fighters such as the MiG-21, MiG-23, MiG-25, and early MiG-29 models. Defeating Su-27s or Su-30s was not its intended task; and these older Flanker models are not actually representative of the air threat facing America today. Newer Flanker variants, such as the Su-35S and the J-11, are.

Very simply, the F-16 is no match for the F-22 – or for the adversary aircraft it would encounter today (or tomorrow) if it were to engage in WVR or BVR combat. It would be easily shot down by these aircraft. The introduction of the Flanker, in its many variants, already made the F-16 obsolete and irrelevant, but the induction of the PAKFA and the J-20 into service will make it totally obsolete, irrelevant, impotent, and useless against anyone except insurgents.

UPDATE: On April 1st, 2013, the USAF deployed F-22s to the Korean Peninsula for the second time in three years, proving that they’re far from being useless hangar queens.

140 thoughts on “Pierre Sprey’s ridiculous, wildly optimistic claims about the F-16 debunked”

  1. Not true…while you are right when you say that the F-22 is a superior fighter ,your argument falls down when you talk about the F-16…
    The Viper (whitout CFT) in air-to-air whith two AMRAAMs(and yes it will carry the D version as well) and 2 AIM-9X(which it can take full advantage because of the HMS that the F-22 lacks) CAN take on ANY fighter in service today.You post numbers like they tell the story of a fighter…well,quoting Mike Spick in the book Modern combat aircraft«simple numbers dont tell you all the story».The F-16 is smaller than the Flanker familly(harder to see or detect by radar) is engines almost dont produce any smoke AND it can turn forever at 9 Gs whithout losing so much energy(speed) than any flanker(SU-35 INCLUSIVE).Trust Vectoring allows you to turn fast your nose at the EXPENSE of speed…you can try it on a mano a mano but in the real world it will get you killed by your foe s wingman.In a world of Helmet monted sights forget about Pungachev Cobra and those tricks…(Also dont forget that the F-16 is one of the easiest jets to fly while the flanker…well they tend to crash during air shows so you get what i mean)
    Oh,and stop quoting APA as a legit source…90% of they claim as truth is fabricated in their minds…they do assumptions about the F-35,F-22 and the PAK-FA whit data that is not avalable to the public…only the people working on those programs know if most of what they claim as true.
    Sorry for the bad english(im portuguese) and i dont mean to attack you,because i really like your blog…but for someone like me that reads about aviation for more than 25 years reading your claims on aircraft and them baking your claims whit APA….God,it just frustrating.I can send you a few E-books by Bill Gunston and Mike Spick if you want to.

    1. You are wrong, Nuno, for the following reasons:

      1) Flying an F-16 armed with just 4 A2A missiles against an F-22 (which can carry eight in stealth mode) is suicidal. That way, the F-22 gets four freebie shots at you.
      2) A HMD system can be installed on the F-22 at little cost to taxpayers. All Flanker fighters already have it.
      3) I cited the F-16’s and the Flanker family members’ parameters because they are relevant. The F-16 has a decisively inferior wing loading ratio (431 freaking kilograms per square meter of wing space!) and an inferior T/W ratio (1.095:1) compared to the Flanker family, except the Su-33 and, on a lesser scale, the Su-30. Thus, it is not a serious player in close combat compared to Flankers (except the Su-33).
      In BVR combat, it is not a serious player either, and never was, thanks to its max speed and combat ceiling (a pathetic 50,000 ft). Thus, Flankers can fly much higher and much faster, and launch their missiles from a much longer range (extra altitude and extra speed increase the nominal range of munitions). This means the F-16 is dead before it can even progress to close combat.
      4) The F-16’s conventional design guarantees that its radar signature is so big that any Flanker equipped with the N001, Phazotron Zhuk, or Irbis-E radar can detect and shoot it down from a long range, especially since Flankers, being large fighters, have larger and more powerful radars compared to the F-16’s weak, 1000-module APG-81.
      5) Flankers are also easy to fly, hence they are popular with countries which cannot afford as many flight hours for their pilots as the US: Venezuela, Belarus, Ukraine, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and even African countries.
      6) The APA is not only a legit source, it is THE most credible source on airpower issues. For any serious analyst of military aviation, APA is what the Federalist Papers are for any serious student of the US Constitution: THE most authoritative source of information. They have 500,000 visitors per week on their website, and the data download rate on their site is almost half a terabyte per month. Also, they are not financed by any defense company or any government agency, solely by its analysts and viewers. And their analysis is based exclusively on open-sources information, just like my analysis. The F-35’s and F-16’s inferiority and the F-22’s and PAKFA’s superiority are provable with open sources and the Laws of Physics, which are always true and trump “classification of information”. Such a human method of hiding the truth can only make it harder, but not impossible, to find.

      1. Were are you getting some of these numbers and claims? There are no credible numbers on the PAK FA or the SU35 as the PAKFA is still in protoype stages and hasn’t even gone through its shakedowns nor has it got its new engines. The Su35 is still in shakedown. In fact, the IAF has already come out slamming the PAKFA as an inferior performing aircraft (and this is a partnering nation putting billions into it). There is also no credible numbers on the F35 as its true performance tests are classified. How can you claim your numbers “don’t lie” when you are quoting speculation which is not fact but complete fantasy until proven otherwise?

        APA is not a credible source (as I have to agree with Nuno ). They are always playing against the west and have often been wrong. Your attempt to separate them from any government or private funding sources as giving them an unbiased credibility is fleeting because you only proved one thing. That they don’t get their funding from those organization and that’s it. It doesn’t disqualify them from being biased or having agenda of their own at all.

      2. They are not biased and don’t have their own agenda. As for the F-35, its defects are so numerous, so publicly available, and so expensive to the US taxpayer that defending it any longer is ridiculous. One does not need classified information to know the vast majority of the F-35’s defects – the laws of physics cannot be classified.

      3. Hello Zbigniewmazurak,

        I certainly do agree the APA is not only a legit source and they are the most credible source on airpower issues etc. Talking about the classification of information, Mr Michael Price from the REPSIM Pty Ltd addressed the issue directly in his presentation on 7th February 2012, advising the Committee that he has had access to classified material at the highest level on the F-35, and was asked to make an assessment of the aircraft, which he did in a highly classified document of which only two copies were produced.

        In addition, he described the process whereby he compared the result of classified simulations with those produced by Harpoon 3 Professional, and found no significant differences.

    2. Not true either F-16 is smaler so it mean it need smaler force to change its fligh direction but if you have enought power you can change biger planes flight direction faster then smaller. Simple fisics. Energy depends on velocity^2 and mass. So we need only (mass1/mass2)*Force to change movement of cheavier body at the same distance. (mass1>mass2)

  2. Ok,you make valid points and to someone whithout knowllege they would fly…what a radar is suposed to do and what it does are two diferent things.In the real world,during NATO exercices ,small planes like the F-16,the F-5 and the Grippen have proven that even whitout VLO tech.,small aircraft can be difficult to see at long range even whit AESA radar.It was common in Germany during war games,for F-15 pilots to try to lock on an F-16 in BVR combat just to realise that they where in fact locking on to a Mercedes or BMW in the autobahn…lol.Im not joking whit you,you can read it in the book Modern air combat by Bill Gunston and Mike Spick…Russian and chinese radar tend to be even worst than that.In the ethiopian war in 1999 Mig-29 and Su-27 went to war whit each other over african skies…24 AA-10 Alamo missiles where fired by each side in BVR…one eritrean Mig-29 was damaged and crashed on landing.The Migs and the Sukhois where flown by russian and ucranian mercenaries…This is hardly a worthy oponent for a late genaration F-16 V…
    Also,even the radar that equip the SU-35 are not AESA…they are PESA radars…and underperforming against wersten radars…proof that the russians are behind is that late generation Sukhois are delivered whit french and israeli electronics even to the russian air force…
    Remmenber this:the russian plane will not fair well in BVR combat and in a dog fight…every pilot in the world will tell you that small is beautiful.
    The reason why numbers dont tell the story of a fighter is in fact simple:in the korean war the Mig-15 was superior in numbers to the F-86:bigger guns better acceleration climb rate,and and armor(yes the cockpit was armored).But you know how it ends…the F-86 was easier to fly(new hidraulic comands) while all Migs up to the Mig-23 require a fair amont of muscle to be piloted.Better SA(situational awereness)because it had a bubble canopy and the small .50 machine guns where more accurate than the 37mm and 23mm canons on the mig…
    The big problem whit the flanker is its range and payload…thats where the damn thing is a problem for us…not because it can out fight us …anouther problem is the number of airframes that the russians are selling and china is producing…we will be outnumbered…
    As for APA…everything russian and chinese allways outperforms western tech.in their scenarios.The AMRAAM perform worst than enemy missiles,they claim that the F.35 can only pull 4.5 Gs at mach 0,9(that was a testing limitation not an operatonal one.Now its up to 7Gs during tests and an airframe as allready pull 9,99 Gs in testing-F-35A).A lot of what they say is popular but like all popular things it might not be accurate…Sorry again for the bad english

    1. No problem with the bad English, Nuno. But I do have a problem with your claims. That’s because they’re wrong.

      1) During the 1980s, the F-16 and the F-5 were indeed difficult to detect – for the radars of that era. Today’s fighters (Western and adversary fighters alike) have much more powerful radars that can detect the F-16 and the F-5 (as well as the Gripen) easily, even from a long distance.

      2) The MiG-29 and the Su-27 are not representative of the threat the US is facing today or will face in the future. The Su-30MKK/MKV, the Su-33, the Su-35, the J-11, the J-15, the J-16, the J-10, the PAKFA, the J-20, and the J-31 are. China doesn’t even have any MiG-29s, and it doesn’t have that many Su-27s. OTOH, it is now in talks with Russia to buy 48 Su-35s.

      In the Ethiopian-Eritrean War, both sides were flying obsolete models of the MiG-29 and the Su-27, were using obsolete variants of the AA-10 Alamo missile, and the aircraft were flown by Russian and Ukrainian mercenaries. They are not representative of the threat the US is facing today or will face in the future. Chinese and Russian fighter pilots and their fighters listed above are far more dangerous than old models of the MiG-29 and the Su-27.

      3) The Su-35’s radar is the hybrid-ESA Irbis-E, which is far more powerful than any American fighter radar except the APG-77 (installed on the F-22 Raptor). The Phazotron Zhuk is an AESA radar, and a very powerful one. It equips various Flanker variants and is more powerful than APG-77 and APG-63(V)3 and (V)4 radars. That French and Israeli radars are easily available for any buyer with the money to pay for them only increases the Russian and Chinese fighter threat.

      4) In a dogfight, an F-16 would not stand a chance against any Flanker other than the Su-33 and perhaps the Su-30. Numbers don’t tell the whole story, but numbers don’t lie. The F-16 has a DECISIVELY inferior wing loading ratio and a slightly inferior T/W ratio.

      5) As for the APA, no, they don’t say what you accuse them of saying. They only analyze military equipment holistically. And their analysis shows that while the F-15 offers parity against the Flanker family, and the Raptor is superior, all other Western aircraft are outclassed, except the Typhoon and the Rafale (and only in close combat). The F-35 is a big, unmaneuverable flying hog. It cannot sustain 9Gs (let alone 9.99Gs) and will never be able to do so. Its wing loading and T/W ratios mean it can never be an effective air superiority fighter, and its high speed means it can never be a Close Air Support plane, while its short combat radius decisively limits its utility.

  3. I’m sorry, but chest beating and wildly quoting inflated manufacturers statistics does not constitute “analysis”, anymore than anecdotal stories of from a war in Africa. Since Mr. Sprey was actually involved in the design of the F16 and likely knows a LOT more about aerodynamics in general than you, I would have to give the benefit of the doubt to him. Perhaps if you can up with some real analysis rather than recitation of Sukhoi advertising literature…Till then, you’re just making an awful lot of noise.

    1. These statistics are not inflated, they are correct. As for Sprey, his utterly false, ridiculous claims mean that only one of the following is true:
      1) he’s very ignorant about military aircraft, despite his supposed knowledge; or
      2) he’s knowlingly, blatantly lying.

      Numbers don’t lie, but people do. And my numbers don’t come from Sukhoi’s advertising literature. Moreover, what I’ve presented here is far more than numbers: I’ve also presented radar, weapons, and comparisons of these attributes of various aircraft. And in all of these comparisons, the F-16 loses miserably.

      YOU are the one making “an awful lot of noise.” The F-16 is decisively inferior to the Flanker family (not to mention the PAK FA and the J-20). That is a fact.

    2. To Michael…thats a lie…Pierre Sprey was not involved in the design of the F-16.Everybody says that but its a lie…HE HELPED IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE LWF AND A-X programs.HE NEVER WORK IN GENERAL DYNAMICS …The YF-16 was developed by a team of General Dynamics engineers led by Robert H. Widmer.The YF-17was developed by Northrop.The aircraft’s main design elements date to early 1965, from the internal Northrop project N-300. The N-300 was itself derived from the F-5E, and features a longer fuselage, small leading-edge root extensions (LERX), and more powerful GE15-J1A1 turbojets, rated at 9,000 lbf (40 kN) each. The wing was slightly elevated to increase ordnance flexibility. Pierre Sprey had nothing to do whit any direct work on any of these fighters…he worked in the DOD in case you didnt know.And he has been proven wrong in most of is claims about weapons.
      Oh and he didnt developed the A-10 either :from wikipedia :Sprey’s discussions with A-1 Skyraider pilots operating in Vietnam and analysis of the effectiveness of current aircraft used in the role indicated the ideal aircraft should have long loiter time, low-speed maneuverability, massive cannon firepower, and extreme survivability;[4] an aircraft that had the best elements of the Ilyushin Il-2, Henschel Hs 129 and Skyraider. The specifications also demanded that each aircraft cost less than $3 million.[4] Sprey required that the biography of World War II attack pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel be read by people on A-X program.[8]

      In May 1970, the USAF issued a modified and much more detailed request for proposals (RFP) for the aircraft. The threat of Soviet armored forces and all-weather attack operations had become more serious. Now included in the requirements was that the aircraft would be designed specifically for the 30 mm cannon. The RFP also specified an aircraft with a maximum speed of 460 mph (400 kn; 740 km/h), takeoff distance of 4,000 feet (1,200 m), external load of 16,000 pounds (7,300 kg), 285-mile (460 km) mission radius, and a unit cost of US$1.4 million.[9] The A-X would be the first Air Force aircraft designed exclusively for close air support
      If you read it you will see that even the initial requirements where modified by the air force.Fairchild Aviation won the contrat.Sprey never work in Fairchild

      1. To Nuno,

        You are partially right and partially wrong. I am not a Sprey fan and I have followed him for some time. Sprey operates with a hidden agenda which if you follow him long enough you can pick apart his contradictions. Notice how he slams down on the F22 in favor or redoing the F16 program because in his view its not good for the country to build the F22 or F35. Redoing the viper is more cost effective.. Funny but he is so into the good of the country how come he never promotes the Silent Eagle program of the Super Hornet.

        You are mostly right on the F16 but Sprey was more involved with the design team than you mentioned. It was Major Boyd who got the ball rolling that led to the F16 program. It was he and Widmer determined not to repeat the mistakes of the F111 by designing a true all around fighter that would have no rival. Sprey was recruited by Widmer when Sprey was a civilian contractor for the pentagon and had never designed a weapons platform in his life. But he did serve on Widmer’s team on the F16 design board and worked on the EM theories..

        I don’t know where this guy gets his “numbers don’t lie”. Numbers do lie when they are based on speculation and not hard facts. There are no credible posted numbers on the F35 performance. Its all been classified. Very little is know on this aircraft.

  4. Its very nice to trade ideas whith you once again thank you for this tete a tete…
    1-Not 1980s,but try last year over central Europe during NATO exercices greek F-16,Mirage 2000 and Hungarian Grippens put on a show against spanish and italian Typhoons(read about it in Combat Aircraft Magazine)…small is still beatiful.
    F-15 C Golden Eagles and F-22 continue to be defeated at the hands of F-16s ,F-15s AND F-5s in dissimular air combat training.Not easy to lock on something that small that comes head on to you.Remenber the APG-63/82 of radar are considered the best in the world(superior even to the APG-77 and anything outside the USA.)This trick off engaige powerfull radar fighters like the F-15/18/22 whith the F-5 is very popular still today by aggressor pilots(i think they know better than Carlo Koop).Remenber modern F-16s have AESA radar so they can easealy jam the IRIS radar in the Flanker(inferior to the AESA radar in ANY western fighter)
    2-yes they where-1990s AMRAAM pk-60% AA-10 pk-5%.Todays AA-10 are better but so are the coutermesures.I have to agree whith you if you bring the AA-12 Adder to the table,because it didnt see combat ,so i will assune that its equal to the AMRAAM.
    The old Su-27 is actualy better performing than the Su-35-rate of climb 300m/s vs 280 m/s max speed mach 2.35 vs 2.25 and better wing loading(371kg/m2 vs 408kg/m2.)it can also perform all the maneuvers that the Su-35 does whithout the TVC…
    3-And the Mig-25 radar had 600 kw of power betting all radars here…was it better?The best performing radar in service today in a fighter is the APG-82-same tech as the APG-77 but bigger antenna.The USAF is planing in put this radar in all F-15s an teaming them up whith the Raptors…the russin radar being more powerfull only means that it will be detected at longer range by western AESA and RWR…even a SuperHornet cant be engaged at long range whit todays russian radars.
    4-Wing loading and t/w number are put out by the manufacturer . If you had read «an illustrated guide to modern fighter combat»by Mike Spick you would know that this number refer to an empty fighter,and that range refers to a fully loaded fighter…this is the reason why Mike Spike says that«numbers dont tell the Whole story».A Viper presents itself in air-to-air after dropping its fuel tanks whith a canon and 4 AAMs.APA stated that the Flanker can carry 12 AAMs and CFT for operations on the PACRIM…Wheres your numbers now?
    5 -9-99Gs was not a number i dream off:it was pulled in testing in October 2011.Read the Air Force Magazine this month:the F-35 can supercruise for 150ml at a speed of mach 1.2(i suspected this for a long time since F-16 an F18 pilots escorting the F-35 had to pull afterburnner often to keep up whith the JSF using ONLY military power.)The pilot in the article claims that the F-35 can pull 9 g WHITH FULL INTERNAL PAYLOAD and that in combat configuration it can run circles arround a Flanker all day long.
    As for wing loading you cannot measure the F-22 and 35 like a 4th genaration plane,because the belly provides lift as well.(read DID article on this and why Pierre Sprey numbers are wrong on the F-22 and 35.)
    As for CAS you will probably say that the A-10 is the perfect CAS Platform and what not…You are not totaly right on that one:CAS is a mission not a platform.It can be done by an OH-58 or by a B-52 or B-1.It doesnt matter if its a SuperTucano or a F-35.The weapon of choise is usualy a JDAM that can be drop by any aircraft.The only advantage that the Warthog has is the fact that its cheaper to operate than fast jets.But make no mistake:an F-35 will take out a foxhole or a tank whit better accuraty whith a SDB tham the A-10 whith is GAU-8…in fact the USAF as tried to replace the A-10 in 2 ocasitions:whith the A-7 F Strikefighter and latter with the A-16.This was because it was proved that the A-10 would not survive in mordern battlefield fot lack of speed.Remenber the 1st gulf war when an air force general forbided the A-10 from going after the republican national guard after it suffered 2 losses an more tham 10 damaged airplanes(he send the Vipers and gess what?0 losses). theres a reason why nobody in nato buy the A-10 and Israel s idea of an CAS/interdition plane was the LAVI.It was canceled because like the A-7F and the A-16 it couldnt do anything that the F-16 didnt do allready.

    1. “Its very nice to trade ideas whith you once again thank you for this tete a tete…”

      You’re welcome. 🙂

      1) The F-22 is not the Eurofighter Craptoon. Its APG-77 radar is far more powerful than that of the EF-2000. Face it: even despite being small, F-16s and Gripens still have a huge radar signature. Although I could definitively prove it only if an F-22 flew against one of these fighters.
      It may not be easy to lock on something small, but it isn’t difficult to detect an F-16, F-15, or F-5, especially given that the F-16 and the F-15 have 90 degrees (straight) vertical fins, which make for perfect radar returns.
      Engaging fighters with powerful radars when you’re flying a conventional (nonstealthy) design plane like the F-16 or the F-5 is suicidal. Their parts make for splendid radar returns. You can read more about that here, in the very AFM article you cited:

      The IRBIS-E is the second most powerful radar in the world, after the APG-77, and it can detect and track even small aircraft (let alone big ones like the F-15 and the Super Bug) very easily. It’s a hybrid-ESA radar far superior to any Western radar but the APG-77 and APG-82.

      Most USAF F-16s lack AESA radars and those which have them have small, weak APG-81 radars which, due to their (and the F-16s’) small size, are far smaller and far weaker than the IRBIS-E and the Phazotron Zhuk.

      2) AMRAAMs have never shot down a single maneuvering, agile plane, only obsolete, nonmaneuvering planes flown by incompetent pilots. Their Pk against Flankers, J-10s, J-20s, and T-50s is likely to be low.

      You are right about the Su-27 and the Su-35, though.

      3) The Super Bug can be engaged at a very long range with even legacy Soviet radars, such as those in the MiG-25 and the MiG-31.

      4) My wingloading and T/W ratio numbers come from APA, GlobalSecurity, and Wikipedia, and they are correct. And numbers don’t lie. A plane with better ratios is far more agile, far more maneuverable, and thus far more likely to prevail in WVR combat than a plane with inferior ratios. Picard has already told you the same thing. If you fly an F-16 with just 4 AAMs while the Flanker has 12 (plus CFTs and thus can run you out of fuel), that means the Flanker gets EIGHT freebie shots at you.

      5) You were right about the F-35, but only partially. With its low turning capability and very high wing loading and low T/W ratio it has no prayer of competing in WVR combat, because these are the parameters that determine usefulness for WVR combat. If you fly a sluggish, unmaneuverable F-35 whose wings are suffering a heavy burden and whose engine thrust is barely higher than its weight, you will lose.

      Yes, the A-10 is the best aircraft for CAS. For that mission, a plane must be slow and be able to deliver munitions accurately so as not to kill the troops on the ground.

    1. The F-16 C has a more powerfull engine…The performance is equal and in fact superior in many aspects.I read about this in the book «An illustrated guide to modern fighter combat» by Mike Spick.(this is only true whithout CFT)

      1. It has more powerful engine, but question is wether it is enough to offset a weight increase – and keep in mind that high agility requires both low wing loading and high thrust-to-weight ratio, and F-16s wing did not increase in size.

    2. The F-16A is likewise decisively inferior: aerodynamically, kinematically, and in terms of weapons and radar.

      1. Well Picard you are right about the wing size but remenber that the weight increase you (and the reformers)talk about ( arround 2 tons)
        is the result of the targeting pods(in beginning LANTRIN and now Sniper or LITENING) and CFT.In normal air-to-air conf.the C isnt that more heavy F-16 A empty-16234lb/7364kg F-16 C empty-17960lb/8150Kg Max.thrust-F-16 A-1,8 F-16 C-1,21-Many pilots claim that the C is more powerfull in accelleration and has better manoverabillaty in general:More power less speed lost in turning…

      2. Sorry my bad…F-16 max.thrust 1,18 not 1,8…you wish:-)

      3. F-16A has far better aerodynamics than any other US fighter aircraft in service, and wether it is worse than Flankers… while externally different, both F-16 and Flankers use many similar aerodynamical solutions to improve maneuverability (wing/body blending, shielded air intake, LEX).

        F-16A was 25% heavier than YF-16, and had wing area 20 feet2 – 7% – larger. Engine wasn’t uprated between YF-16 and F-16. While F-16A weighted 7 000 kg empty, F-16C weights 8 600 kg. As for figures you are quoting, these are for F-16C. F-16A wing loading would be 379 kg/m2, comparable to Su-27.

      4. The F-16A is inferior aerodynamically and kinematically to the F-15 and the F-22, which have a wing loading ratio of 358 kg/m2 and 375 kg/m2, respectively, while the F-16A’s WLR is, as you said, 379 kg/m2. Most F-16s in service today, in any case, are F-16C/Ds, not A/Bs.

      5. Aerodynamically, F-16 is far more refined than F-15, and it does not lug around weapons bays like the F-22. Its wing loading is higher than F-15s or F-22s, true, but it is also smaller aircraft, and if I remember correctly, it also has far higher fuel fraction than F-15.

      6. Wrong. All variants of the F-16 are aerodynamically quite inferior to the F-22 and the F-15. The F-16’s wing loading and T/W ratios are decisively inferior to those of the F-22 and the F-15, and weight doesn’t resolve anything here. Besides, the F-22 can pull 9Gs at full combat load; the F-16 can do that only without any external stores.

      7. I have adressed wing loading and weight arguments, you can’t use F-16C figures for drawing conclusions about F-16A. As for F-16, A version was to go in combat with wingtip Sidewinders only.

      8. The F-16A’s WL and T/W ratios are similar and thus similarly unimpressive. That, by itself, makes it decisively inferior to Flankers, the F-15, the F-22, and the F-35.

        And I wouldn’t advise any pilot to go into combat with wingtip Sidewinders only, even against J-7s or J-8s, ESPECIALLY not against F-15s, F-22s, F-35s, Flankers, or the PAKFA.

      9. I have provided F-16As wing loading, and given that F-16A is lighter than F-16C, while having same wing area and thrust, you are wrong about its wing and thrust loading being similar to F-16C.

        IR missiles are main fighter’s weapon.

      10. I have just run the precise numbers for F-16A:

        Wing loading:
        665 kg/m2 maximum takeoff
        349,5 kg/m2 with 50% fuel and 2 Sidewinder

        Thrust-to-Weight ratio:
        1,29 with 50% fuel and 2 Sidewinders

        Combat radius: 925 km

        Wing loading isn’t the best, but is close to Su-27 (324 kg/m2 with 50% fuel, 2 R-73 and 4 R-77) and better than Su-35 (404 kg/m2 with 50% fuel, 2 R-73 and 4 R-77).

      11. Problem #1: A 350 kg/m2 ratio is SIGNIFICANTLY worse compared to one of 324 kg/m2 and even moreso when compared to Dassault Rafale’s ca. 304 kg/m2 (the Rafale might be exported to hostile countries).
        Problem #2: Most US and allied F-16s are C/D and later models, not A/B models.

      12. 1) 26 kg/m2 isn’t as much as it seems due to the size difference. Larger and heavier aircraft will have worse maneuverability than smaller one, assuming all other things remain the same. As for Rafale, I don’t think either that F-16A is the best fighter in the world.

        2) Yes, I know. And they are still putting on weight.

      13. 26 kg/m2 is a big difference. And it’s far from the only measure by which the F-16 is inferior to the Flanker family.

      14. That it, unlike all variants of the F-16, can do a full 9G with a full combat (A2A or A2G) load. That it has a way superior radar and possesses the excellent DAS, which can act as a very capable IRST. That it can carry THREE TIMES more combat payload INTERNALLY than the F-16 can carry externally – and once enemy air defenses are defeated, the F-35 can bring even more payload to bear. That the F-35 is decisively superior to the F-16 and the Super Bug by all criteria.

      15. Except for cost, sortie generation, aerodynamic performance… and only F-35A may be able to do 9G with full combat load.

      16. Aerodynamically, the F-35A also outperforms the F-16 – vide, for example, its ability to do 9Gs with a full combat load. Cost is irrelevant to this discussion – it is not a technical characteristic of an aircraft, merely a fiscal one, and the F-35A, despite being more expensive than the F-16, is far more capable.

        Only the F-35A can do 9Gs with a full combat load – but this variant is the one which will succeed the F-16 in USAF, Danish, Norwegian, and Italian AF service, and this is the F-35 variant which will be most widely exported. The F-35B will replace the Marines’ Harriers, EA-6s, and Bugs, not the F-16. The F-35C will replace the USN’s Bugs.

      17. Cost of aircraft is determined by complexity, which influences number of aircraft produced and number of sorties per aircraft per day.

      18. And yet, the USAF plans to procure 1,763 F-35As – more than enough to replace all of its F-16s and A-10s.

      19. Plans to… they also planned to have 750 F-22s at 64 million USD each (converted to 2012 USD)… ended up with 187 at 425 million USD each unit procurement, 250 million USD each unit flyaway.

      20. WRONG. The flyaway cost for the F-22 was 150 mn USD per plane; the total procurement and RnD cost was 377 mn USD per plane. F-22s would’ve cost peanuts if the planned 750 had been ordered instead of just 187. That way, the economies of scale would’ve reduced the unit cost dramatically. Once again, you’re blathering nonsense about issues you know absolutely nothing about.

      21. Hello Zbigniewmazurak,

        You quoted: “Aerodynamically, the F-35A also outperforms the F-16 – vide, for example, its ability to do 9Gs with a full combat load. Cost is irrelevant to this discussion – it is not a technical characteristic of an aircraft, merely a fiscal one, and the F-35A, despite being more expensive than the F-16, is far more capable”.

        There is a damning report for the failed F-35. The Test Pilot Admits the F-35 Can’t Dogfight. New stealth fighter is dead meat in an air battle.

        A test pilot has some very, very bad news about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The pricey new stealth jet can’t turn or climb fast enough to hit an enemy plane during a dogfight or to dodge the enemy’s own gunfire, the pilot reported following a day of mock air battles back in January.

        “The F-35 was at a distinct energy disadvantage,” the unnamed pilot wrote in a scathing five-page brief that War Is Boring has obtained. The brief is unclassified but is labelled “for official use only.”

        The test pilot’s report is the latest evidence of fundamental problems with the design of the F-35 — which, at a total program cost of more than a trillion dollars, is history’s most expensive weapon.

        The U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps — not to mention the air forces and navies of more than a dozen U.S. allies — are counting on the Lockheed Martin-made JSF to replace many if not most of their current fighter jets.

        And that means that, within a few decades, American and allied aviators will fly into battle in an inferior fighter — one that could get them killed … and cost the United States control of the air.

        The fateful test took place on 14th January 2015, apparently within the Sea Test Range over the Pacific Ocean near Edwards Air Force Base in California. The single-seat F-35A with the designation “AF-02” — one of the older JSFs in the Air Force — took off alongside a two-seat F-16D Block 40, one of the types of planes the F-35 is supposed to replace.

        The two jets would be playing the roles of opposing fighters in a pretend air battle, which the Air Force organized specifically to test out the F-35’s prowess as a close-range dogfighter in an air-to-air tangle involving high “angles of attack,” or AoA, and “aggressive stick/pedal inputs.”

        In other words, the F-35 pilot would fly his jet hard, turning and manoeuvring in order to “shoot down” the F-16, whose pilot would be doing his own best to evade and kill the F-35.

        “The evaluation focused on the overall effectiveness of the aircraft in performing various specified manoeuvres in a dynamic environment,” the F-35 tester wrote. “This consisted of traditional Basic Fighter Manoeuvres in offensive, defensive and neutral setups at altitudes ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 feet.”

        The F-35 was flying “clean,” with no weapons in its bomb bay or under its wings and fuselage. The F-16, by contrast, was hauling two bulky underwing drop tanks, putting the older jet at an aerodynamic disadvantage.

        But the JSF’s advantage didn’t actually help in the end. The stealth fighter proved too sluggish to reliably defeat the F-16, even with the F-16 lugging extra fuel tanks. “Even with the limited F-16 target configuration, the F-35A remained at a distinct energy disadvantage for every engagement,” the pilot reported.

        “Insufficient pitch rate.” “Energy deficit to the bandit would increase over time.” “The flying qualities in the blended region (20–26 degrees AoA) were not intuitive or favourable.”

        The F-35 jockey tried to target the F-16 with the stealth jet’s 25-millimeter cannon, but the smaller F-16 easily dodged. “Instead of catching the bandit off-guard by rapidly pull aft to achieve lead, the nose rate was slow, allowing him to easily time his jink prior to a gun solution,” the JSF pilot complained.

        And when the pilot of the F-16 turned the tables on the F-35, manoeuvring to put the stealth plane in his own gunsight, the JSF jockey found he couldn’t manoeuvre out of the way, owing to a “lack of nose rate.”

        The F-35 pilot came right out and said it — if you’re flying a JSF, there’s no point in trying to get into a sustained, close turning battle with another fighter. “There were not compelling reasons to fight in this region.” God help you if the enemy surprises you and you have no choice but to turn.

        The JSF tester found just one way to win a short-range air-to-air engagement — by performing a very specific manoeuvre. “Once established at high AoA, a prolonged full rudder input generated a fast enough yaw rate to create excessive heading crossing angles with opportunities to point for missile shots.”

        But there’s a problem — this sliding manoeuvre bleeds energy fast. “The technique required a commitment to lose energy and was a temporary opportunity prior to needing to regain energy … and ultimately end up defensive again.” In other words, having tried the trick once, an F-35 pilot is out of options and needs to get away quick (which the aircraft has an appalling top end speed to get away from known threats).

        And to add insult to injury, the JSF flier discovered he couldn’t even comfortably move his head inside the radar-evading jet’s cramped cockpit. “The helmet was too large for the space inside the canopy to adequately see behind the aircraft.” That allowed the F-16 to sneak up on him.

        In the end, the F-35 — the only new fighter jet that America and most of its allies are developing — is demonstrably inferior in a dogfight with the F-16, which the U.S. Air Force first acquired in January 1979.

        But the most damning aspect of the test pilot’s account comes in what might at first glance appear an anecdotal footnote.

        In driving home how hard it is to dogfight with the F-35A, the pilot points to their experience piloting Boeing Comp. (BA) (formerly McDonnell Douglas) F-15E Strike Eagles. The pilot writes that compared the F-35A, the F-15E is clearly superior in manoeuvrability and power.

        The comparison is particularly damning because in many ways the F-15E is a more than capable multi-role fighter in its own right. While it enjoyed utility in roles such as reconnaissance, strafing, precision bombing, and air-to-air combat at a Beyond Visual Range and Within Visual Range. The Pentagon estimates that the F-15E destroyed 60 percent of the combat capability of the Iraqi Medina Republican Guard during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

        The proven, cheaper F-15E design does most of the same functions (aside from stealth reconnaissance) at lower cost. And if it does find itself locked in air combat with a modern enemy fighter, it’s more capable of both defending itself and killing the enemy attacker. Thus even among multi-role fighters, the F-35A at present sounds like a pathetically bad design, the report is to be believed.

        The USAF should in fact use some of its precious money to restart production of a 21st century Eagle, a multi-role aircraft developed from Boeing’s F-15SE Silent Eagle and should also develop a new single seater F-15R Advanced Eagle, which would be the superior and more strategic option to a failed F-35A Lightning II acquisition program.

        But with regards to an two-seat F-15SE and single-seat F-15R option… this would arguably be the superior no-brainer alternative to F-35A.


        Superior radar range. Superior agility with 3D thrust vectoring nozzles. Superior acceleration with supercruising Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-232 or General Electric F110-GE-132 engines. Superior range/endurance. Superior dedicated IRST and passive cueing ability. Superior ability to plug and play in the near-term, including sensors, sat comms and weapons. Superior ability to integrate EPAWSS systems, as well as recon systems. Generally speaking — more aggregate situational awareness at least in the medium-term. And superior deterrence/capability value per diverse stand-off munitions flexibility in the medium term.

        With top-of-the-line data link, AESA radar, upgraded engines, EPAWSS and weapons, these two new aircraft building on F-15C/F-15D experience would be a world-beater.


        Another Guest (from Australia)

    3. The F-16A is also decisively inferior to the Flanker family, not to mention the PAKFA, the J-20, and the J-31. Its pathetic 1.095:1 T/W ratio and high (431 kgs/sq m) wing loading ratio guarantee that it can never be a serious player in dogfights. Moreover, these fighters can simply run the F-16A out of fuel. Besides, the F-16A’s combat radius (barely 550 kms) is so short that it would be useless in any contingency other than in Korea, or over Taiwan IF the Philippines allowed the USAF to use Clark AFB. Kadena is 759 kms away from Taiwan, meaning that only the F-22 and the F-15 can fly from there to Taiwan and back.

      1. Dear Zbigniew:

        Perhaps you should read Sprey’s outstanding report “Comparing the Effectiveness of Air-to-Air Fighters: F-86 to F-18”. This report is now about 25 years old, but many of the points in it are timeless.

        Here is a very pertinent one. In the 1965 “Featherduster” trials the obsolete F-86 was pitted against the F-5, F-4, F-100, and F-106. The F-5 broke about even, the old F-86 dominated the others. It did so through surprise (great visibility out, small and hard to see by the opponent) and maneuverability.

        In similar trials in 1977 the simpler F-5 dominated the F-14 and F-15 until they altered the rules to unfairly favor the more complex jets.

        These simple jets have much higher sorties per million dollars of budget also. The F-16 is a little better than the F-5, but for the cost of one F-16 sortie you can fly 5 F-5 sorties. For the same budget, an F-5 air force will run over an F-16 or F-15 air force.

        Top speed is almost irrelevant in these fighters. In the real world you can’t burn the fuel without running dry. In the Indo-Pakistani wars of 1967 and 1972, the subsonic Pakistani F-86’s trounced the mach 2 Indian MiG 21’s with a 7 to 1 kill ratio.

        The only modern exception to this is super-cruise. That really works because it achieves surprise by coming up behind a slower enemy without burning up your fuel.

  5. Zbigniew:

    To complete that point on surprise, historically over 70% of shoot downs occur by surprise. True story. When the most successful ace of all time, Eric Hartmann with over 350 kills in WWII, was asked what he thought of the performance of the new P-51 Mustang on the first day he flew against them in his “obsolete” ME-109 his reply was: “I couldn’t say. None of the five I got today was on full throttle.” He got them all by surprise…

    The other factors outside of surprise that Sprey emphasizes as being extremely valuable in the real world are:
    1. Ability to score the shoot down once in position. This means effective weapons, but not necessarily the most modern weapons. Statistically, until rather recently guns had far more kills per trigger squeeze than missiles. The radar missiles used to have reliability of kill of less than 10% (not sure what it is now, probably classified), whereas good gunnery gets kills on 25% to 50% of passes. Israel puts a hugh emphasis on gunnery, and claims 50% kill rates.
    2. Ability to outlast the enemy. You have to have the superior fuel fraction. The old Navy F-8 could outlast any modern jet, even the F-16 with its high fuel fraction.
    3. Transient performance or maneuverability, but it is only critical in that small fraction of cases where surprise is not achieved.
    4. Ability to outnumber the enemy in the air. This means lower cost planes, lower cost per hour maintenance, and high sortie generation rates.

    Among the modern jets, the Swedish Saab JAS 39 Gripen would seem to be the most effective considering all criteria. It is even lower cost than the F-16, while probably being slightly more effective with its lower wing loading and higher cruise speed (deltas usually have a cruise speed advantage). The Gripen weighs only 12,600 lbs empty, really light and maneurable. Its operating cost is only $4700 per hour, whereas the F-16 is about $7000 per hour, and the bigger jets are more like $10,000 to $25,000 per hour.

    Of course, lots of planes can be counteracted by superior pilots. Historically less than 10% of the pilots get 50% of the shoot downs. So, if you are pilot limited, then perhaps your “best” air force could be based on a more expensive plane to give those outstanding pilots just a little more edge. Just so long as “more expensive” does not mean low sortie generation rates and too heavy to manuever well.

    That’s about the only issue that Pierre Sprey does not fully address in that great paper. Otherwise, I think he’s nailed the big picture of what statistically wins in air combat quite well. If you read it, and given the high opinion that John “40 Second” Boyd and the other members of the old “Fighter Mafia” had of Pierre Sprey, I think you will conclude that the man knows what he is talking about.


    1. You are dead wrong, Farron.

      1) Statistically, missiles have scored far more kills per trigger squeeze than guns since at least Vietnam, as demonstrated by USAF LTCOL Patrick Higby in a 2005 study for the Air War College. Therein, on Table 3 on pg 8, we find that:
      a) in Vietnam from 1965 to 1968, 44% of A2A kills scored by the USAF were with heat-seeking missiles (specifically, Sidewinders) and another 22% with radar-guided missiles, for a total of 66%, vs only 34% for guns.
      b) During the 1971-1973 portion of the air war over Vietnam, radar-guided missiles were responsible for 41% of the A2A kills scored by US pilots during that time, and Sidewinders were responsible for another 44%. Guns scored only 15% of the kills.
      c) In 1971, during the Yom Kippur War, the Israelis scored 66% (171) of their A2A kills with heat-seeking missiles, another 2% with radar-guided missiles, and only 32% with guns.
      d) In 1982, in air combat against the Syrians in the Bekaa Valley, the IAF achieved 58% of its A2A kills with heat-seeking missiles, 14% with R-G missiles, 1% with “other” weapons, and only 27% with guns.

      While R-G missiles did indeed have a poor reliability (i.e. low Pk) during the Vietnam war, their Pk has improved dramatically since then; in 1982, in the IAF’s air war with the Syrians, they had a Pk of 52.2% (although, of course, one has to note the inferioriry of Syrian aircraft and pilots).

      You, like Sprey, are making the deadly mistake of assuming that 1) missile technology will never improve; and 2) future wars will be just like previous ones. Both of you are dead wrong.

      2) It’s not just superior fuel fraction that determines the ability to outlast the enemy, it’s also your total fuel load. The Flanker family and the J-20, thanks to their large internal fuel capacity, can outlast (i.e. run out of gas) anyone except F-22s and F-15s equipped with CFTs.

      3) In most cases these days (as opposed to WW2), surprise is not achieved, and maneuverability (as even Pierre Sprey himself has admitted in a TV programme) is ALWAYS of great importance. Unfortunately (for him), his beloved F-16 fails miserably by that standard with its high WL ratio of 431 kg/sq m, higher than that of any Flanker except the Su-33, while the F-22 has a WL ratio of just 375, and the F-15 one of just 358, kg/sq m. (The Gripen, of course, has an even lower one.)

      The Su-35 has a WL ratio of 401 kg/sq m and the Su-27, the original Flanker variant, an even lower one: just 371 kg/sq m, slightly lower than the F-22’s, although still higher than the F-15s.

      Among these aircraft, the F-16 is, to put it mildly, uncompetitive.

      4) Ability to outnumber the enemy can help, but only if your aircraft are of at least comparable quality. The problem is that the F-5, the F-16, the Gripen, the Bug, the Super Bug, and unmodernized F-15s are decisively inferior to the Flanker family. Add to that the fact that even the most modern and most complex Flanker variant (the Su-35) is cheaper than the F-16 and the Super Bug (and comparable in cost to the Gripen), and the fact that the F-5 is no longer in production, and your point becomes moot. The PLAAF will always have more fighters available in the WESTPAC than the US. The key to victory, therefore, is not to contest enemy strength (which lies in numbers) but, as Sun Tzu taught, develop our own advantage and attack his potential weaknesses.

      Sprey does not know what the hell he’s talking about. Neither do you. He’s not an honest analyst. He’s a leftist propagandist currently working for a pro-Russian (formerly, pro-Soviet) disinformation organization, the CDI, which advocates deep, disastrous defense cuts and was investigated by the FBI during the 1980s. His ignorant ramblings on the F-16 and the F-22 have been proven wrong numerous times by USAF pilots and outside experts.

      How well the F-5 might do – and I’m highly skeptical that it would do well against the threats of today (let alone those of tomorrow) – is irrelevant, as it’s an almost academic question. The F-5 is in service only with a few secondary allies, and only in limited numbers (as well as adversary aircraft for the USAF). The most numerous fighters operated by America’s enemies today are Flankers, MiG-29s, J-7s (China), J-8s (China), and J-10s (China again). Russia is now developing the PAKFA, while China is developing the J-20 and the J-31. These are the standards against which all Western fighters must be assessed. And based on these standards, the F-16 fails miserably, as would the F-5 with its very limited payload of 7 missiles, a large RCS, and very little fuel.

      1. Dear Zbigniew:

        I see you are a spirited debater on this subject. I’m not really, I’m just interested in it and like to read about it. My goal is to understand and I am an amateur, so you are probably right that in some ways I “don’t know what the hell I am talking about”. But, I am open minded and analytic. As an electrical engineer I find the technology interesting, as a private pilot the aircraft are interesting, and as a former USMC infantryman the military tactics are interesting.

        Most interesting of all is to understand how it all fits together, what the best top level strategy is. In particular, is it better to be simple and low tech with more numbers, or more complex and high tech with fewer aircraft? So allow me to reply and make a few other points.

        GUNS in A2A: In the Korean war our gun pass Pk with six fifties in the F-86 was about 35%. By the time Vietnam rolled around we were using 20 mm guns and the Pk per trigger squeeze was 30% with 4 twenties (F-8 and F-100) and 26% with a Gattling (external pod on the F-4). We were sort of going backwards, but the guns were still working well.

        Also, your pointing out that in the 1971-73 part of the Vietnam war that guns only scored 15% of the kills seems to have a flaw. The possible flaw is that many of the F-4’s used by the Navy and Air Force did not even have guns. They had no choice but to use missiles. And the Pk they got was only 15% to 19% for the IR AIM-9 Sidewinders, and 8% to 10% for the radar guided AIM-7 Sparrows.

        Sprey’s report and the book “Boyd” contradict your statement that the Israelis got 2/3 of their kills with missiles. In the Six Day War of 1967 the Israelis got 60 kills, and every one was a gun kill (“Boyd”, p. 219, according to the commander of the Israeli Air Force, Gen. Mordacai Hod). In the 73 war the Israelis got about 2/3 of their kills with guns only, or with a gun follow-up to a missed missile.

        Bottom line: Up through the 1970’s guns were decidedly better in most ways except that the missiles outranged the guns. The better range is a major factor, and allows shoot downs that could not otherwise be achieved. But, the continued high performance of the guns did teach the brass to be more careful about relying too much on new technology before it is really ready. The point was so firmly made that despite much better missile Pk today, almost all new fighters still have guns. They are not as essential today, but they are still good to have.

        COMPLEXITY: I’m not saying that anybody should plan to equip an air force with dirt simple F-5’s today. But, I am saying that a light fighter can be competitive, and that money matters. If a light fighter with less stealth only achieves a 1:2 kill ratio (losing twice as many fights as it wins against more complex fighters), but you can buy 4 of them for the same budget, then a light fighter air force can win an air war against a more complex fighter by simple attrition. Here history teaches a real lesson. At the end of WWII the Germans had 500 ME-262 jets with a 100 mph speed advantage over our top fighters. But, they were driven from the skies by our superior numbers. Jets were a game changing technology, but they did not have enough of them, nor did they know how to best employ them.

        GAME CHANGING TECHNOLOGY: A lot of air strategists thought dog fighting was a thing of the past starting in the 1960’s. They assumed radar and missiles obsoleted maneuvering and guns. They were wrong. The radar gave your position away, and the Pk on the missiles was too low.

        Maybe that is somewhat changing today. The active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars that have been fielded in the last decade are much harder to detect and to jam. That makes the radar a lot more useful, and forces a need for better stealth. The Pk of the radar guided missiles has gone up. So, perhaps radar, missiles, and now stealth actually will change the game sharply more in favor of complex aircraft.

        If so, that does not mean that Sprey does not know what he is talking about. His main point that well designed simple fighters and weapons were better for winning wars was correct in the time that he promoted that opinion. And he may well be right that staying on the simpler end of the viable spectrum of choices today is still the better war winning strategy.


  6. Thanks for your comments, Farron.

    I’m very passionate about defense issues! I’m sorry if I insulted you. However, in my assessment, you do not know the facts of the subject at hand. That is not a personal attack.

    WRT guns, during the latter stage of the Vietnam War (1970-1973), the vast majority of US fighters, including the majority of F-4s, DID have a gun (retrofitted to them).

    While the IAF may have scored the majority of its aerial victories in the Six Day War with guns, this was not the case during the Yom Kippur War (1973), contrary to what you said. In a 2005 study (titled “Promise and Reality: Beyond Visual Range (BVR) Air-To-Air Combat”) for the Air War College, then-LTCOL Patrick Higby, USAF, gave the figures that I cited above. If you believe the Israelis achieved 2/3s of their aerial victories in the YK war with guns, you are wrong.

    In his study, LTCOL Higby also gives reliable figures on the Pk of radar-guided missiles and missiles in general used by US aircraft in Vietnam (1965-1968; 1971-1973), the YK War, and Israel’s air war with Syria in 1982 as a part of Operation Peace for Galilee.

    In Vietnam, in both periods studied by Higby, the reliability of radar-guided missiles (and missiles in general) was poor, indeed: 8.1% and 10.9%, respectively. But in 1973, during the YK war, missiles in general worked much better for the IAF, achieving a Pk of 41.7%. In 1982, against the Syrians, missiles had a Pk=52.2%, meaning that each missile was more likely than not to hit its target. For RG missiles, the Pk was 20% during the YK war and 25% in 1982 against the Syrians.

    Also in 1982, heat-seeking Sidewinder missiles (specifically, the versions of the Sidewinder that existed in 1982) used by Britain achieved a PK of 73% against the Argentines.

    Since then, technology has progressed greatly. Today’s radars and RG missiles are much more reliable than those of the 1960s and the 1970s. Remember that the USAF’s and USN’s main RG missile during Vietnam was the AIM-7 Sparrow. Today, it is a much better missile, the AMRAAM. Although, of course, the are many more points in a “kill chain” for a RG missile than for a heat-seeking one, and it is quite possible to duck the former but very hard to duck the latter (as it can perform 40Gs).

    The statistics you cited for WW2 and the Korean War are nongermane to the subject at hand. The Korean War, as you know, was suspended almost 60 years ago, and technology has progressed greatly since then. As for WW2, the reason why the Me-262 was not very successful was primarily that most of these aircraft were destroyed on the ground by Allied bombers – not defeated in the air by Allied fighters. But – as Pierre Sprey himself has admitted on TV – it was a plane that you would seldom see, but if you DID meet one in the air, it was going to shoot you down.

    Which brings me to your point about numbers and kill ratios.

    While I agree that quantity is, by itself, quite important and could sometimes compensate for somewhat inferior quality, this is true only if your aircraft are not _decisively_ inferior. If they are, then even outnumbering the enemy 4:1 will not help – you’re just providing the enemy with more targets to shoot down and getting more American pilots unnecessarily killed.

    And the problem is that, as I said, the F-5, the F-16, the Bug, and the Super Bug are all decisively inferior to the Flanker family, not to mention the J-20, the J-31 and the PAKFA. The Bug and the Super Bug were never even intended to be fighters – and in a representative simulation by retired RAAF WGCDR Chris Mills, Super Bugs were slaughtered. The F-16C/D is way too heavy to compete and, like the F-5 and the bugs, doesn’t even have enough fuel to be useful anywhere or to sustain a long fight.

    Besides, buying more aircraft isn’t just a matter of buying them. You have to maintain them, hire, train, and retain crews and support personnel for them, and maintain the infrastructure for them.

    Regarding Sprey [beware: I will now be VERY nasty]: He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. For the past 30+ years, he’s been campaigning for deep defense cuts and for emasculating the US military with ineffective weaponry while opposing crucial weapon programs, usually on the pretext that the weapons being targeted were “complex” (but in this case, “complex” also meant “effective” and “survivable”). During the 1980s, he teamed up with POGO to prevent Reagan’s rebuilding of the US military and opposed the F-15 among other vital weapons. Had POGO and the CDI had their way, the Soviet Union would’ve probably still existed today. Now he’s working for both POGO and the CDI to emasculate the US military. He’s been blowing smoke out of his posterior attacking the F-22 (and has been refuted on that subject) and downplaying the Flanker threat (see the original blogpost). Either he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or he’s deliberately misleading people.

    He was wrong at the time he wrote his precious report, and he’s wrong now. The effectiveness of missiles, especially heat-seeking missiles, had dramatically improved by the 1980s (compared to the 60s), as evidenced by LTCOL Higby’s study. Thus, missiles (especially Sidewinders) scored most of the USAF’s and IAF’s kills in 1973 and 1982.[nasty rant over]

    1. Hello again, Zbigniew:

      I’m not offended at all, and I am enjoying and learning from the exchange. As an amateur military historian who can spare only a few hours per month on the subject, I’m well aware that my knowledge is quite limited.

      Still, I am amazed at the lack of knowledge and sub-optimum decisions sometimes made by policy makers who should know better. For example, realistic trials show that if we had fought the air to air war in Vietnam with properly trained pilots flying the F-5 instead of the F-100, F-105, and F-4, we would have probably done a lot better and spent less money. So, the “big boys” make some real mistakes as well, and we citizens should be keeping a close eye on their decisions and policies.

      In particular, I am not at all convinced that the F-35 as now defined, and as now established as the most expensive defense program in history, is really the best main aircraft for us. The big boys could possibly be just as mistaken here as when they decided in the 50’s and 60’s that fighters did not need manueverability and guns.

      But, to really answer that important question, we would have to know the probable exchange ratio against competent opponents. To know that we would have to understand a lot more than just the relative aerodynamic performance of the F-35 and its likely opponents. We would need to know the detection envelopes and probability of detection and jamming of the AESA radars. We would need accurate Pk’s on the competing weapons. The speed and accuracy of the data linked information exchange to build an air picture will be critical. Naturally all that is classified, and sometimes those classified numbers are not really accurate, but are contractor claims influenced by the huge sales that are at stake. We also need to understand the mind of the opponent, his skills strategically and tactically. Finally, we need to understand the true logistical costs and what each side can realistically field.

      A key question is my mind is whether the “per dollar” kills achieved by a simpler aircraft in the style of the Gripen would be better than a more complex aircraft like the F-35. I don’t know, but my guess is that it would. My reason for thinking that is that as an engineer I am well tuned in to the expontial cost increase of leading edge technology, how every little bit of performance advantage costs increasingly more than the bit before it.

      For example, the physical fact that radar receive energy goes inverse 4th power with range means that improvements in radar transmit power, receive signal processing, and radar cross section do not have nearly as much effect on detection range as intuition would indicate. Cutting radar cross sectional area in half with better stealth costs a LOT, but only decreases detection range by 16%. Unless you just get real lucky with that minor improvement being critical due to relative detection and weapons envelopes at the critical time combat occurs, you are probably better off to put that money into more aircraft and improved training.

      As you note, the most likely opponents are Russia and China, and thus the Flanker, PAK FA, J-31, and J-20. I don’t know much about the Chinese planes, but I have high respect for the Chinese as opponents. They are smart, hard working, and ruthless. My father-in-law was an infantryman in the 1st Marine Division in Korea, which was the unit surrounded by a half dozen Chinese divisions at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. The Chinese mission was to “eradicate” the 1st Marine Division. They conducted human wave attacks into fields of machine gun fire, completely disregarding their own losses (“we have a lot more guys where these came from”), with the idea of just running the marines out of ammo and then killing them to the last man. If our superior air power had not blasted out a corridor through which we could conduct a fighting retreat, they would have succeeded.

      When it comes to the electronics the Chinese will have in those planes, it will be top notch in terms of effectiveness. Their electronics industry has been improving by leaps and bounds, and it is now arriving as an equal of our own, and far more cost effective. They also won’t care about their own pilot losses, simply about the per dollar effectiveness of their air force.


      1. Thanks for your comment, Farron.

        You’re quite right that we should respect the Chinese and their weapons, and that Chinese electronics are top notch. I only wish more people recognized that.

        WRT to your proposition that simple, agile, cheap fighters procured in large numbers would be a better investment than a smaller number of high-tech fighters, you would’ve been right if the results air combat were still determined by the former. But they’re not. Today, large, “high-tech” fighters such as the F-15, the Flanker family (the USSR’s/Russia’s response to the F-15), the F-22, the PAKFA (Russia’s response to the Raptor), and the J-20 are the right way to go. These fighters are large, but still very agile, maneuverable, fast, and lethal, carrying a large weapons and fuel load. They can shoot a smaller, nonstealthy fighter down with BVR or WVR missiles (Russian BVR missiles have diverse seeker – RG, IR, anti-radar) or simply run it out of fuel. Thus, by buying more F-16s, Gripens, or F-5s, you’re just creating more targets for enemy Flankers, PAKFAs, and J-20s to shoot down – and remember that one Flanker can carry 11-12 A2A missiles depending on the variant.

        Yes, historically, DOD leaders have made serious mistakes. The F-35 is such a mistake. It’s very complex, very expensive, but only partially stealthy (only from the front and only in some radar bands), has a shorter CR than the F-15/Flanker/PAKFA/J-20 class, and can carry only 4 A2A missiles internally.

        The right solution would be to procure some 600 additional F-22s for the USAF, develop a Sea Raptor for the USN, develop an STOVL Raptor for the USMC, and cancel the F-35 completely. Sadly, this solution is not in the works. Moreover, many good analysts (such as RAND’s Dr John Stillion) and senior USAF officers (such as Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Gen. John D. W. Corley, and LTGEN David A. Deptula) were fired or forced to retire because of their advocacy for the F-22. At the DOD, the Gates years were characterized by an unrestrained use of raw political power to suppress debate and professional military advice and to pay for the Bush/Obama Administration’s pet projects, of which the F-35 is the most expensive one.

        I agree with the rest of your comment.

  7. Hello Zibigniew:

    Thanks for the feedback. I’ll throw in a few other notes, but no need to reply unless you just feel like it. In the absence of more data, we’ve about beat this horse to death.

    Israel has the most combat experience with the F-15 and F-16, and those planes take the role of the more complex when they are facing simpler MiG-21’s and 23’s. And in this argument for complexity, their record is so stellar that it is overcoming the lower cost of the MiGs and creating a budgetary as well as plane for plane win. As far as I can tell from conflicting reports, their F-16’s have run up a record of about 44 wins and only 1 loss. Their F-15’s are about 61 and 0. There have been losses from ground fire and SAM’s, but little or no losses of F-15’s and F-16’s to competing fighters. This is a completely different result than our more complex planes only getting 2:1 over North Vietnamese MiG 17’s, 19’s, and 21’s, which was a clear budget win for the Viets. Of course, the North Vietnamese also had a much higher standard of pilot training than most Arab countries.

    In realistic trials in India and in the U.S., our F-15’s and 16’s appear to be on the moderatly losing end against the Indian Su-30MKI. It’s a little more complex plane, though no more expensive than the 15, and when we skirmish against it the Indians have their best guys in the cockpit. Still, it seems to be making a case for the features it has giving it a some edge.

    I have seen a lot of anecdotal references to the F-22 getting a strong winning record against our own F-15’s and F-16’s, but no hard data on actual exchange rates that allows judging a per dollar winner.

    On F-16 vs. F-15 in U.S. trials, the simpler F-16 seems to be running about even with the 15, which is a budget win for simplicity. Of course, the 16 is not super simple. It’s the same kind of weapons as the 15, and a radar nearly as good.


    1. Thanks for your comments, Farron.

      1) The reason why F-15s and F-16s have been so successful, and the F-4 spectacularly unsuccessful, against MiG-21s and MiG-23s is twofold, but simple. Firstly, the F-4 is a big, UNmaneuverable, sluggish aircraft with poor visibility to the front, to the sides, and down, and no visibility to the rear. Secondly, it originally lacked a gun. The reason for that is simple: the F-4 was designed, and originally intended, as a fleet defense interceptor, tasked with intercepting aircraft trying to attack American fleets – a mission that, as the FAS page on the F-16 notes, neither the F-4 nor any other jet ever executed, b/c no American fleet has so far come under air attack in the jet age. The F-15 and the F-16A/B are, OTOH, very maneuverable and had a gun installed on them from the start. They were designed with painful Lessons Learned from Vietnam in mind.

      2) An unmodernized (i.e. lacking an AESA radar, an IRST, and countermeasures) F-15 is slightly, and the F-16 is decisively, inferior to the Su-30MKI, which is not only much cheaper than both of these aircraft but also upgraded with Israeli and/or French electronics. Besides, the Su-30MKI is not representative of future enemy fighter threats – the Su-35, the PAKFA, the J-20, and the J-31 are. An F-15 equipped with the things I listed above can achieve parity (and with good pilots, even superiority) against Flankers, but not against the other three reference threats, as these represent a new, totally different threat class.

      3) The F-16 is not even close to being as good as the F-15 for all the reasons stated here and in other articles of mine. Nor is its radar “nearly as good”: it has only 1000 modules (compared to the F-15 radar’s 1500 modules) and dramatically less aperture power and range.

  8. Hello Zbigniew:

    Thanks again for the well considered comments.

    I see you are acknowledging that even in the almost computer warfare age that pilot skill still plays a major role. From what I read on Red Flags in the 70’s and 80’s, putting the best pilots in the F-5’s out of the generally excellent group selected to participate would result in the F-5’s running up a strong winning record even if in generaly they were running a little under 1:1 against more advanced planes. So, the pattern continues that better pilots and strategy still win over moderate differences in aircraft performance. It’s not who has the bigger “gun” who wins, it’s the guy who hits the target with the gun he has.

    When it comes to the military aviation issues I am just an amateur student, but on the radio electronics side I am an old pro RF engineer. So, I can accurately report that the F-15’s 1500 modules compared to 1000 for the F-16 are not by themselves a strong range edge. Radar range only improves proportional to the 4th root of improvements in “antenna aperture”, which is what a larger antenna with more AESA modules is fundamentally doing. So 1.5X more modules is an 11% improvement in range (if all other factors are equal). Maybe there are other technical differences in the radars that provide further improvement.

    A 15% average (this is a statistical phenomenon and not always the same) range difference (15 miles?) is only about 8 seconds if two opponents are closing at nearly Mach 1 each. Furthermore, if ground radar, airborne early warning, or data linking between fighters (Gripen is reported to be advanced with this capability) is providing a better air picture than two opposing fighters alone, then even that 8 second advantage is erased.

    So, the pilot with the better radar range has to be both pretty quick on the trigger, and allowed to be real quick by the ROE, in order to get much advantage from that modest difference in radar range.

    Let’s say this moderately greater range lends a generous 20% improvement in the kill ratio. I’d be surprised if it is really that high with the supplemental information available in the modern air war, but maybe it is. If the cost (and thus numbers difference) in the fighters are that the more complex fighter with greater range costs more than 20% more than the smaller fighter, then the battle of attrition favors the smaller and cheaper fighters.

    It’s not humane to plan it that way, since you are sacrificing your fighter pilots. But, war is seldom humane. And the guys who fly the fighters are so motivated that they will take any decent plane you give them and gladly test their skills against the enemy.


    1. Thanks for your comments, Farron, and the information about fighter radars.

      However, you are still wrong on the issue of pilot skills/training vs quality of the aircraft involved.

      Pilot skills and training make a big difference when the opposing fighters are of roughly the same quality (weaponry, sensors, survivability, aerodynamic and kinematic performance, etc.). E.g. F-86s vs MiG-15s in Korea, F-8 Crusaders vs MiG-21s in Vietnam, Mirage IIIs vs MiG-21s in Arab-Israeli wars, or F-15s vs the Flanker family and the J-10 in a hypothetical war with China.

      But when one type of aircraft is decisively superior to the other, pilot skills and training play no role, and even the best pilot in the world won’t help you. Even a superbly trained pilot can’t do anything if forced to fly a crappy aircraft.

      The US military got a lot of its pilots killed in WW2 and Vietnam by forcing them to fly decisively inferior a/c against the Japanese Zero. Thousands of the USAAF’s and the USN’s well-trained pilots were killed flying Brewster Buffalos, P-47s, and other crap against the Zero. The US was LOSING the air war until the P-51 entered service in large numbers.

      In Vietnam, while the lightweight (with a WL ratio of 377 kg/sq m, almost the same as the F-22 today) F-8 Crusader performed well, the F-4 Craptom performed disastrously and over 300 of them were shot down. Hundreds of well-trained fighter pilots were shot down, many of them captured and tortured by the North Vietnamese.

      This, by the way, also refutes your argument that the US military should invest in large numbers of “simple”, easy-to-shoot-down fighters such as the F-5 Crappy Fighter and the F-16 Crappy Falcon to win a war of budgetary “attrition” through sheer numbers. Leaving aside the fact that China can always out-produce the US and produce cheaper fighters, American casualties in such a war would be so high that the American public would demand a withdrawal from it (if not an outright surrender to the PLA) before such victory would be achieved. And even if it were achieved, it would be a Pyrrhic victory, achieved at huge budgetary and human costs (not just the pilots who would get killed under your scheme, but also the suffering widows and the orphaned children).

      It’s clear that you have never read Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Mark McNeilly’s Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare, or my review of the latter (I’ve read both). Had you had done so, you would’ve known that attrition-based warfare is the worst possible way to win a war; the best way is to subdue the enemy without having to fight, or, if you have to, beat him decisively ASAP, and that even a significantly outnumbered, but better equipped and trained force can beat a larger but worse trained, equipped, and motivated one.

      In air war terms, this means having the best fighters, missiles, and pilots, even if it means having fewer of them than the enemy. The USAF currently has several hundred F-15s. If sufficiently upgraded and properly maintained, these could defeat large numbers of anything other than the PAKFA, the J-20, the J-31, and maybe the Eurocanards. Add Japanese, Singaporean, and SK F-15s into the mix, and you’ve got an even larger F-15 force and thus another several hundred Red fighters shot down.

      But if the US flies decisively inferior aircraft (such as the F-16, the F-5, the F-35, or the Super Bug) against enemy fighters, it will lose DECISIVELY. Even superior numbers won’t change this fact. A friend of mine, Chris Mills of AirPowerAustralia, did a computer simulation a while back, showing that in a fight between 24 PLAAF Su-35s (the PLAAF has 24 on order) and 24 Super Bugs, all Super Bugs would be shot down, while the PLAAF would lose only 4 Su-35s.

      BTW, a kill ratio of less than 1:1 is not winning or even parity ratio. It’s a LOSING ratio. You’re not even achieving parity. If that’s the best that F-5s could achieve against 1980s F-15s (lacking 21st century tech), I shudder to think how would they perform against an F-15C wielding an APG-63(V)4, an IRST system, jammers, and decoys.

      In any case, wars are not won with kill ratios, so your point about these is moot.

      I’ve also checked the facts regarding the Indo-Pakistani wars, and you were wrong. The PAF’s F-86s did not beat MiG-21s, let alone achieve a 7:1 kill ratio against them. While the F-86 was the PAF’s primary fighter during both of these wars, and shot down 91 Indian aircraft in the first and 31 Indian aircraft in air combat in the second war with Delhi, only a few of these were MiG-21s (in the latter war, just one). Most Indian aircraft shot down by the PAF were Hunters, Vampires, Su-7s, and Gnats.


      Today, the IAF has the advantage, thanks to its Su-30MKI aircraft, which will be complemented in a few years by Dassault Rafale fighters. Even a swarm of F-16s would not stand a chance against either aircraft.

      Sorry, Farron, but those are facts. That’s just the cold, hard reality. Even a much larger fleet of decisively inferior aircraft will lose to a smaller fleet of better, “complex” aircraft, especially when the latter are flown by better-trained pilots.

      1. Hello Zbigniew:

        I’m puzzled you are so down on the F-5. That aircraft was designed in the late 1950’s, without benefit of modern energy manueverability theory or computer simulation. Realistic trials showed it to be our most effective air to air fighter right up to the introduction of the F-15, and it could give a good account of itself through the 1980’s against aircraft costing 3X to 10X more. That qualifies as a design masterpiece, as much an achievement as the P-51 and the F-86. It is no coincidence that the chief designer on the F-5 was Edgar Schmued, who was also the lead designer on the P-51 and F-86. The plane has such a strong performance to price ratio that there are nearly 1000 of them still in service. It is an antique now, but that does not make it “crappy”, just like being even more of an antique does not make the P-51 “crappy”. They are both fantastic airplanes when judged fairly against their contemporaries. Between them I would say the F-5 is the greater achievement. The P-51 was competitive with leading fighters for about 6 years. The F-5 was competitive for about 25 years.

        I’ll quote directly from Pierre Sprey’s report on the F-86 vs. MiG-21 issue:

        Page 135: “The Sabres did the lion’s share of the killing, achieving an approximate 6 to 1 exchange ratio against the Indians’ supersonic MiG-21’s and”

        Page 137: “Sn-7’s and subsonic Hunters.”

        OK, when I reported the high exchange ratio favoring the F-86, I had forgotten the remaining sentence clause on a different page that may reduce the kill ratio against the MiG-21’s. I don’t have the data on just the exchange ratio of F-86 vs. MiG-21. But that is not the main point. The summary was as follows:

        Page 137: “Needless to say, the main reason for the Sabre’s success was the superior skill of the Pakistani pilots. Nevertheless, the Sabre demonstrated that a hard-to-see, subsonic fighter–equipped with guns plus infrared missiles and flown by superior pilots–can prevail against more modern Mach 2 fighters.”

        This was demonstrated again with our losses of F-4’s and F-106’s against subsonic MiG-17’s in the Vietnam War.

        I know you don’t think much of Pierre Sprey. But, a lot of other very knowledgeable people do. He had an outstanding career as a defense analyst and he really nailed the definition of the A-10 as its chief architect. He may not be right 100% of the time, but he has delivered a large body of outstanding work that is worthy of high respect.

        The point I am trying to make to you is even more general that Sprey’s above. That point is that it is the people and system that are more crucial than the particular machines and the technology. I’m an engineer, and throughout my career have been regarded as highly analytic even among engineers. I’ve devoted my career to technology and its optimization. But I have seen that there are limits to technology and that many more factors besides pure technology have to be taken into account.

        In the radar/stealth/smart missile/complexity discussion I’m not sure what the best disposition of forces really is. Operations like Red Flag are not just to train the pilots, but to gather the data that allows trying to understand that best disposition. That data and its interpretation are classified, so we cannot find it for open discussion. It appears that the U.S. thinks that data favors higher complexity such as stealth. The higher Pk for modern missiles has a lot to do with that.

        Are the big boys right on their resulting selection of “best technology node”? Well, no doubt they are at least partially right on the feature set they are seeking. Without access to the inside data, we cannot be confident, and even with such access the issue is so complex as to defy certainty.


  9. Zbigniew:

    One more point on the F-5. If the F-5G (later renamed the F-20) had gone into production (it was blocked by the political actions of the F-16 proponents), then the competitive period of the F-5 would have extended to over 50 years. Really quite amazing.

    The F-5G / F-20 corrected the only real weaknesses of the earlier F-5’s:

    1. Thrust to weight ratio and acceleration, via replacement of the little J-85 engines with a GE F-404 (same engine as in the F-18).

    2. Visibility to the rear via a better canopy.

    3. Modern radar and other avionics.

    The Gripen is the spiritual decendant of the F-5/F-20 concept, updated and apparently even better executed. It uses a European version of the same engine, has even lighter wing loading (58 lbs per square ft vs. 81), and delta+canard for further cruise speed and maneuverability improvement. Though the Gripen is only quoted as having thrust to weight of 0.97 compared to 1.1 for the F-20, that is due to it having much greater useful load than the F-20. Its empty weight is even lighter than the F-20, and with comparable load its thrust to weight is a little better. It would seem to superior in air to air to the excellent F-20, while also carrying twice the air to ground load.

    The Swedes seem pretty pleased with how the Gripen is doing at Red Flag. The Swiss air force is retiring their old F-5E’s and is procurring the upgraded Gripen NG (New Generation). The price is about $45M each.


    1. Farron,

      Firstly, while the F-86 was indeed the PAF’s main fighter during both wars with India, it shot down only ONE MiG-21 in these wars – specifically, in 1971. All other kills scored by the F-86 during those wars were against other, mostly obsolete British, aircraft (e.g. Hunters, Vampires, and Gnats), but also sometimes against the Mirage III. In 1965, the F-86 did not shoot down a single Indian MiG-21.

      Thus, the F-86 did not achieve any impressive kill ratio against the MiG-21 (leaving aside the fact that kill ratios are useless).

      Secondly, you said of your implied claim that pilots are always the biggest issue (Sprey has made that claim explicitly) “This was demonstrated again with our losses of F-4′s and F-106′s against subsonic MiG-17′s in the Vietnam War.” No, Farron, it wasn’t. In Vietnam, as in Korea, the US military had decisively BETTER pilots. The problem in Vietnam (as in Korea, prior to the F-86’s introduction) was inferior aircraft: F-4s were too big, too heavy, too unmaneuverable, gun-less (initially), and with poor visibility for the pilot. They were never designed, and not originally intended, to be fighters, but rather fleet defense interceptors.

      When two opposing types of fighters are of roughly equal quality, pilots usually make the difference. But when one side has decisively better fighters than the others, pilot skills matter little, as even the best pilot in the world flying disastrously inferior a/c will lose any time to a worse-trained pilot flying a better (not necessarily more complex or high-performance) a/c.

      None of the above is new information, BTW. I tried to communicate that to you in my previous 2-3 comments – to no avail, however, because you still worship on the altar of false god Pierre Sprey and refuse to listen to others.

      BTW, could you please enlighten me as to when did the F-106 Delta Dart see any combat in Vietnam? To my knowledge, it never fought in Vietnam. Perhaps you meant the Republic F-105 Thunderchief. It was not (and was never designed to be) a fighter, but rather a tactical nuclear strike aircraft. Thrown into the meatgrinder that was the NV air defense network, it suffered heavy losses (334 a/c, 40% of all Thuds ever produced), but it was a rugged, reliable aircraft capable of taking on a lot of punishment. But it was also misused.

      To say I don’t think much of Pierre Sprey would be an understatement. He’s an ignorant, arrogant garbage peddler (like other POGO folks) who is spreading lies and thus misleading a lot of people (including, obviously, you). If the truth spread as quickly as lies do, all of our problems would’ve been solved long ago.

      True, technology has its limits. But even the best troops (in this case, pilots) won’t survive long if they have decisively inferior tools at their disposal. It’s like trying to compete in a NASCAR race when your car is an oldsmobile.

      1. Dear Zbigniew:

        Yes, I meant the F-105 in Vietnam.

        OK, you HAVE said several times that the American Vietnam losses were due to designing and using the wrong planes for the job. I agree, and it supports my point that we may not be using the best planes today as well. The guys we have running the show now have no special advantages over the guys we had then.

        On the point as to whether the American public will go along with the losses of an air war with real attrition, that depends on how they view the necessity of a conflict. In WWII we lost an average of 6600 men per MONTH. We’ve only got about 3000 fighters in service, and if we lost 2/3 of them and only half the pilots survive the shoot down, then we’ve lost 1000 guys. In a war of survival we’ll take it. Hell, we lose 1000 former sailors and marines to mesothelioma from completely avoidable Navy asbestos exposure every single year, and I don’t see the population rising up over it or a single Navy official getting charged with so much as a misdemeanor for this mass murder of our own guys.


  10. Zbigniew:

    I forgot to say that I have read Sun Tzu, and on both military and humanitarian grounds I completely agree with his policy of minimizing losses.

    On those grounds I favor whatever force disposition gives us the greatest odds of winning an air war. It is essential to maintain air superiority over the battlefield. If more airplanes that are a little simpler and that suffer higher losses are better for winning, it is for the greater good. Every fighter pilot lost to successfully maintain air superiority probably saves over a hundred men on the ground. Fighter pilots understand that. When I was an 18 year old marine infantry volunteer, I understood the risk I was taking. I was fine with that risk so long as my leaders did not unnecessarily risk my life.

    And, if our greater war fighting capability backs off an opponent so that we don’t have to fight, better still.


    1. Farron,

      If you have read Sun Tzu’s Art of War, you obviously haven’t learned from it. You still advocate an attrition-based strategy, similar to that favored by previous LOSING military leaders (such as Gen. William Westmoreland), based on the belief that the USAF should sacrifice a huge number of inferior, “simple” aircraft, and a huge number of pilots, to defeat an enemy, after which “win” a badly bleeded USAF will be able to claim victory.

      Your strategy is fiscally unsound, politically impossible to execute, and morally repugnant. (And I seldom use that word.) Under your strategy, the USAF would sacrifice over a thousand pilots to barely win a war of attrition. The American public would never consent to such a battle plan, and rightly so. You also omit the huge cost of training a pilot – and thus, the cost of losing him. Which makes your strategy more costly than mine.

      History shows that your kind of strategy is disastrous even for the victors. The Union employed an attrition-based strategy during the Civil War, the Entente during WW1, and the Allies during WW2 – with disastrous results for all. It’s hard to say that even the victors won these wars, except the US, which benefitted mightily from both world wars, becoming Europe’s banker and the top Western power, the only superpower besides the Soviet Union.

      Your willingness to lay down your life for America is very honorable and commendable, but I would prefer for you to live to fight another day than to die an honorable but unnecessary death, Farron. If I were a general, throwing my men into attrition-based attacks a la Lee at Gettysburg would be the last thing I would do.

      Fortunately, because the American public would, as I said above, never consent to losing over 1,000 highly-qualified pilots in a foreign war, your strategy has no chance of being implemented. The public will call for tucking tail and running before casualties become that high. It also has no chance of being tried because China, with a larger population, cheaper stuff, and growing military budget will always be able to produce more fighters at a lower cost than the US ever could, even if it resumed F-5 production. F-16s are MORE expensive than any fighter currently flown by the PLAAF.

      Unfortunately, it seems you don’t understand that wars are not won through attrition, bleeding the other side more than they bleed yours, budgetary expenditures, or kill ratios. Wars are won by dealing a decisive blow to the enemy (or a series of individually small but collectively painful blows) at the minimum cost to our own side – usually by attacking the enemy where or when he’s weakest, moving quickly to overcome resistance, and attacking by surprise. Vide e.g. Gen. James Wolfe’s successful conquest of French Canada and Gen. MacArthur’s landing at Inchon instead of attacking the NoKos headfirst at Pusan as many urged Gen. MacArthur to do.

      Sun Tzu taught – and Mark McNeilly, following Sun Tzu’s footsteps, teaches today – that the best way to do the job is to win without having to fight; the next best thing is to win while taking all-under-heaven intact; and the next best thing is to defeat the enemy with minimum casualties for you and minimum damage to his country (which you’re conquering), or whatever you’re conquering.

      In this case, it means establishing air superiority – an unpenetrable air umbrella – over whatever area the USAF intends to protect, be it the US itself, Japan, the Senkakus, the Spratly Islands, Korea, or whatever. This requires high-quality, top-notch fighters that can defeat ANYTHING potential adversaries fly. But it requires these fighters to be more than just nimble and maneuverable; they must also be fast, high-flying, well-armed, and capable of flying long distances and being on patrol for hours. The only US a/c that can do that job are the F-22 and the F-15.

      Gripens, F-16s, Bugs, Super Bugs, and F-35s are unfit for that job and would only make PLAAF pilots laugh.

      Fortunately, in this case, the US doesn’t have to trade numbers for quality. On top of 180 F-22s, it has several hundred F-15s, plus a few hundred others at D-M AFB (unless they’ve been cannibalized for spare parts), while Japan, SK, and Singapore have additional 200 or so F-15s.

  11. Dear Zbigniew:

    Thanks for another well reasoned response.

    But, on similar moral grounds I have to disagree and state that the lives of the guys on the ground are just as important as the lives of the pilots. For that reason I advocate the most effective air force for maintaining air superiority and minimizing the TOTAL number of lives lost.

    If a larger air force of simpler but well designed planes is better for maintaining air superiorty, then that is what we should pursue on both moral and military grounds. I’d tell any pilot who thinks he has it bad with a $50,000,000 plane and the best training we can provide that he can transfer to the infantry. There we can give him an $800 M-16 and a 60 lb pack to carry. One day hauling that back breaking load uphill, hiding from sniper fire, and sleeping on the cold wet ground will convince him how good he had it in his climate controlled cockpit, with hot food and a dry warm bed back on base. If he has to survive strafing and bombing from enemy aircraft because we have lost air superiority, that will make the point even better.

    But, perhaps I am missing part of the point here. I’ve been thinking in terms of real wars where national survival is at stake. If the real goal is to conduct limited wars and police actions with minimum losses and political resistance, then planes to the complex end of the spectrum probably do that better.

    If that is an important part of the real goal set, then in the near future we will be able to do a better job of that goal with much lower cost UAV fighters.


    1. Dear Farron,

      I’ll repeat this again: the strategy which you’re advocating would entail an excessively high price in both human and fiscal costs. You would get a lot of pilots unnecessarily killed (or captured and tortured a la Hanoi Hilton), and a lot of multi-million-dollar aircraft shot down, to barely win an attrition-based war, i.e. to achieve a Pyrrhic victory.

      This is the last thing that Sun Tzu would advise.

      Moreover, you would likely fail to achieve even a Pyrrhic victory, because most of your precious “simple, cheap fighters”, such as F-16s, F-5s, and Gripens would not survive BVR combat with Chinese- or Russian-made Flankers (or in the future, J-20s, J-31s, and PAKFAs), which carry a mix of RG, IR-guided, and passive anti-radar BVR A2A missiles. Or simply be run out of fuel and ditch into the sea or crash on land.

      This is not air combat against small, simple MiG-15s/17s/21s, this is combat against large, technologically advanced fighters armed with a diverse set of BVR missiles.

      Fortunately, your strategy would never even get a try for the reasons I’ve already stated.

      Also, remember that – like the Argies vis a vis the Brits in 1982 – the enemy doesn’t need to defeat the US military – only to impose unacceptably high casualties on it, or just threaten to do so if the US intervenes.

      Also remember that close in-theater bases from which small, simple, short-ranged fighters could operate – such as Kadena, Clark, Osan, Kunsan, and bases in western mainland Japan – are almost certain to be attacked by the PLA in the opening hours of any conflict and would therefore be unavailable. The USAF therefore needs long-ranged fighters which could operate over long distances, from distant bases in eastern Japan and possibly even Guam.

  12. Dear Zbigniew:

    I only used the F-5 as an example of a very cost effective light fighter that was also very combat effective compared to its much more expensive contemporaries. It’s a beautiful plane designed by a great team to a correct concept, that did not receive the credit it deserved due to political factors and prejudice on the part of USAF leadership.

    Even its improved F-20 form is not the right plane for the US today, but the concept does carry over to its modern descendents, which are the F-16 and the Gripen, and future “semi-stealth” and AESA radar improvements to this class of design. Though cheaper than the big twin engine fighters and MUCH cheaper than stealth fighters, these aircraft are very sophisticated and capable. Between those two the Gripen appears superior due to it being newer and also to it not being deliberately handicapped by the very service that acquired it. The F-16 was defined as an air superiority fighter, and as defined it was superior in that role to the F-15. It had greater fuel fraction, maneuverability, and thrust to weight ratio than the F-15A. It not only had longer legs than the F-15A, but longer legs than every fighter in the Air Force inventory. But once SecDef Schlesinger was out of office the Air Force immediately began loading it with air to ground, including nuclear delivery capability. In order to protect the F-15 program they also prevented its definers (Boyd, Sprey, Riccione, Hillaker) from increasing its wing area to recover lower wing loading and greater fuel capacity. This is reported in detail in the books “The Mind of War” and “Boyd”.

    The typically reported short combat radius of the F-16 is usually under the conditions that it is configured for air to ground with several tons of bombs. It has greater range when configured for air to air, and that range can easily be extended still further. Please see http://defense-update.com/products/f/f-16-fuel.htm, where I get the following:

    “A new concept, developed by FAR Technologies can apply to various military aircraft, fighters and trainers, adapting existing fuel tanks to be carried under weapon stations. Under the patent pending design, an installation of fuel lines, flowing fuel from the outboard weapon stations (3 and 7 on the F-16) to fuel tanks pylons, (stations 4 and 6 on the F-16). In Israel, IAI/Lahav is promoting the implementation on the F-16 and is working on the necessary adaptations. The installation can be applied in only two hours, and enable the Falcon to carry a total of up to five external fuel tanks, reduce the need of air refueling, extend ferry range by 40% and add 25% to the mission radius (on attack and reconnaissance missions, for example), and up to doubling endurance on combat air patrol missions.”

    Thus, comparing the deliberately rigged F-16 numbers such as wing loading and range to F-15 numbers and concluding that therefore the heavy fighter concept is superior to the light fighter concept is a fallacious and dishonest argument. You seem to pride yourself as an honest analyst. So, give the light fighter CONCEPT (not just particular planes) an impartial review, including the budgetary and reliability factors that allow an air force to buy more of them and maintain a higher in-service rate and sortie generation rate with them, and they make a strong argument.

    Of course, the robot fighter of the near future will make an even better argument. The flyboys won’t like it and will fight to maintain their status as the privileged royalty of military service, but that won’t change the facts. Those are bottom line facts that we better pay attention to if we don’t want our young princes in $200M stealth aircraft getting vaporized by overwhelming numbers of cheap $30M light fighters or even cheaper $10M Chinese drone fighters.

    If you really want to do the U.S. military some real good, like Sprey did with the A-10, you might consider promoting the low cost robot fighter concept. It’s as much of a game changing technology as the jet engine.


    1. Farron,

      The “lightweight fighter” concept is a misbegotten one, produced by intellectual lightweights. 🙂 But seriously, it’s a flawed one.

      While a LWF is very maneuverable in purely theoretical Vietnam-style dogfighting against other small, nonstealthy fighters, it is not useful for the air combat of today (or the future). It does not have sufficient fuel (even at a low fuel fraction) (and thus persistence), ammo, survivability, or speed and altitude to compete with the true air superiority fighters of today. This is true of both the F-16 and the Gripen.

      The F-16 has a very large RCS (even before you add any CFTs, such as those you’re talking about), an unimpressive 1.095:1 T/W ratio at 50% fuel plus the toys (the F-22 has a T/W ratio of 1.29:1 in that configuration, and the PAKFA a 1.19:1 T/W ratio), too little fuel (even with CFTs) to persist for long in the air (so bigger fighters, even with their higher fuel fraction, can simply run it out of fuel), and no more than 11 stations (the Su-35 has 12, and the Rafale has 13-14, as does the F-15E).

      An F-16 (or a Gripen) would not stand a ghost’s chance against a large, “complex” air superiority fighter such as the F-15, the F-22, a Flanker, the PAKFA, the J-20, the Typhoon, or the MiG-35. Any of those aircraft could detect and shoot down an F-16/Gripen long before it would detect them; outrun it in BVR combat (all of them except the Su-33 are more agile than the F-16), or simply run it out of fuel.

      Although these aircraft are larger and have a higher fuel fraction that the F-16 and the Gripen, the former simply carry much more fuel and thus have much longer combat radii. The reality is that an F-15C/D, even with its fuel fraction, has an unrefueled, no-CFT combat radius of 1,967 kms; an F-16, one of only 550 kms. Even adding one CFT under the F-16’s fuselage and two under its stations doesn’t even come close to providing the same CR as that of the F-15, and remember that 1) by the same logic, we can add CFTs to the F-15; 2) adding CFTs reduces the number of missiles you can carry, because there are fewer stations available.

      The F-16 is very, very lucky that it has never had to encounter a true equal in A2A combat, because it wouldn’t stand a chance. (The F-15 would, if upgraded with an AESA radar and an IRST system.)

      Reality proves you wrong, because it is the F-15, NOT the F-16, that has won air superiority for the US and Israel in every air combat involving either country since the late 1970s.

      The original F-16 (F-16A/B) was designed to do dogfights over the small area of the Central European theater in a hypothetical war against the Soviets. But the Soviet Union is gone. The F-16 has NONE of the characteristics required of an air superiority fighter today – or in the future – in the theaters where the USAF will have to fight.

      I agree that unmanned/optionally-manned fighters will likely be the future of the USAF and the USN. However, my role is not to promote or disparage anything here. My role is to report the truth and analyze it to the best of my knowledge.

      1. Dear Zibigniew:

        I also am trying to penetrate to the truth as well as public sources allow. I am also being a little too sarcastic in my comments on Air Force attitude. All the fighter pilots I have known have been great guys. But, my attitude as a former infantryman does tend to come out when I read about them demanding $200M planes when the boys on the ground are making due with tiny budgets and nobody seems too concerned with their casualty rate. Similarly, when I read of some senior officers deliberately handicapping the F-16 because of a career investment in the 15, I really am offended. That has been widely reported as true, and if it is it not only casts doubts on any claims of F-15 superiority, but also borders on treason.

        Do you have reliable data on the exchange ratio of the F-16 vs. the F-15 to support the assertion that the F-16 does not have a “ghost of a chance”? I’ve never seen any data to support that, and on the contrary I have read the 16 has a winning record against the 15 in U.S. Red Flag trials. However, the Air Force seems to keep a close hold on the exchange ratio, and in many interviews the pilots clearly avoid the topic. From http://www.f-16.net/f-16_forum_viewtopic-t-188.html I copy one comparison as follows:


        1. Is faster
        2. Has greater range / combat persistence
        3. Great radar
        4. Can carry a whole lot of AA missiles
        5. Built to be an interceptor
        6. Large / easy to spot
        7. Incredibly large radar – cross section
        8. Can turn, but not like the F-16


        1. Smaller and lighter
        2. Later versions have excellent range
        3. At least decent radar
        4. Can carry an equally impressive warload of AA missiles if need be
        5. Can turn on a dime
        6. Built to be a dogfighter
        7. Relatively small RCS
        8. Much cheaper, even in the later variants
        9. Has great acceleration, but lower max. speed & rate of climb
        10. Isn’t as good at higher altitudes
        11.On average, radar usually isn’t as good as F-15

        The overall winner: the F-16. F-16s can turn tighter, are harder to spot, and can also reach out and touch an enemy with their AMRAAMs practically just as easily as the Eagle.”

        He forgot to say “And the same budget gets you almost twice as many.”

        Zbigniew, reliable data is what we need to settle this issue. And not just on F-15 vs F-16, but on current and FUTURE light fighter vs heavy fighter conflicts where lower cost versions of stealth and a force mix including air to air UAV’s, light fighters, and heavy fighters are optimally combined.

        It would make a very good dissertation topic…


  13. Zbigniew:

    Here’s a perfect example of how hard it is to get to the bottom of this light fighter vs. heavy fighter argument.

    On the photospread between pages 248 and 249 of Chuck Yeager’s autobiography, there is a shot of Yeager with the F-20 he was test flying for Northrop. It says that Yeager thinks the F-20 is the finest fighter. This was published in 1985 when the F-15 and F-16 were also in service. OK, that’s fighter ace, elite test pilot, first man to break the speed of sound, fighter squadron and wing commander, most famous USAF pilot in history, and brigadier general Chuck Yeager coming out in favor of the light fighter concept. And also coming out in favor of the Northrop enhanced F-5 version, which is about 70% the weight of the F-16.

    Now, at http://www.f-16.net/interviews_article35.html Yeager gives an interview on the F-16 and runs it down. Says it is too small and he prefers the F-15E. Even says it has no innovation.

    On this same site other career USAF pilots who have flown everything say they prefer the F-16 to anything else.

    John “40 Second” Boyd, USAF top gun instructor who was never defeated in air to air (taking on all comers for years), who invented EM theory, who had much to do with the F-15 definition (saving it from being an 80,000 lb swing wing monster of an updated F-111), who later was the chief definer of the F-16 because he thought the F-15 just was not good enough.

    The situation is full of conflicting misinformation and contradictions. So, who are you going to believe? I go with John Boyd, who was as expert as they come, even more so than Chuck Yeager. I say that because even though I admire the hell out of Yeager, he was not the scientist of air war and aircraft design that John Boyd was.


    1. Farron,

      Facts are not determined by agreeing with someone or trusting someone. Facts are determined by finding and analyzing evidence.

      There is no evidence to suggest that the F-16 is better than the F-15, but there is plenty of evidence to say the opposite is true.

      The F-15 turns MUCH BETTER than the F-16, because its characteristic which determines turning capability/maneuverability the most – wing loading ratio – is much better (358 kg/sq m) than in the F-16’s case (431 kg/sq m). Its radar signature is larger, but that of the F-16 is still large enough to detect and shoot down the Crappy Falcon from a long distance without the F-16’s pilot even knowing what hit him. The F-16 is smaller, but not difficult for an F-15 pilot to spot.

      On every metric other than size and RCS, the F-15 is MUCH BETTER than the F-16 – and the F-16’s size and RCS is large enough to spot or detect it.

      The F-15 is by far the most maneuverable fighter in US inventory today, one of the most maneuverable in US history, and would therefore be a MUCH better dogfighter than the F-16.

      And the comment “The overall winner: the F-16. F-16s can turn tighter, are harder to spot, and can also reach out and touch an enemy with their AMRAAMs practically just as easily as the Eagle.” could’ve been uttered only by a very ignorant person. F-15s turn much better than F-16s and can reach the enemy with their AMRAAMs far easier than the F-16, due to its far higher top speed (Mach 2.5+) and ceiling (65 angels).

      Such comments as the ones you’re quoting only serve to prove the problem and exemplify it: most people are ignorant and spread ignorant garbage. We live in the Age of Ignorance. What’s worse, you, Farron, seem to be proud of your ignorance.

      You said that “reliable data is what we need to settle this issue. And not just on F-15 vs F-16, but on current and FUTURE light fighter vs heavy fighter conflicts where lower cost versions of stealth and a force mix including air to air UAV’s, light fighters, and heavy fighters are optimally combined.”

      But in the original post, you have all the data you need on the F-16 and the Flanker family. I also have a file with the same data on the F-15, the F-22, the F-35, the Super Bug, the J-10, the Typhoon, and the PAKFA. When time allows, I will write and publish a full comparison of all of these aircraft, as well as the Gripen, the Rafale, and the JF-17. Be warned, however, that unmanned fighters will likely not enter service until decades from now, and we’re talking about right here, right now.

      1. Dear Zibigniew:

        John Boyd, who had more to do with the definition of the F-15 and F-16 than any other single individual, designed the F-16 to be more maneuverable than the 15. Boyd did thousands of EM simulations in defining the F-15. He then took that knowledge and did thousands more in trying to do an even better job on the F-16. That was somewhat watered down by the brass to protect their career investment in the F-15, but please see http://www.fighter-planes.com/

        There it is reported that the maximum sustained turn rate of the F-15 is 16 degrees/sec, and the max of the F-16 is 18 degrees/sec. The F-16 also has a terrific max instantaneous turn rate of 26 degrees/sec. The F-15’s is not public knowledge, though that characteristic is reduced by size and weight. Now, maybe that website is not 100% dependable, but unless we can get access to Boyd’s EM simulations it is the best I know of.

        The F-15 does have lighter wing loading. That is the most dominant first order factor. But the area and aerodynamics of the fuselage and control surfaces also matter, and the F-16 blended wing and perhaps superior lifting body of a fuselage may be significant as well. Possibly also significant is the variable leading edge extensions of the F-16 which give it a variable geometry wing and increase maximum lift coefficient by about 12% when max deployed. The F-15 is dragging around a fixed leading edge camber at all speeds.

        Now, when considering the combat effectiveness of these aircraft, it is not a binary situation where one always beats the other. It is a statistical phenomenon, and you can’t get a valid kill ratio without hundreds of statistical trials under a wide range of conditions that effectively captures ALL the factors that contribute to kill ratio. The F-86 had a 10:1 kill ratio over the MiG-15 in Korea, though in most of the numbers the MiG-15 was superior (including speed, acceleration, ceiling, rate of climb, and sustained turn rate). The F-86 had superior visibility, more statistically effective weapons, and better “transient response” or “instantaneous turn rate” that a skilled pilot could use to real advantage.

        Have you had calculus based statistics involving deep understanding of probability distribution and density functions? I have, and I can tell you that understanding that material makes you look at things differently (and usually more correctly). Basically, these kill ratios are a form of “failure rate” that is statistically analytic.

        I notice you have NOT responded with any reliable kill ratio references between the F-15 and F-16. If taken with a statistically significant number of trials so that the numbers are accurate, that data would be the best evidence we are going to get to compare the aircraft effectiveness. And, even if the F-15 is positive against the F-16, it is not the “better” air to air fighter in terms of total warfare effectiveness unless it is positive enough to justify its higher price and lower sortie generation rate. This is the attrition warfare issue that you hate to acknowledge. I am not promoting it, but I do acknowledge it as a real factor in most wars that go beyond skirmishes and police actions.

        Boyd shared one characteristic with you, Zibigniew. He was quick to call other people ignorant. After publically shooting down generals who knew little of fighter combat, air war, and aircraft design compared to Boyd, he liked to say “I hosed that dumb son of a bitch.” But, they hosed him back. Despite being the best and most technically brilliant fighter pilot in the air force and probably being one of the ten most significant military officers of the 20th century, Boyd’s career was stopped at colonel. He deserved to be a general based on his tremendous ability and great contributions, but his big mouth prevented that.


  14. Farron,

    Firstly, the data you cite from the http://www.fighter-planes.com website is suspicious to say the least, and most of it is obsolete (and WRT the F-16’s T/W ratio it is flat out wrong). How can the F-16 have a better turning capability when it has a MUCH higher T/W ratio and an inferior T/W ratio at both full and 50% fuel?

    The F-16 barely has the same initial and sustained turning rate as the F-22, which is not as maneuverable (i.e. does not have a WL ratio as low) as the F-15. How can the F-16 outturn the F-15 when it has decisively inferior WL and T/W ratios?

    Secondly, one fighter does not always beat the other, but a vastly superior fighter will beat the inferior aircraft around 95% of the time. That, I can guarantee. It would be nice to see you try taking on a Flanker, a PAKFA, a J-20, or a MiG-35 while piloting an F-16.

    The truth is that these fighters, like the F-15 and the F-22, can detect and shoot down the F-16 from quite a range, and if it comes to dogfighting, they (except the Su-33 and perhaps the J-20) can outturn and thus outfight the F-16.

    Taking on those Russian and Chinese fighters with a dogfighting-only fighter is even more suicidal than taking on the F-15 or the F-22, because those Russian/PRC fighters have BVR missiles equipped with diverse seekers (RG, IR-guided, and passive anti-radar-homing), meaning that if one type of their BVR missiles misses the F-16, the other one won’t. Plus, if you’re flying an F-16, your missiles would have to climb uphill as the F-16 is slower and has a lower ceiling than the competition.

    Thirdly, contrary to what you’ve said, wars are not decided by kill ratios. If they were, the US would’ve won overwhelmingly in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. And yet, here is the US military, still trying to finish a smackdown that would’ve been over by 2002 if kill ratios had spit to do with warfare.

    Kill ratios are nearly useless for evaluating weapons, because they reflect the target as much as the weapon being evaluated. The only useful kill ratio we could have would be one of F-16s taking on the Su-27, Su-30, Su-35, the PAKFA, the J-20, the J-31, and the MiG-29/35. Perhaps the F-16 will have that opportunity in a Sino-Taiwanese conflict… if the PRC doesn’t destroy Taiwanese airfields beforehand.

    In past air warfare against America’s and Israel’s enemies, the F-15 has proven itself to be the better fighter by far, shooting down 102 enemy aircraft for no own losses (a kill ratio of 102:0, not matched by any fighter in history). Neither the F-16 nor any other fighter comes even close. It is not prohibitively expensive, either – pre-F-15SE variants cost less than 100 mn bucks each, and the F-15SE costs exactly 100 mn dollars per copy (but that’s only because there have been no orders so far; if some orders are placed, unit costs will shrink due to economies of scale).

    “This is the attrition warfare issue that you hate to acknowledge.”

    No, I do not “hate to acknowledge” it, I completely reject this method of waging war, as it is excessively costly (in fiscal, material, and human terms) and almost always leads to defeat, not victory, for those who engage in it (vide Vietnam). On the rare occassion when those who engage in it win, it’s hard to say that even the victors won (vide the Civil War and WW1).

  15. Dear Zibigniew:
    »It’s Zbigniew, not Zibiginiew 🙂 Some day, you’ll get this right. Until then, you can call me Ziggy if you want to 🙂

    I am appreciative of your knowledge and am trying to learn from you. But since I am a former professional soldier, a graduate degreed engineer who well understands basic physics and mathematics, an avid pilot with some knowledge of aerodynamics, and a student of air war, I may also have a few things to teach. In a civil discourse we may both increase our knowledge.
    »Indeed, and I believe we’re having one here. BTW, I thought you were a Marine, not a soldier, and as you Marines say, there’s no such a thing as a former Marine 🙂

    I’ll answer a little more fully to your question on how an aircraft with heavier wing loading can compete on maneuvering with a lighter wing loaded opponent. It is through bringing sufficient other factors into play, such as:

    1. The lifting body fuselage.
    2. Variable geometry wings in the form of leading edge slats.
    3. Faster control movement.
    4. Optimization of the aerodynamics of practical subsonic and transsonic flight instead of emphasizing impractical Mach 2 flight.
    5. Shorter fuselage and wings, which are shorter “moment arms”, and which through simple Newtonian physics do not require as much force (wing area) and time to achieve the same angular rotation.
    »Very interesting. How does the F-16A/B and C/D incorporate these characteristics, however, in a degree sufficient to be equally or more maneuverable than the F-15?

    As I said, Boyd and his team ran literally THOUSANDS of computer simulations seeking to optimize ALL of these factors. And, if they had been allowed to give the F-16 the lower wing loading they wanted, they would have done even better.
    »Maybe, but on this blog, we talk about the world as it is, not as we wish it were.

    As to the superior record of the F-15 with zero losses, note that the F-16 has (to my knowledge) only suffered a SINGLE air to air loss (statistically insignificant). It has about half the air to air wins of the F-15. But, the U.S. and Israel only USE it about half as much in the air to air role. Is it not obvious that if it has half the air to air contact that for the same quality it can only have half the air to air kills?
    »Actually, the F-16 has been used by the US and Israel mostly for A2G, not A2A, missions. And having a 60:1 kill ratio is still not nearly as good as having a 102:0 kill ratio. Besides, kill ratios are not really useful, because as I said, kill ratios reflect the target as much as the weapon being evaluated. Unless, of course, you’re going to try to prove that the Red Baron could defeat the F-16 with a triplane since he had an 80:1 kill ratio.

    OK, attrition war. We don’t have the option of “rejecting” attrition war like an undesired academic theory, because a determined enemy will FORCE it on us.
    »No, a truly smart and determined enemy will try to carve out his own military advantages, not try to match the US fighter for fighter and tank for tank (except, perhaps, China). But if he does force an attrition warfare on the US, America has no chance of winning it, for China can always outproduce the US (especially given the fact that America’s defense budget is on course to significantly decline while that of China is significantly growing). And in an attrition war, an enemy would not have to defeat the US outright – only to force prohibitively high casualties on the US military, as the Argentines planned to do to the British in 1982. Attrition-based warfare never gives victory to anyone, except those who have unlimited resources and patience.

    The Vietnamese forced it on us as their only way to win, and in terms of forcing us out of Vietnam they did win. We achieved a 2:1 air to air kill ratio against them, but that was with greater than $2M aircraft against planes with an average cost of about $0.4M (and the Soviets probably almost gave them the planes in order to punish us for putting nuclear weapons in Europe targeting them and then pitching a hissy fit threatening Armagedon when they did the same with Cuba, and to see how their equipment did against ours). They also had plenty of razor sharp hard as nails young men who would rather be in that cheap fighter cockpit than carrying an AK-47 through the jungle while covered with leeches. In that “trading of resources” they got the better of us. They also shot us to pieces with their surface to air systems–that’s where we really lost the air war in Vietnam.

    War’s ugly, Zbigniew, and all out war is uglier still. Here is a direct quote from pages 87-88 of the autobiography of Bob Hoover, “Forever Flying”. After WWII he was Chuck Yeager’s back-up on the X-1 program. But before he got that great test pilot job, he had to escape from a German POW camp, and while on the run he had to witness this behavior of Soviet soldiers: “Jerry Ennis and I stood against a back wall with our hands up as the soldiers roamed around. Suddenly one of them slit a pregnant woman’s throat. She was full term and ready to give birth. We could see from the latern that the woman was dead. Nevertheless, soldiers started lining up with the cheerful tolerance of young men waiting for baseball tickets. Then they raped her, one after the other.”
    »I know. But my point is that such cruel behavior towards civilians only engenders their hostility and leads to more war down the road. Throughout history, if generals and politicians had LISTENED to Sun Tzu, you would’ve seen fewer casualties and fewer suffering on all sides, and least of all among civilians.

    That’s the kind of crap that happens to your people when you are on the losing side of a real war. That’s why, if we have to, we will engage in attrition war.
    »And lose.


    1. Dear Zbigniew:

      Here’s what I’ve learned in this discussion:

      1. Modern missiles have higher kill rates than I was aware of, reportedly including radar guided BVR missiles. This is a game changer. As late as the 1990’s fighter pilots were still saying they would just as soon have a cardboard tube filled with smoke as an AIM-7, since it would serve the same purpose of forcing the enemy to break and allow closing to WVR to pursue the combat with Sidewinders and guns.

      2. With effective BVR missiles and AESA radar that allows actually using the radar, the F-22 is more effective than I initially thought, with reported kill rates against the F-15 and F-16 that range from about 10:1 to 30:1 (if the simulated missile shots have the high reliability they are assuming). If repeatable in actual combat against opponents of the Flanker class then that kill rate justifies its expense.

      3. Our willingness to invest in extremely expensive technology is not just due to effectiveness in all out war, but probably also due to the desire to overwhelm a limited opponent quickly and with near zero losses. Sun Tzu says “No nation ever benefitted from a protracted war.”

      What I have not learned is whether the F-15 is really any better than the much cheaper F-16. They can detect each other at similar ranges, their maneuverability is about the same, and their weaponry is the same. I would expect them to trade fairly close to equally, which would favor the F-16 in terms of economic effectiveness.

      The F-15 is noted to lose some engagements at Red Flag to the Indian MiG-21 Bison. This MiG-21 version is improved with better radar and radar jamming, but it is not as good as the F-16. But F-15 pilots do note that it is hard to see and thus catches them by surprise.

      The Gripen has reported turn rates of 20 degrees sustained and 30 degrees instantaneous. That beats both the F-15 and F-16.

      My own conclusion is that the optimum fighter would be single engine (lower cost and lower roll inertia), high fuel fraction, great visibility and maneuverability, AESA radar, data linked air picture like the Gripen to take max advantage of other sensing platforms in the fight, mixture of radar guided missiles, heat seeking missiles, and guns, with semi-stealth capability, minimized maintenance cost, and maximized sortie generation rate (which is a force multiplier). In other words, it’s much like the Gripen but with some stealth added.

      I claim semi-stealth because due to the non-linear nature of radar detection it will give most of the benefit (which is basically BVR surprise and avoiding being surprised) with considerably lower cost. The lower cost allows necessary quantity to be fielded, which is an important factor.

      Such a plane could probably be fielded at a cost of about $60M. It’s a fantastic plane, just not super-fantastic, and I believe our guys would be delighted to fly it and very effective with it.

      Adolf Galland, speaking on the subject of increasingly complex fighters in “The First and the Last”, says “Only the spirit of attack born in a brave heart can bring success to the fighter pilot”.


      1. Farron,

        I’m glad that you have learned several things from this discussion. I am concerned, however, by the fact that you still haven’t learned the lesson about attrition warfare, to wit:
        1) Attrition warfare – short or long – has never benefitted anyone who has tried it. Even the victors did not truly win. Vide the 30 Years War, the Civil War, and the two World Wars.
        2) In any war with China, like during the Vietnam War, Beijing doesn’t need to technically defeat the US military – merely to impose unacceptably high casualties on the US military – so high that the US would be forced to withdraw or refrain from intervening in the first place.
        3) Because the current generation of Americans is – to say it politely – highly alergic to any, even low, casualties, and will run towards the exit at the first sign of distress, the number of casualties that would force America’s withdrawal (under public pressure) from the war is low.
        4) In Vietnam, the US military never lost any battle. It lost the PR battle at home.
        5) Attrition warfare against the PLAAF/PLANAF would be prohibitively costly at least in human and material, if not also fiscal, terms.
        6) Accordingly, the only way to beat China is to beat it DECISIVELY, with as few own casualties as possible, and as quickly as possible. THAT is what Sun Tzu would’ve done if he were alive today and appointed CSAF.
        7) The only way to achieve the goal mentioned above is to develop and field a sufficient number of DECISIVELY superior fighters manned by the best pilots in the world.
        8) Small, “simple” fighters might be better in a dogfight (the emphasis being on “might”), but are of zero value in BVR combat, for which they are too slow, too poorly armed, and unable to climb high enough.
        9) It is a grave mistake to assume that the next war will be like the previous one. It is almost never the case. The nature of war and the way of waging it changes more frequently than most people, including you, appreciate.

        Your claim that the F-16 is more maneuverable and better suited for A2A combat (when the F-15 has a WL ratio almost 100 kg/sq m lower than the F-16) is yet to be proven with empirical evidence. What I do know, however, is that in Chinese Red Sword/Blue Sword excersises (their counterpart of Red Flag) the two-engine Shenyang J-11 Sinoflanker (roughly the Chinese counterpart of the F-15) consistently beats the Chengdu J-10 Sinocanard (an upgraded Chinese clone of the Lavi, itself a development of the F-16).

        There is actually an aircraft that fits your description of a perfect fighter closely, though not perfectly. It’s the Dassault Rafale. It has a WL ratio of just 302 kg/sq m, 13-14 hardpoints (depending on the variant), an AESA radar, an IRST system, a 30mm GIAT gun, a good T/W ratio, and the ability to carry every weapon in France’s inventory from MBDA MICA A2A missiles to Exocet (and in the future, Perseus) ASCMs to nuclear-tipped ASMP (Air-Sol Moyenne Portee) LACMs as a part of France’s Force de Frappe. It’s so good that India can’t wait to take delivery of it.

        Only its speed (no more than Mach 2) and its ceiling let it down somewhat.

        Also, the claim that the Gripen’s turning rates beat those of the F-16 is false. The F-16 has exactly the same turning rates (and so does the F-22): 30 degrees initial and 20 degrees sustained.

        The MiG-21 is smaller than the F-15 and might be more agile, but it still has a large RCS, can be shot down from a long distance easily, and can simply be run out of fuel. It’s only chance of winning is by refusing to be a straight, level target. But IAF MiG-21s are now nearing the end of their service lives, and they’re known as flying coffins to the IAF.

      2. I’d like to point out few things here:

        1) While wing loading certainly is good measure of agility for most fighters out there, such as F-15, F-18, F-35, Typhoon and F-22 (less so for the last three), it is not so much for F-16 and Gripen. Reason is that large amount of lift at high angles of attack is generated by the fuselage, which is possible due to wing-body blending. I have heard that fuselage might generate as much as 35 – 40 % of lift for F-16; even if figure is not correct, fuselage does generate large amount of lift, and due to its design fuselage does continue to generate large amounts of lift even at high angles of attack. Similar situation is for Gripen, but its canards mean even better lift generation.

        2) BVR combat has only been proven so far against opponents who were inferior in every possible measure.

        3) Instanteneous turn rates are 30 deg/s for JAS-39C, 28 deg/s for F-22A, 26 deg/s for F-16C, 27 deg/s for Su-27. Gripen NG will have TWR above 1, so turn rate is likely to improve, but I wouldn’t speculate on how much.

  16. Dear Zbigniew:

    I forgot to note that in my description of my opinion of the ideal fighter that it would also be delta-canard aerodynamics for minimum wing loading and super-cruise. And, the definition of semi-stealth includes some internal weapons storage for missions where avoiding detection does not allow external storage.

    Just to tweak you a little, I’ll note that except for the modernizing factors of semi-stealth, AESA radar, and BVR missiles this description is otherwise very similar to Pierre Sprey’s description in his paper 27 years ago. It’s basically the next generation of the plane he described then.


  17. Zbigniew:

    Correction–Sprey’s paper was 31 years ago. Given stealth and AESA did not exist, and BVR missile accuracy was still poor, his conclusions would appear accurate for the time they were written. Update the conclusions somewhat for new technology that actually works, and they would seem to STILL be accurate.


  18. Dear Zbigniew:

    Thanks for another thoughtful reply. It’s been interesting, and though we are both fairly well versed on the subject I have to hope the guys doing the actual defining know more than we. I don’t think we know enough about the actual engagement statistics and capabilities to be sure what the best definition is. Our thinking is not that far apart, just with you favoring a definition towards the higher end of the viable range, and me favoring one towards the lower end. It seems we’ve got agreement on the general nature of the viable range.


    1. Dear Farron,

      I’m afraid our thinking is worlds apart, because you support an attrition-based strategy while I support one based on creating a great advantage for the USAF – one which (I hope) the PLA would not be able to match – and therefore, I advocate a somewhat smaller fleet of technologically superb fighterplanes, while you advocate a larger fleet of “simple”, inferior ones. That is a difference as wide as the Grand Canyon.

      I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

  19. Dear Zbigniew:

    No, I don’t really “support” an attrition based strategy, I merely acknowledge that it may be forced on you, and that if it is, you should be prepared to win it. It’s like George Patton said– “I don’t want to you die for your country. I want you to make the enemy die for his.”

    I’ve come around to agreeing with you on the viability of BVR missiles, stealth, and AESA radar. You stimulated me to read more about the latest advances, and also to check my sources. One of them is a recently retired Top Gun instructor who told me that the reliability of the BVR missiles, if used within their envelope and launched with surprise by AESA radar, is about 80%. That makes a huge difference compared to reports from as recently as the late1990’s that this reliability was still less than 20% against alerted targets (due to non-AESA radar) trained to evade.

    The final difference in our thinking is probably that I have less faith in the reliability of high tech as an overwhelming advantage. It’s still warfare where the enemy studies your abilities and develops counter-methods. I thus still believe that you can ONLY allow the enemy to outnumber you with his weapons proportional to your superior tactical ability. So, in regards to fighter combat, if your realistic kill ratio over the enemy is 5:1, you better not allow him to outnumber you by more than 5 to 1, and preferably not better than 2 to 1.

    From a purely budgetary point of view, your “best” Air Force is thus the one with the greatest “Force Factor” = Kill Ratio / Cost per Plane. Political and humanitarian factors may lead you to a more complex aircraft in peace time or in limited wars, but in a war of survival this “Force Factor” is the dominant consideration, as it buys you the greatest attrition of the enemy for your available budget. You are of the opinion that the public won’t tolerate fighter pilot losses because they are so highly trained and publically admired. But in a war of survival, that is placed in context by the fact that there are generally about 100X as many guys dying on the ground as in the air. So, minimizing total losses by overwheming the enemy as quickly as possible becomes the best and even the most humanitarian strategy.


    1. Dear Farron,

      Yes, you did advocate an attrition-based strategy. You said that the USAF should bet on a large fleet of simple, but technologically inferior fighters, rather than a somewhat smaller but technologically superior fighter fleet. That is a classic attrition-based strategy and the antithesis of what Sun Tzu advised.

      You say such a war may be forced upon the US, and it might be one day. But if an enemy tries to do so, America should NOT take the bait and accept such terms of war. The US should NEVER fight a war on the enemy’s terms. If that happens, Washington will cede control of the tempo of the war and the eventual victory to the enemy.

      If an enemy tries to impose an attrition-based strategy on you, you should NOT accept it; you should play by your own rules, develop your own strategy, and execute it. Just like the NVA and the Vietcong refused to accept the attrition-based strategy that William Westmoreland tried to impose on them and instead played by their own rules – and thus won the Vietnam War. On the flip side, look at Germany, which, during WW1, accepted the Entente’s attrition-based strategy and lost the war – but not before multi-million casualties were lost on both sides, thus leading to mutual hatred that helped cause WW2.

      As for how do American fighters compare to those of China: The primary AS fighters used by the USAF are the F-22 and the F-15. The F-22 is six times better than the newest Flanker variant, the Su-35, which China does not yet have and of which it has so far ordered 24.

      A friend of mine, retired RAAF WGCDR Chris Mills, has done a computer simulation which demonstrates that if a fight between 24 Raptors and 24 Su-35s took place, the Raptors would score a 6:1 kill ratio – only 4 Raptors would be lost, while all 24 Su-35s would be shot down.

      The Raptor’s margin of superiority is even greater versus earlier Flanker variants, as well as the J-10, J-8, and J-7.

      Here is the aircraft current inventory of the PLAAF:

      Their primary fighters are 292 Flankers and 200 J-10s. Their Flankers are roughly the equivalents of the F-15 Eagle, but the F-22 is even more superior vis-a-vis them than against the Su-35 (the Su-30MKK and J-11, for starters, are not nearly as maneuverable, fast, or well-equipped as the Raptor), so I guess the F-22’s kill ratio vs against these aircraft would be at least 7:1. The USAF currently has 180 Raptors.

      An upgraded F-15C/D Eagle (i.e. one with an APG-63(V)3 radar, an IRST system, jammers, and deployed or towed decoys) would also do better than the current, unupgraded fleet of Eagles. The USAF has smth like over 300 F-15C/Ds (plus hundreds more Eagles in storage).

      The J-10 is basically an upgraded Chinese clone of the Lavi, itself an upgraded Israeli clone (transferred to China) of the F-16. Two F-16s should be enough to take care of one J-10.

      The J-7 is a Chinese clone of the MiG-21. It can be taken care of by anything.

      Nonetheless, China’s growing fleet of ever-better Flanker variants and its development of TWO 5th generation stealthy fighter planes – the J-20 and the J-31 – does pose a real and growing threat to US air superiority. If the J-20 is fielded in large numbers, then – unless it is not designed as an air superiority fighter – it will pose a huge threat and then, numbers will play a role.

      So, Farron, you’re right that one cannot afford to have a fighter that is less than 5 times better than what the enemy has – but for now, America’s qualitative edge in fighters has not yet completely eroded, although it’s well on it’s way to doing so.

      But even if China does field a large number of fighters of quality rivalling that of the F-22 – and it may very well do so by the end of this decade – the US should not respond symmetrically fighter-for-fighter, but rather, asymmetrically by trying to hack these fighters’ mission computers or by shooting them down with air defense warships or ground-based air defense systems.

  20. Hello Zbigniew:

    I appreciate the detailed numbers for China’s air fleet. I’ll review the detailed implications of that as time allows in the future.

    But for now, here’s my position on attrition: There is no completely avoiding it in large scale war against a competent opponent. Even an F-22 Air Force will suffer some losses, as you point out above. So, it comes down to what force disposition buys you the greatest attrition of the enemy for your own available and naturally limited budget.

    Our DoD budget is about $700B, and to keep up that and our other federal expenses we run > $1trillion deficit spending each year. The debt is piling up, and it’s hurting. Every dollar we spend on highly complex stealth aircraft comes at the expense of a dollar not spent elsewhere, such as providing better equipment for the men on the ground.

    In the engineering of complex systems, there is a law of diminishing returns in effect. Every dollar spent to improve performance buys you less of an improvement than the dollar before it. If the very high expense of your super-weapons sets too low a limit on fielded numbers, then you just get overwhelmed, like a lion killed by a pack of hyaenas. On the other hand, being too simple reduces effectiveness to the point of hopelessness. It does not work to send droves of calvarymen against mechanized armies–they just get wiped out.

    Thus, there is an “optimum” blend of technology and numbers that provides the best force disposition. I believe the goal of our discussion is to try to reason out about what that blend is.


    1. Farron, Farron, Farron,

      You’re dead wrong. Firstly, the DOD budget is NOT $700 bn – not even close. The DOD’s FY2013 (pre-sequestration) budget is $611 bn; last year’s was $633 bn; in FY2010 it was $664 bn.

      The DOD has never had a $700 bn budget. Not this FY. Not ever.

      Furthermore, defense spending is NOT responsible for America’s fiscal woes – entitlement spending is. Entitlement spending alone comprises 65% of the ENTIRE federal budget and grows on autopilot every year. That’s “where the money is.” Total military spending amounts to only 17-18% of the entire federal budget.

      And as this graph from the Heritage Foundation shows, even eliminating military spending ENTIRELY would not solve the budget deficit problem:

      Also, the CBO recently published a budget outlook report in which they studied and projected federal tax revenue and spending from now thru FY2023, and concluded that even though defense spending will decline to an 18-year low, and even though tax revenue will be at a postwar high, there will STILL be trillion dollar deficits every year.

      As Washington Examiner columnist Phil Klein says, it vindicates EVERYTHING we conservatives we’ve been saying all along: that even the deepest defense cuts and steepest tax hikes will not come even close to balancing the budget.

      Losses cannot be completely avoided in war, that much is true – but that’s not what you were originally saying. You advocated a WW1-style attrition-based strategy of building thousands of “simple”, primitive fighters and duking it out with the PLAAF/PLANAF so that a bloodied, weakened USAF would eventually “prevail” over the Chinese… at a high human, material, and fiscal cost. Sun Tzu would’ve been appalled if he had read your proposals.

      Losses cannot be completely avoided in war, but the F-22’s margin of superiority is so good (6:1 against the Su-35, the most advanced member of the Flanker family) that it would be sufficient to shoot down several hundred PLAAF fighters. Remember that one F-22 carriers 8 A2A missiles and a gun. Against older Flanker variants, such as the Su-27, Su-30, and J-11, of which China currently has 292, the margin of superiority of the F-22 is even greater (not to mention the superiority of USAF fighter pilots, who are the best in the world). So against these PLAAF Flankers, the F-22’s margin of superiority would be at least 7:1, and probably higher. No more than 42 F-22s (or a combination of F-22s and F-15s) would have to be sacrificed to dispose of them.

      The PLAAF’s J-10s could be disposed of by (preferrably upgraded) F-16s or, even better, F-15s.

      The PLAAF’s J-8 interceptors could be disposed of by F-15s.

      I agree with you that high-tech weapons should not be procured in inadequate, small quantities, but the primary reason why the F-22 became expensive was because orders for it were dramatically cut – from 700 in the early 1990s to 332 under the Clinton Admin and 187 under the Bush Admin. (The same happened to the B-2 bomber.) The fewer you build, the higher the unit cost and thus, you lose economies of scale. The more you build, the lower the unit cost.

      The cost of modern weapons these days is primarily determined by three factors: the R&D budget, the total planned production number, and the annual rate of production. If you produce lots of (even sophisiticated) weapons, they won’t cost much. If you build few of them, they’ll cost a lot as you will not achieve economies of scale.

      Look at the Airbus A380: it costs less than $400 mn per copy, even though it’s much more complex than the F-22, the B-2, or the planned Next Generation Bomber.

  21. Dear Zbigniew:

    I read $700B for the DoD budget, but 611, 633, and 664 are pretty close to 700. But whatever the exact budget, the point is that we must use our resources optimally to maximize our odds of victory.

    Early in this discussion I made the statement that for the same budget an F-5 air force could run over an F-15 and F-16 based air force. That statement was true before BVR missiles became reliable since the F-5 cost is much less than the reciprocal of the guns and Sidewinder kill ratio of the F-16 and F-15 over it times the cost of the F-15 and F-16. In 1990 dollars the cost of the F-5 was about $4M, the F-15 was about $20M, and the F-16 was about $12M. Yet the more advanced planes only scored about 1.2:1 to 2:1 kill ratios over the F-5 in realistic trials, depending on the rules (higher kill ratio if the F-5 pilots are handicapped by not being allowed to use their radar warning receivers). The F-5 air force could attrit the more advanced force to zero. The F-20 could have done it even better by basically matching the F-16 for half the cost, and it could carry BVR missiles also.

    AESA radar and reliable BVR missiles change the equation by the simple expedient of returning the advantage of surprise to the more advanced air force. An agile fighter can dodge missiles fairly well if they are detected on the way in, but with the element of surprise the missile gets a much better kill ratio, swinging the results to favor BVR.

    But, the PRINCIPLE of optimum force design still remains in force.

    I am a radio engineer, and in radio systems engineering we have a saying that “Higher power is a loser’s game”. We say that because in the seeking of greater range and reliability in a radio communications system we are up against non-linear factors–doubling power only gives at best 1.4X more range and other factors usually make it less. That’s fundamentally why the cellular principle keeping range short has come to dominate in personal communications. Paying for more base stations works out cheaper and better than more power in the handsets.

    Radar range detection is even more non-linear. Better stealth to avoid enemy radar is analogous to higher power. The improvement per dollar is much less than intuition tells you. Paying twice as much per plane might improve your combat effectivess per plane by about 20%. Spend the same budget for twice the planes and you are 1.6X as effective. That’s a winning advantage, as Pierre Sprey would tell you. My bet is that Sun Tzu would tell you the same thing.


    1. Farron, you’re dead wrong again.

      Better stealth to avoid enemy radar also requires the enemy to produce much more power to juice much more powerful radars – and thus imposes higher costs on them than on the US. Just as the development of the B-2 imposed higher costs on the USSR. Furhermore, your claim that stealthy fighters are only about 20% more effective than nonstealthy ones is completely false, at least as far as the F-22 is concerned. As I have demonstrated time and time again, it is far more effective in (and far better suited for) air combat (both BVR and WVR) than the F-16 or the Super Bug (the latter is not well suited for anything, TBH). My friend’s simulation shows that while the F-22 would achieve a 6:1 kill ratio against the Su-35, shooting down 24 of them for only 4 own losses, the Super Bug would achieve the reverse – 6 Super Bugs lost for every Su-35 shot down, i.e. a fleet of 24 Su-35s could shoot down 24 Super Bugs for only 4 own losses.
      F-22 vs Su-35: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZoF7hu0wAI
      Super Bug vs Su-35: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7Jy88g31W0&list=UUoRP0-CgRKwXwZ4djAK7yJA&index=5

      My friend has not yet done a simulation of the F-16 and the F-15 versus the Su-35, but what I do know is that a) the F-16’s characteristics would put it at a severe disadvantage vis-a-vis the F-15 and the Flanker family in real-world combat, and b) in Chinese Red Sword/Blue Sword exercises, the J-10 (an upgraded Chinese clone of the F-16) consistently and badly LOSES to the J-11 Sinoflanker (roughly the Chinese equivalent of the F-15).

      Sun Tzu would NOT have agreed with you. Sun Tzu would’ve been appalled by your attrition-based strategy, which would unnecessarily get a lot of US pilots killed and a lot of US aircraft shot down, the very ANTITHESIS of what Sun Tzu taught and practiced. It would essentially be a “death march” to the finish, a race which the US might win – but only at unacceptably high casualties in men and aircraft. And you’re still refusing to take the cost of training (and losing) many pilots into account, as if it were a freebie.

      And it should be “would have told you”, not “would tell you”. Sun Tzu is dead, so he can’t tell me anything. You can’t even get that right.

  22. January 27: ‘My goal is to understand and I am an amateur, so you are probably right that in some ways I “don’t know what the hell I am talking about”’
    February 14: ‘we are both fairly well versed on the subject’
    QED, military strategy can be mastered in 18 days if you really work hard.

    1. Hello Winxten:

      Well, fairly well versed as far as amateurs go…

      But, even the professionals very much struggle with getting these complicated issues best analyzed.


  23. Dear Zbigniew:

    You are missing the point that when I discuss “optimum fighter design” I am not locked into ratiometric losses between existing fighters. Those are only examples, such as the F-5 typically scoring better than 0.7:1 against the F-15 while costing less than 0.2 of the F-15. That showed a better use of budget and a winning advantage that remained in force for about 30 years until AESA radar and BVR missiles changed the game. That period of time could have been extended to 50 years and actually capitalized on if our Air Force leadership had not been so locked into bleeding edge high technology and had had the wisdom to procure both the F-5 and the F-20 derivative.

    I had hypothesized that the “ideal” fighter might be a fighter conceptually similar to the Gripen, but with “some” stealth and AESA radar added. The amount of stealth added is that which is both lowest cost (as far as stealth goes) and which matters most in practical effectiveness. This fighter could probably be built for $70M each. It recovers most of the game changing advantages of stealth, AESA radar, and BVR missiles, at a much lower cost (the F-35 is > $200M each today even with large production planned, and new F-22’s would be even more) that allows both many more aircraft and preservation of budget for other military forces.

    The lives of our people other than fighter pilots also matter. So, if “Maverick” and “Iceman” have to fly a wonderful $70M plane because it preserves more total lives than a much smaller number of super-wonderful $250M planes, then they will just have to take their risk and do their duty also. That is the fundamental nature of military service.


    1. Feb 19: ‘In a war of survival this “Force Factor” is the dominant consideration’.
      Are you sure you had a bulb in your reading lamp when you read Sun Tzu?

      Feb 19: ‘I have less faith in the reliability of high tech as an overwhelming advantage.’
      Did you ever read “Guns, Germs and Steel?”. If you actually believe that you did, call 911. They can take you to the nearest ophthalmologist.

  24. Winxten:

    Are you interested in rational discussion or in trading insults? In general, the last resort of the poor thinker is to change from serious discussion of issues to attacking the person doing the discussing.

    What I have been discussing is selection of the optimum point on the price-performance curve of fighter aircraft. In favoring a simpler approach that buys most of the effective performance for a fraction of the cost, I am in good company. This was the favored position of Edgar Schmued (chief designer of such iconic aircraft as the P-51, F-86, and F-5), Col. John “40 Second” Boyd (lead architect of the F-15 and F-16, inventor of EM Theory and the OODA Loop), and Pierre Sprey (lead architect of the A-10).

    These are all very technical and incredibly successful men whose life’s work was optimum definition of weapon systems, at which they are all acknowledged super-experts. One of the biographies on Boyd has the sub-title “The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War”. The other is titled “The Mind of War”. These are not exaggerations–that is the real impact of Boyd’s work on modern warfare. Boyd greatly admired Sun Tzu, but was still a strong “light fighter” proponent who understood the benefits of cost control.

    These experts are not anti-technology and neither am I. What they are against is blind reliance on technology and knee jerk reaction favoring going to the highest priced product definition without considering the trade-offs. As an example, the F-5 was the finest fighter we possessed in the 1960’s and up until the F-15 was introduced in the mid 1970’s. It was typically less than half the cost of its contemporary fighters.

    A better fighter who’s cost and brilliantly designed simple maintenance allows buying and operating over twice as many for the same budget? With a higher in-service rate that made any number still more effective? What idiot would say no to that? Well, for the answer just look up who was running the Air Force in the early 1960’s.

    The same applies today. The F-22 and F-35 are not necessarily the best solutions just because they are whiz-bang technology and cost the most. Because of the simple but relentless effects of “diminishing returns” on higher priced aircraft, and the very non-linear effects in radar range, a larger number of lower cost fighters with high sortie generation rates may well be quite superior in over-all combat effectiveness.

    Now, how about some honest feedback that actually focuses on the issues?


    1. Firstly, as I said, Pierre Sprey is not an expert. He’s a professional blowhard and a subversive working for two treasonous George-Soros-funded groups: the CDI (a pro-Kremlin disinformation group investigated by the FBI during the CW) and POGO (a subversive campaign group founded in 1981 to thwart Ronald Reagan’s reconstruction of the US military). He’s not an expert, he has been proven wrong on many issues numerous times (including in the article above), and is nothing more than a gadfly pacifist campaigning against the weapons the US military needs while advocating that the US use obsolete, ineffective weapons such as the F-16 Crappy Falcon.

      As demonstrated in the original article and the discussion above, the F-16 Crappy Falcon is DECISIVELY inferior to the F-22 and to the Flanker family in virtually all parameters, from max speed and ceiling (key attributes for BVR combat) to radar power to radar signature (versus the F-22) to T/W and WL ratios, the sole exception here being the Su-33. Meanwhile, the J-10 (a Chinese clone of the F-16) consistently loses to the J-11 (a Chinese clone of the Flanker) during annual Chinese Red Sword/Blue Sword exercises. Nor is it surprising to anyone who actually knows the F-16, which was never intended to be an air superiority fighter.

      Buying a larger number of cheaper, simpler fighters is a better choice than buying a smaller number of better, more complex, more expensive aircraft only if the more expensive aircraft are just slightly superior. But it’s a foolish mistake if the more expensive ac are several times better than the cheaper, simpler ac.

      Both the F-15 and the F-22 are several orders of magnitude better than the F-16.

      And, as myself and AirPowerAustralia analysts have demonstrated, the ONLY Western (not just American – Western) fighter capable of defeating the newest Chinese and Russian fighters (J-20, J-31, PAKFA) is the F-22 Raptor, or to be more precise, evolved and enhanced variants of this aircraft.

      The F-16 is NOT capable of competing with these 5th generation stealth fighters, and will be even more ineffective than it is against the Flanker family.

      The F-35 will be similarly inferior and outclassed, assuming, of course, that this failed project even progresses to any kind of large-scale production beyond LRIP.

      All other US and allied legacy and “Generation 4+” aircraft will be similarly so outclassed, being as inferior to these aircraft as the F-16 and the F-35.

      The existing, legacy air defense systems of the US and allied militaries will be unable to detect the J-20, J-31, and PAKFA, and will need to receive new, VHF or HF radars.

      When the PAKFA and the J-20 enter service, they will render every Western fighter except the F-22 impotent, irrelevant, obsolete, and useless.

  25. Thanks for the invite to ‘focus on the issues’ with you but it’s not a really efficient use of precious time. I do want to comply with a request for honest feedback: Your Walter Mitty-perseverance is a comedy goldmine. Seinfeld and chairman LMAO would be helpless against the high kill ratio of Statements of Mass Destruction like this one:
    Feb 21: “I appreciate the detailed numbers for China’s air fleet. I’ll review the detailed implications of that as time allows.”

  26. Winxten:

    I think it’s pretty funny myself when in the middle of serious discussion you take off doing irrelevant whiffer-dills about a participant maybe not knowing much Sun Tzu or needing glasses. In the meantime you offer nothing to the discussion on the real topic.

    Since you do have time to read through this long discussion and try to pull out single sentences that you try to quote as reasons to show your disdain, I can only assume you don’t say anything pertinent because you may not know anything pertinent.

    If you have any knowledge and the guts to voice a real opinion on the subject, which might be incorrect and subject you to the kind of criticism you love to dish out, please do so.

    Solid analysis on your part will earn respect. Anything else just makes you look foolish.


  27. You are probably the only one still believing this is the “middle of serious discussion”. If it was, we would discuss relevant topics such as the F22 radar cross section that is 10,000 times smaller than the F15’s. “Solid analysis” would then earn respect for the 10x reduction in detection range. Regarding looking foolish, I’m no contest for a “fairly well versed amateur” (sic) that quotes Top Gun, misquotes Sun Tzu, invents b.s. analysis terms and imagines that this is a “spirited debate” between experts. Zbigniew is Maverick. You are Walter Mitty.

  28. Winxten:

    Zbigniew has invited public comment by the title of this thread, which is “debunking” the “ridiculous” opinions of Pierre Sprey. In making that strong statement Zbigniew has deliberately attracted the interest of guys like myself to see how well he can justify it. Sprey happens to be a world class expert who had a long and extremely successful career in combat aircraft definition. When 3 star general Jack Horner was running the air war in Desert Storm, he admitted “Like most Air Force generals I did not really like the A-10. But they are saving our asses and I love it now.” Sprey is the architect of the A-10, and a guy who knows how to focus on the critical issues.

    The critical issue under discussion now is not who is more like Walter Mitty or Maverick. It is the optimum definition, armament, sensing systems, costing, and deployment of fighter aircraft. Generals who are among the most talented people in the military and who devoted their lives to this subject have often been wrong on these issues. Sprey might be wrong on some issues also, but so might Zbigniew. The issues are so complicated that it should not be assumed that anybody is completely right. Getting the best data and analysis on the table that we can gives us our best shot at most correctly understanding it.

    1. Sprey is a professional blowhard, pacifist activist, and a traitor to the United States of America (and if he were sentenced to death, I would volunteer to be the executioner), not an expert on anything, let alone a world class expert. By calling him such you insult every real defense issues expert in the world. And the 3 star general who ran the air war during Desert Storm was CHUCK Horner, not Jack Horner. You can’t get even THAT right.

      And if you want to quote Horner, how about citing that quote of his when he underscored the need for more stealthy bombers (B-2s at the time) and criticized the foolish decision to terminate B-2 production at 21 aircraft? You remember that Pierre Sprey and both of the treasonous groups he works for, the CDI and POGO, opposed the B-2 from the start and now oppose the NGB, don’t you?

    2. BTW, in case you didn’t notice, this discussion is about fighter aircraft, not the A-10 attack jet.

      Your and Pierre Sprey’s contention is that the F-16, a small fighter with poor maneuverability, a single engine, an unimpressive T/W ratio, poor radar performance, and piss-poor range and endurance is a better fighter (per taxpayer dollar invested) than the larger far longer-ranged, far more endurant F-15, an aircraft with a far more powerful radar, a much lower WL ratio, a better T/W ratio, and much higher max speed and altitude (two critical parameters for BVR combat).

      Not surprisingly, your and Sprey’s contention is heavily disputed. As is your recommendation that the USAF invest in thousands of light, crappy fighters like the F-16 and pitch those against China’s less numerous but mostly modern and high-quality fighters as well as its old but very maneuverable J-7/MiG-21 aircraft. This at a time when China’s own Red Sword/Blue Sword exercises show, every year, that larger, more expensive fighters like the J-11 will outperform smaller, less capable fighters like the J-10 (a Chinese clone of the F-16) everytime, hands down.

      Yet, you insist on suggesting that the US go down this path and spend billions of taxpayers dollars on small, crappy F-16 fighters, the vast majority of whom would be lost by the US Air Force in an air war with China, along with their pilots (who would be KIA or, even worse, captured and tortured). Tell that to the wives of USAF pilots and to American taxpayers. BTW, you know how much a single American servicemen costs? $400,000 per year, according to retired Marine MGEN Arnold Punaro.

  29. Zbigniew:

    Even after all our discussions, with me asking many times for realistic kill ratios of F-15 vs F-16, I have not seen any real evidence that the F-15 is really more effective than the F-16. About the same range (the F-16 had more when it first came out), mananeuverability, weapons effectiveness, and ability to surprise while avoiding being surprised. The fact that a single F-16 has been lost in air to air combat is not statistically significant. The fact that the F-15 can carry a heavier weapons load does not seem to balance the fact that it cost about twice as much.

    “The Mind of War” p. 96: When the Air Force senior generals thought they had out-maneuvered the light weight figher proponents on the decision to procure the F-16 “Sprey had already persuaded Secretary of Defense James Schlessinger to give the go-ahead for the F-16”. Based on the great good that did our Air Force for over 30 years, providing an aircraft about as capable as the F-15 for half the money that we could afford to buy in quantity, Sprey more than earned his career government salary with that one act. And the way he defined the A-10 saved a lot of our guys in action. That’s a guy you want to call a traitor and volunteer to execute?

    They are both old aircraft at this point, and are both handicapped against more modern planes. But, there is a lesson to be learned that remains applicable. That lesson is that paying 2X to 4X more per plane probably does not buy anything near 2X to 4X more in combat effectiveness. It was true for single engine WW2 fighters vs larger twin engine fighters, it was true for F-5 vs. F-4, it was true for F-16 vs. F-15, and it probably remains true in the age of stealth and AESA radar.

    The historical record seems to show that proper focus on the key elements of the design allows planes costing half as much to be fully competitive and sometimes even better. That’s the main point I’ve been trying to make all along.


    1. Farron,

      Have you read our discussion above. Obviously not.

      The F-16 is not “about as good as the F-15”. Not even close. For all of the reasons I stated above, and for the same reasons why the J-11 routinely kicks the J-10’s ass in Chinese exercises (their equivalents of Red Flag).

      The F-16’s combat radius is DECISIVELY inferior to that of the F-15: a mere 550 kms vs 1,967 kms. This means that the F-15’s CR is almost four times larger, greatly increasing the number of bases at which it can be deployed while still being close enough to the target or the area it must patrol.

      As for newer fighters, the F-22 is several generations of magnitude superior to the F-16, and also several times better than the F-15. To wit, it has a 10K times smaller radar sig, can supercruise, has TVC capable engines, can carry 8 A2A missiles (or a load of missiles and bombs) internally, has a better radar, and costs less to maintain and operate.

      Sprey is a member of TWO treasonous groups: POGO and CDI (a Russian, formerly Soviet, disinformation group investigated as such by the FBI). I’ve already stated what these groups have been doing (and continue to do) and what Sprey has personally done. Sprey has personally argued for killing many CRUCIAL, NEEDED weapons, such as the F-22 and aircraft carriers, and has been spreading misinformation about these for many decades. So yes, he deserves to be executed (as do other POGO and CDI anti-defense hacks), and I’d volunteer to be his executioner. And if the truth spread as fast as lies, most of our problems would’ve been solved long ago.

      Procuring the F-16 has been an utter waste of money. It’s a short-legged, useless aircraft decisively inferior to the Flanker family, the J-10, the J-20, the J-31, the PAKFA… the list goes on. It has never done anything important for the US Air Force.

  30. Sprey was talking about the lightweight early block F-16A, not the far heavier F-16C. I have talked to ANG F-16C block 30/40 pilots and they all have pointed out the fact that the A model was more agile because it is far lighter. It is about 3,200lbs lighter than the C model. The basic design of the F-16 is still very revelant. All it needs is composites to lose the weight and a bigger wing, similar to but not exact of the Mitsubishi F-2.

    The navy F-16N which was basically a stripped down Block 30 F-16C with GEF110 engine was by far the most agile variant of the F-16 family. Speaking of agility, if a lightweight F-16 (empty weight 15-16,000lbs) was flying with the F100-229 or the F110-129/132 it probably would be more than a match for any of the Flanker family or F-22 in BFM arena. It would come down to the skill of the pilot.

    Remember there is a difference between agility and maneuverability. A few years ago a USAF general who flew in the F-22, was given a flight in a Eurofighter. When asked to compare the two jets, he said that its like comparing a nascar to an indy car. The Eurofighter has the edge in quickness of agility, but the F-22 has the edge in maneuvering because of TVC. While there is no doubt that the TVC Flanker family and F-22 are very maneuverable, they are not the most agile of current fighters. Compare an aerial demo of the Rafale or Typhoon vs the Flanker family. The two canard aircraft have the edge in quickness of agility.

    1. Good points, Frank, but:

      1) Redesigning and re-building the F-16 in the manner you describe would cost a lot of money.
      2) The vast majority of F-16s in service worldwide are F-16C/D and later models, not A/Bs (excluding Israel, Portugal, and a few others).
      3) While the original F-16A/B was/is very agile and thus a great performer in WVR combat, it is still decisively inferior to the high performance 4th generation fighters such as the F-15, the Flanker family, the F-22, and the Typhoon. This is because it is too slow and flies to flow (no more than 60 angels) to be competitive in BVR combat. Ditto the Dassault Rafale. Furthermore, the F-16’s APG-80 radar is very weak and decisively inferior to that of all the above fighters.

  31. Zbigniew:

    Regarding the F-16’s ability to compete with the F-15 in both WVR and BVR, I refer you to the results of the 1994 William Tell competition. William Tell is the premier Air to Air simulated combat competition of the U.S. Air Force and includes both WVR and BVR. In 1994 there were 8 teams, which were five F-15 teams, one Canadian F-18 team, and two F-16 teams. First place was taken by an F-16 team, 2nd place by the F-18 team, and 3rd place by the remaining F-16 team. With subsequent restrictions on multi-role fighter units competing in William Tell the F-16 has not had much chance since then to publically show its capability against the F-15.

    See http://www.thefreelibrary.com/F-16+TEAMS+DOMINATE+USAF+AIR-TO-AIR+COMPETITION-a015848749, from which I copy the below.

    FORT WORTH, Texas, Oct. 25 /PRNewswire/ — The following was released today by Lockheed Forth Worth Company:
    F-16 teams placed first and third in a field of eight competing teams in William Tell ’94, the U.S. Air Force’s biennial worldwide air superiority competition involving the top fighter teams from the USAF, Air National Guard and Canada. The F-16 team from the 119th Fighter Group, Fargo, N.D., won first place in Overall Team competition, and F- 16s from the 158th Fighter Group, Burlington, Vt. finished third.
    This year’s meet was held Oct. 11-22 at Tyndall AFB, Fla. The eight teams that participated flew the F-15 (five teams), F-16 (two teams) and CF-18 (one team). The teams fired live and simulated radar missiles (AIM-7, AIM-120), infrared missiles (AIM-9) and 20mm guns.
    The two F-16 teams were spectacular in all areas of the competition — operations, radar control, maintenance and weapons loading. The “Happy Hooligans” from North Dakota won the top Operations Team award for the highest combined score for all flying events. The two F-16 units finished first and second in the radar control, maintenance and loading competitions. They also finished first and second in the most difficult flying profile, a scramble takeoff to a timed, 2v4 mission; the Fargo team was the only one to “kill” all eight adversary fighters.
    The performance of the “Green Mountain Boys” from Vermont is even more impressive considering they are in the process of converting from the F-16A to the F16C and have been operating the newer version of the Fighting Falcon, flown in the competition, for only six months.
    This is only the F-16’s second time to participate in the William Tell competition. The event is restricted to dedicated air-to-air units, thus prohibiting dozens of multirole F-16 units from participating.
    The F-16 also has an outstanding air-to-air record in actual combat, with 69 kills and zero losses. U.S. Air Force F-16 victories include the only AMRAAM kills (three) against enemy aircraft and the first USAF triple-kill mission since the Korean War.
    “Winning William Tell is another milestone event for the multirole F-16,” said Gordon R. England, president of Lockheed Fort Worth Company. “Since the Gulf War, the F-16 has six aerial combat victories. Three of these engagements used the new AIM-120 AMRAAM missile. William Tell conclusively verifies the F-16 as a world class air-to-air fighter. It is indeed gratifying to see the F-16 now being recognized for its superior air-to-air performance.”
    England added, “This is the first time in history that the same airplane type has won the U.S. Air Force’s premier weapons competitions in both air-to-ground and air-to-air: namely Gunsmoke and William Tell. This clearly demonstrates that the F-16 is the best multirole fighter in the world. When you consider the low cost of an F-16 compared to any other fighter or attack airplane, it is clearly evident that the F-16 provides the best combat performance and the best value for any air force.”
    The following list summarizes the F-16’s performance in the William Tell ’94 Overall Team competition:
    Overall Places
    1. F-16
    2. CF-18
    3. F-16
    4. F-15
    5. F-15
    6. F-15
    7. F-15
    8. F-15
    -0- 10/25/94
    /CONTACT: Joe Stout of Lockheed Fort Worth Company, 817-763-4086/

    1. LOL, propaganda from Lockheed (now LM) is supposed to be proof? Gee, and I thought Pierre Sprey was the most delusional guy on Earth…

      Yeah, the F-16 has scored 69 kills in A2A combat – but the F-15 has skilled over 100. Moreover, you can cite scripted exercises and Lockheed propaganda all you want, but the fact is, the F-16 is decisively inferior to the F-15 and to the Flanker family – to say nothing of the PAKFA, the J-20, and the J-31.

      The Flanker family (except the Su-33 and the Su-30) would DECISIVELY outperform the F-16 across the board in both BVR and WVR combat. In BVR, your precious F-16 is a nonplayer as it can’t fly high enough or fast enough to compete, and its A2A missiles would have to climb steeply uphill, while the Flankers’ or the F-15’s would have their nominal range and energy extended by superior altitude and speed. Not to mention the F-16’s decisively inferior radar, especially compared to the APG-63(V)4 and the Irbis-E.

      In WVR combat, the F-16 is a nonplayer, too – it (excepting the A/B variants, scarce in the world outside the IAF) is too heavy and too sluggish to turn quickly enough and prevail, and a single round to its sole engine would bring it down easily.

      Another issue is that a large-sized fighter like the ones I listed above, with their vastly superior fuel load and combat radius, can simply run the F-16 out of gas. This is smth that scripted excercises won’t show.

  32. Zbigniew:

    If you don’t believe General Dynamics / Lockheed, here is a site on the history of the William Tell Weapons Competition:


    From here I copy:

    “William Tell 1994 marked the 40th anniversary of the event, 1954 to 1994. Eight teams from ACC, ANG, USAFE, PACAF, and Canada participated in four flying profiles and three maintenance competitions. The advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM) was used for the first time during this meet. The 119th Fighter Group from Fargo, North Dakota, took top honors at the 1994 competition flying the F-16A Fighting Falcon. Hmmmm. Wonder why the F-16’s aren’t flying in William Tell now? ;)”

    So, an Air National Guard unit of part time pilots flying the older F-16A beat all the top active duty F-15 units in the United States Air Force. For that matter so did the single F-18 unit and the only other F-16 unit in the competition. Since they have over 100 aircraft involved in multiple actions over a period of many days in as realistic a contest as they can figure out, they are also statistically valid trials. They take into account all the real world advantages and disadvantages of each aircraf, such as fuel load and radar range, to distill out a total winner. They fought it our here in a real experiment, which is a better real world indicator than our personal opinions as to the merits of each aircraft.

    The evidence would seem to indicate that the F-16 is at least as good if not better than the F-15 in the air to air mode, and it does so for about half the cost per plane. This is a result that is understandably a little embarrassing to the Air Force leadership who had to have the F-16 forced on them by Boyd and Sprey in the first place. As far as I can tell, they reacted to this experimentally proven reality by never allowing public and statistically significant trials between the F-16 and F-15 to ever again occur. They don’t release statistical results from the many Red Flag exercises even though the F-16 aggressors are handicapped by using eastern bloc tactics instead of going all out to win.

    I’m not claiming that the now rather old F-16 is better than much newer aircraft such as the latest Flanker variants or the new semi-stealth “Silent Eagle” version of the F-15 that Boeing is offering as an F-35 competitor. But I am pointing out that the evidence seems to show that fighters don’t have to weigh 40,000 to 80,000 lbs to be highly effective. A 10,000 to 20,000 lb fighter can carry all the weapons it needs to be deadly effective against larger fighters, and its smaller size allows it to often enjoy the elements of surprise and agility, while its lower cost allows procuring more of them.


    1. You guys make many good points. I’m happy this blog is totally not a one sided site like F16.net (and I am an F-16 fan, but I am aware of its shortcomings in its current state). The F-16 and the F-18 are better than the F-15 in WVR/BFM arena. But in BVR, the F-15’s radar is certainly superior (it has higher power and a much larger antenna). Lets remember that until the early 1990s the only true BVR fighters the USAF had were the F-15 and the F-4. The F-16 during the 1980s was not a BVR fighter. It had no AIM-7 capability, and the AIM-120 was still years away. So the F-15 held the fort in western Europe as far as modern BVR fighting ability is concerned. And for its day (mid 1970s-early 1990s) the F-15 was a pretty good dogfighter.

      Lets remember that the F-15 is not fly-by wire, or a CCV jet (unstable). It does not have any leading edge high lift devices such as slats or flaps. Nor has it been given any higher thrust engines (at least in the A/C versions). So todays F-15 is pretty much the same F-15 that flew 35 yrs ago (I am not talking about any software upgrades here). And its current turn rates are not that bad considering when and how it was developed. Too bad the Eagle was just a few years away from of the electronics boom in the 1970s, because I believe that an Eagle with FBW, CCV, leading edge slats, and higher thrust engines would only have made it even more deadly. Its funny though, because the MCAIR guys tested a fly-by wire, unstable CCV F-4 Phantom back in the early 1970s, I even think before the GD guys did with the F-16.

      So for its day, the F-15 like the F-16 were excellent jets. But sadly, its obvious their days are passing-

    2. Like I said, rigged, scripted exercises and Lockheed/GD propaganda prove nothing. GD was the designer and LM is the producer of the F-16, so they have an interest in lying.

  33. Hi Frank:

    I’m glad to hear a rational voice enter the discussion. The reason I comment on the site is to get the chance to improve my amateur understanding of optimum fighter aircraft definition. It has been educational for me, though sometimes the intensity of the argument leads to emotional claims that don’t help get the truth on the table.

    My bottom line conclusion to date is that the light fighter argument exemplified by the F5-F20-F16-JAS 39 Gripen is a pretty good argument. That argument is that lighter, cheaper single engine fighters can be at least competitive with heavier, usually twin engine, more expensive ones.. All public knowledge I have been able to find released on this trade-off in statistically significant form (F-5 vs. F14 and F15 at Nellis 1977, and F-16 vs. F-15 at William Tell 1994) seems to indicate that the light fighters at least hold their own and are perhaps superior on a plane for plane basis. Then, their lower cost allows acquiring them in larger numbers that seems to be the better acquistion decision. Overall, making use of this concept seems to lead to a better military.

    I would say the main thing we have not been able to get resolved is the best FUTURE definition. Stealth, AESA radar, and reliable long range missiles have entered the picture in a big way. Are those best taken advantage of by larger and highly expensive full stealth fighters like the F-35 and the F-22? Or, would the lessons of the past lead to the conclusion that larger numbers of lower cost semi-stealth aircraft would be the superior strategy?

    As an example, I note that Boeing is offering a new semi-stealth version of the F-15 to South Korea and other customers as an alternative to the F-35. But, an even better option might be a semi-stealth lightweight in the style of the JAS 39 Gripen. The Gripen seems to be the best rendition of the lightweight modern fighter yet offered, featuring even lower operating cost than the F-16, with the extra load capacity, higher maneurverability, and ability to super-cruise that are enabled by the delta wing platform. A semi-stealth, AESA radar derivative could probably sell for about $70M, about one quarter the cost of a full stealth heavyweight.


    1. I actually am more of a fan of lightweight fighters than of larger more expensive types. And the concept of a successful lightweight fighter already has been proven, For example, the F-16 series has already sold around 4,500 examples and counting. No other modern fighter even comes close to those sales numbers.

      And you are right about the USAF (in the mid 1970s) not wanting to have a fly-off between the F-16 and the F-15, because they knew that either the F-16 (YF-16) or the YF-17 would best the eagle in a dogfight. But lets remember, the USAF wanted in 1972 a Mach 2.5 jet that could catch the MIG-25, but also dogfight as well. What resulted was the big and expensive F-15 Eagle. The F-16 can out roll the Eagle and can out turn the Eagle. What the F-16 could not do was carry 4 AIM-7 Sparrows, or fly up to Mach 2.3-2.5 to catch a Foxbat. Its APG-66 radar range I believe was half that of the F-15’s APG-63. So the USAF settled on a plane (the F-15) that was a superb BVR fighter and generally speaking a pretty good (but not the best at that time) dogfighter. It purchased the F-16 to complement the F-15 in a high/low mix.

      The same holds true for the F-14 Tomcat. Too many times did US Navy F-14 pilots come back with bruised egos when they flew mock ACM vs the F-16 or F-18. The Tomcat was big, heavy, and sluggish (even with the GEF110 engines) vs smaller fighters. For example you have guys who make the ridiculous claim that the F-14D with its GE engines can out dogfight any other aircraft. While there is no doubt that the much higher thrust F110 engines gave the F-14 more energy, it still was no match for the F-16, F-18, or Rafale in a dogfight.

      Lightweight fighters like the Gripen, Rafale, Typhoon, and even the F-16 Block 60 are become alternatives to countries who either cannot afford the F-35, or question its capabilities. As an American, I hope I am wrong about the underwhelming qualities that I believe are built into the F-35 design. I hope it is a success. But it suffers from even higher wing loading than the late block F-16’s. It has a lower thrust to weight ratio compared to most of its adversaries. And Lockheed Martin has shown mock-ups of it with external weapons, which degrade its supposed stealthy characteristics (once you start to hang weapons on a F-35 it becomes just as unstealthy as a Rafale or Gripen). And it quite frankly is becoming too expensive. You tell people this and immediately they default and say “well the F-35 doesn’t need to dogfight, it will destroy its opponents from 30 miles away with AIM-120s”. I hope these people are right because remember that the same was said of the F-4 Phantom with its stellar radar and Sparrow missile system. If BVR fighting is not successful it will degenerate in WVR dogfighting, and lets hope the F-35 can live up to legend that people have made of it.

      1. The F/A-18 (that is its real designation, and it should actually be A-18, because it’s useless as a fighter) is just as sluggish as the F-14.

        The F-16 can outroll and outturn the F-15? Are you on drugs? The F-15 has a higher T/W ratio and a MUCH lower wingloading ratio than the F-16C/D. The only way the latter could outturn the former is if the former’s pilot were drunk or on drugs.

        The original F-16’s inability to carry more than a few missiles was also a huge liability, because Russian fighters typically carry 11-14, meaning they get numerous freebie shots at the F-16.

        The F-35 is too expensive too slow, too unmaneuverable, too sluggish, and too poorly armed to be competitive. But the Typhoon and the Rafale are also very expensive.

  34. Mitty has again shamed us noobs with novel and irrefutable evidence that the F16 reigns supreme as the world’s best fighter.

    The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.

  35. Zbigniew:

    If you want to accuse someone of being on drugs, you should start with Winxten. The way that heroworshiping lapdog flies at the throat like a crazed Chihuahua when someone disagrees with you makes me wonder if the guy is on speed…


  36. Zbigniew:

    Let’s summarize this argument of F-16 vs. F-15, not because it really matters that much, but because it is important to understand the best future procurement policy on light fighters vs. heavy fighters.

    1. Fuel fraction. The F-16 had greater range than the F-15 when it first came out, but later versions of the F-15 corrected this and gave it a slight edge in air to air configuration. But, it can also be further improved for the F-16. Please see http://defense-update.com/products/f/f-16-fuel.htm, where it is explained just how easy and cheap it is to extend the combat radius of the F-16 by 25%.

    2. Manueverability. See http://www.fighter-planes.com/. There it is reported that the maximum sustained turn rate of the F-15 is 16 degrees/sec, and the max of the F-16 is 18 degrees/sec. The F-16 also has a superior max instantaneous turn rate of 26 degrees/sec. You can argue wing loading till you are blue in the face, but the superior aerodynamic design of the F-16 allows it to more than make up for the F-15’s lower loading.

    3. Radar range and surprise. The F-15 has a little better radar, but the F-16 has a lower radar cross section. This is about a draw, possibly a slight edge to the F-15, but the F-16 makes up for it with a lower visual signature.

    4. Cost. The F-16 is about half the cost to procure and to operate. This is huge as a practical advantage.

    5. War load. The F-15 carries more missiles, but it is very rare in modern jet combat for one plane to score more than 2 kills on a single mission. The F-16 carries the same weapons, so its engagement envelope and weapons realiability is the same.

    6. Ceiling. You keep calling this out as a disadvantage for the F-16, but I have not heard of a single practical case where operating at a moderately max higher ceiling and getting a little longer range BVR missile shot was the winning edge. Does this ever happen?

    7. Experimental proof.
    A. Realistic trials. From http://www.thefreelibrary.com/F-16+TEAMS+DOMINATE+USAF+AIR-TO-AIR+COMPETITION-a015848749, the two F-16 units in William Tell each out performed the five F-15 units in realistic trials. This is not manipulated Lockheed data, but U.S. AIR FORCE data.
    B. Combat. According to http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/showthread.php?180731-Modern-fighter-combat-records, in air to air the F-16 is 76-1, and the F-15 is 102-0. The single Pakistani F-16 loss is not statistically significant, nor is the higher total kill count for the F-15, which is strongly influenced by the fact that the Israelis use their F-16s much more for air to ground than air to air.

    Zbigniew, it does not work for you to just claim that the reports above are just lies, especially the U.S. Air Force’s own trials. You are basically trying to say that after your fighter went in the ring and got knocked out, he is still the superior fighter just because you are impressed that he is the bigger guy.


    1. Eh, you’ve written so much garbage that it’s hard to know where to start. With claim #1, I guess.

      1) The F-15 has an ENORMOUSLY bigger combat radius than the F-16 – 1,967 kms vs 550 kms, i.e. almost 4 times more. Even if the F-16’s miserable, pathetic CR could be extended by 25%, that would still leave it SEVERELY disadvantaged vis-a-vis the F-15 and all other large fighters (F-22, Flankers, PAKFA, J-20), which can simply run the Crappy Falcon out of gas, and which makes the F-16 useless for any missions except those where the enemy is very, very near. A fact which you STILL refuse to acknowledge.

      2) This is clearly wrong; the I/S turn rates of both the F-15 and the F-16 are 30 and 20 deg/sec, respectively. That parity, combined with the F-15’s better T/W ratio and much better WL ratio, means the F-15 is FAR more maneuverable than the F-16C/D.

      3) The radar of the F-15 (the APG-63) is MUCH better, with over 500 more modules, a much larger antenna, and much more power. Ditto for the Flankers’ radars, especially the Irbis-E. The F-16 is a non-player in this category.

      4) Lower cost is irrelevant when the cheaper fighter is decisively inferior and nearly useless – as is the case with the F-16. Its opponents can simply run it out of gas, and with a pathetic 550 km CR, it wouldn’t make it to the fight from anywhere except Kadena.

      5) War load is very important, because it gives you more shots at the enemy, and one shot seldom kills the opponent. So you need to take multiple shots at him, preferrably at the same time. THAT is why the F-15 and the Flankers carry a large missile load. In a fight, the F-15 (or the Flanker) would get multiple freebie shots at the F-16.

      6) The F-15 has a MUCH better ceiling – by 5,000 ft, 65 angels vs 60 angels for the F-16. And yes, it does matter. A lot. An F-16’s missiles would have much less energy and range, and would have to climb uphill, while the F-15 (or a Flanker) could significantly extend its missile range, speed, and energy by virtue of flying higher and faster. Simple laws of physics will tell you that. But obviously, physics is not taught at schools anymore.

      7) William Tell trials are not realistic, they’re scripted (like most trials and exercises of the US military). OTOH, REALISTIC Red Sword/Blue Sword trials by the PLAAF have demonstrated that the J-11 (their counterpart of the F-15) BEATS the J-10 (their clone of the F-16) EVERYTIME. As for operational success, the F-16’s kill ratio is only 69:1, not 76:1, and the reason why AFs around the world (USAF, IAF, RSAF, etc.) prefer to use the F-15 in the air superiority role is that it is simply far better in that role than the Crappy Falcon. And they know it.

      Moreover, kill ratios are not really useful indicators of a weapon’s performance, bc kill ratios reflect the target as much as the weapon being evaluated. In real combat, the F-15 (and Flankers) would beat the Crappy Falcon everytime.

      So the reason why I’m saying that the F-15 is far better is because it is – based on facts, not scripted exercises.

  37. Neither the F-15 or F-16 have an ITR of 30 degrees per second (the canard Typhoon and Rafale do). The ITR of the F-15 is 21 degrees per second, the ITR of the F-16A is 26 degrees per second (both at low level). The STR of the F-16A is 20 degrees per second, and the F-16C is around 18 degrees per second. The F-15 STR is 16 degrees per second. Both quotes are at low altitude. The F-15 may have greater wing area than the F-16A, but the Eagle suffers from trim drag at subsonic speeds (because it is a stable design). And as I have stated earlier, the Eagle does not have any leading edge high lift devices (flaps or slats), the F-16 does.

    The F-16, since it is an unstable design (CCV), does not suffer from trim drag at subsonic speeds. Neither does the Typhoon, Rafale, Gripen, Mirage 2000, or F-22 (the Su-27 is neutrally stable in the pitch axis, I believe). The Eagle does not have Leading Edge Root Extensions (LERX), while the F-16 does. LERXs add to lift. The F-16 has wing/body blending, while the F-15 generally does not. And the F-16A has extremely low frontal drag; it does not have two big variable geometry inlets adding to overall drag like the F-15. And remember the F-16 is fly by wire. The F-15 has an older Control Augmentation System (CAS), that does not have the quickness of a pure FBW system.

    Refer to the book: F-15 Eagle Engaged, by Steve Davies for numbers concerning the Eagle. The F-16 numbers come from an Israeli Air Force Site. I suggest you look at both of them. And also watch an F-15C demo, it takes the Eagle 22-23 seconds to complete a 360 degree turn. It takes the F-16A 18 seconds to complete the same turn. While the very agile F-16N only needs about 17 seconds to complete the turn.

    I do not understand why you people are getting so upset about this comparison. As I have said earlier, the F-15 was designed for Mach 2.5, to catch a MIG-25. The Eagle can carry 4 Sparrow missiles, has great range, and has an extremely powerful radar. And the Eagle, for its day, was a pretty good dogfiighter. And if the Eagle had CCV, FBW, and leading edge slats, its numbers would be even better.

    The F-16 until the early 1990s had no Sparrow or Amraam capability. Its radar does not have anywhere near the range of the F-15 or F-18 radar sets. The F-16’s top speed is only Mach 2. However, its early versions (F-16A) set the standard for modern day dogfighting capability (BFM).

    I do agree that kill ratios generally are not the most realistic statistic. The Iraqis and the Syrians are generally terrible pilots. So for the IDF and the USAF, these engagements were relatively easy. When the USAF put its own pilots in MIG-29s and SU-27s vs its same F-15 and F-16s; the USAF piloted Flankers and Fulcrums generally were superior to USAF piloted Eagles and Vipers. That is why the USAF had to press ahead and purchase the F-22 Raptor (to regain its superiority in air to air combat).

    Go out and buy these three books:

    1. Aerodynamics for Naval Aviators, published by Aviation Supplies & Academics

    2. Flight Theory for Pilots, by Charles E. Dole

    3. Modern Combat Aircraft Design, by Klaus Huenecke

    They are an excellent source for understanding aerodynamics and the forces acting on an airplane. And Modern Combat Aircraft Design gets into the whole method for jet fighter design tactics.

  38. Zbigniew:

    I see that Frank addressed the maneuverability and aerodynamic issues quite well.

    I’ll address the fuel fraction / range issue. You quote the F-16 combat radius as 550 km. From Wikipedia (quite well refereed on this), this is under these conditions:

    F-16 combat radius: 340 mi (295 nmi, 550 km) on a hi-lo-hi mission with four 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs.

    Loading the small F-16 with 2 tons of bombs instead of external fuel, coming down low, and reclimbing high, obviously knocks the daylights out of the range. For a more direct comparison, let’s compare ferry ranges.

    F-16 ferry range: 2,280 NM (2,620 mi, 4,220 km) with drop tanks.

    F-15 ferry range: 3,450 mi (3,000 nmi, 5,550 km) with conformal fuel tanks and three external fuel tanks .

    Now the F-15 edge is only 12.7%, not the factor of 4 you like to quote. Put the plumbing in the F-16 wings for more drop tanks, and the F-16 is fully range competitive to the F-15. This is no surprise since John Boyd insisted on originally defining it as having greater range than the F-15. If they had not layered on the conformal tanks to the F-15, the F-16 still would.

    On the ceiling issue, can you quote a source indicating that climbing to ceiling and shooting BVR missiles downhill against other fighters at a lower ceiling has any statistically significant benefit in real battle? For example, how many of the 102 kills achieved by the F-15 used this method?


    We are arguing the issue because:

    1. This thread is labeled “https://zbigniewmazurak.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/pierre-spreys-ridiculous-wildly-optimistic-claims-about-the-f-16-debunked/#comment-11505”, and

    2. Since I am seeking to personally understand the truth and not just parrot somebody’s party line, I like to see intellectual honesty and not distortion of the facts. In this case the fair comparison of the F-16 to the F-15, both very well designed against their goals, is a valid test case of the whole cheap light figher vs. expensive heavy fighter argument. This is an important issue to any of us who like to see the United States have the most effective air force possible per dollar of available budget. If we had a plane like the Gripen with some semi-stealth added, that little hummer would give us real bang for the buck.

    On the radar issue, the improvement in radar range generally goes as the inverse 4th power of individual parameter improvements. For example, a 2X improvement in combined radar transmit power and antenna gain only allows a 19% improvement in radar range. So, often the bigger radars do not pack the range improvement that it seems they should. AESA radar is a different story. Its agility allows actually using the radar without giving your position away, and the radar antenna has far lower contribution to radar cross section as seen by the enemy than did the older dishes or flat panels.


    1. The combat radius, not the ferry range, is the relevant statistic here. A few examples will illustrate the point:

      Let’s say North Korea invades the South. F-16s can take off only from bases that are no more than 550 kms away from the inter-Korean border (unless you want to fly them only to the southern tip of SK). That limits your choices greatly to bases in SK itself and in northwestern Japan. If NK destroys these bases with its huge arsenal of SRBMs and MRBMs – tough, your F-16s have nowhere to take off from. If you can’t even make it to the fight, let alone win the fight, you’re useless.

      Let’s say you need to win superiority over, and bomb, Iran. F-16s can take off only from bases that are no more than 550 kms away from Iran. But Iran has a huge arsenal of missiles with ranges up to 2,500 kms (though most have a range of no more than 1,200 kms), so if Iran destroys all bases that are within 550 kms of its borders (and it can easily do so), your precious F-16s can’t take off.

      Let’s say China invades Taiwan. To win, you must first establish air superiority over Taiwan. The only base close enough to Taiwan for F-16s to operate over there is Kadena, a totally unhardened, unprotected base. If China destroys it or even its runways (it has more than 1,600 SRBMs alone), tough – your F-16s cannot fly to Taiwan and are thus useless. All other US airbases in the region are way too far away for the F-16 to make it from those bases to Taiwan and back (or even just to Taiwan with no return trip back, in most cases).

      A 550 km combat radius is not only inadequate, it’s downright pathetic.

  39. Zbigniew:

    I see I made a mistake in the above range comparison because I did not notice Wikipedia switching the order of listing of nautical miles and statute miles.

    The statute mile ferry ranges of the F-15 and F-16 are 3450 and 2620 respectively. The F-15 is showing 24% better ferry range relative to its own baseline or 32% better relative to the F-16 baseline.

    The F-16 ferry range can be increased about 50% relative to its own baseline by adding fuel plumbing to the bomb stations (this is so simple it is less than a one day flight line job using an available and certified package now in use in Israel). That would put it at about 3930 statute miles compared to 3450 for the F-15.

    This stands to reason for the aerodynamic reasons pointed out by Frank. The F-16 has less drag per lb of lift generated to keep itself in the air due to not being hampered by a fixed camber wing and Mach 2.5 design features, having higher wing loading, and not paying the “trim drag” that the F-15 has due to static stability.

    Putting it more simply, it gets better gas mileage per lb.


    1. Your statistic (ferry range) is completely irrelevant for one simple reason: it refers only to the max distance that a plane could fly one-way from Point A to Point B, e.g. from one base to another.

      It is totally irrelevant to combat missions.

      In REAL combat missions, what really counts is the combat radius (hence its name) – the distance a plane can fly to its target and then back to base without refueling.

      And on that score, the F-15 beats the F-16 handsomely, by a factor of almost 4 to 1. Actually, to say that the F-15 beats the F-16 handsomely is a vast understatement – the F-15 wipes the floor with the F-16 – by this and every other criterion of fighter characteristics and performance.

      It is no coincidence that the F-15, NOT the F-16, has been designated and used as an air superiority fighter – a term practically invented for that plane – while the F-16 has mostly done A2G combat and fights with obsolete enemy aircraft (not all of which were fighters). Similarly to how I am a much better analyst than you or that old turd Pierre Sprey will ever be.

      In real combat, it is the combat radius that counts. It tells us how far can a plane fly to do its mission before having to go back to base. Some kms can also be deducted from the CR to account for longer on-station time instead of quick A2A combat. The F-15 can patrol and protect a large area. The F-16 would barely make it to Taiwan from Kadena – and then, it would have to fly back to base immediately.

      As a final note, no more of your ridiculous comments will be allowed here. You can post crap from that treasonous POGO organization elsewhere, but not here.

  40. Hi Farron,

    “Modern Combat Aircraft Design” is an excellent book, and I believe that you will enjoy it. You may also like “Modern Air Combat”, by Bill Gunston and Mike Spick. It is a little old (1980s) though. And “Brassey’s Modern Fighters” by Mike Spick.

    You may also like some books dealing with aerodynamics on either the Jeppesen site or Aviation Supplies & Academics site.

    And I almost forgot this book which is excellent!!! It is titled: “Fighter Combat Tactics and Maneuvering” by Robert L. Shaw. Mr. Shaw was an F-4 Phantom pilot and F-14 pilot in the US Navy. This book is great!!!!! It has tons of information from an actual former fighter pilot.

    Finally, a lot of people think Sprey is a little nutty. But what I think that he was talking about was this: Take a Block 15 F-16A airframe, give it the up-rated Pratt & Whitney F100-229 engine or General Electric F110-129/132. Build it with lightweight composites to keep the weight down (like the Gripen and Rafale). And I am willing to bet it would be very competitive against the newer Euro-canards or Sukhois in WVR dogfighting. For example one RAF pilot when asked to comment about the outstanding agility of the Eurofighter said that it responds in the air like a “turbocharged F-16”. This would be a proven concept. Search on youtube.com “F-16N demo” and you will see just how quick and agile this plane was, and this demo is from 1987!

    from Frank-

    1. An F-16, even if up-engined, would not stand a chance against the Eurocanards, let alone the Flankers, the F-15, the F-22, the PAKFA, or the J-20. For starters, its radar is too weak, its max speed and max altitude are too low (making it DOA before WVR even begins), and its combat radius is woefully inadequate to be useful in any real combat scenario. Stop daydreaming, and stop reading Sprey’s crappy book.

      1. I never said an uprated F-16 would stand a chance against the Typhoon (those other jets mentioned certainly do not). The J-20, F-15, F-35, and even F-22 (in certain respects) are not as agile in WVR as the Typhoon. Recent excercises between the German air force and USAF have proved that. And the Germans do not lie, they are some of the most respected fighter pilots in the world. It seems that every time the F-22 comes out to play against the Typhoon in BFM, the USAF has to declare some problem and cancel the event. Once again, there is a difference between agility and maneuverability-

    2. I know this is an old post but in case someone stumbles on it, another very good book is “Aircraft Design: A Conceptual Approach” by Raymer. It helps to have some engineering background but even without it goes through the design studies and trade offs that go into an aircraft design.

  41. Frank:

    Thanks for the great references, I’ll look into them as well.

    Sprey was a very assertive guy and that seems to put some people off. But, John Boyd and other hard core air combat experts thought a lot of him.

    You are correct in your statements above about what he was striving for in the performance of fighters. But even more than this, he seems to be true to his graduate training in operations research. Read that report, and it is all about the features that really work and the numbers that back up his conclusions. For example, the kills per trigger squeeze for 6 fifty caliber machine guns is higher than that for 4 20mm cannons. He could not care less about the ballistic arguments–the experimental reality is what guides his conclusions. He does not want to see one extra pound on a fighter that does not directly contribute to its core mission of bringing down enemy aircraft.

    We’ve got a lot of other experts in the driver’s seat now defining newer planes like the F-22 and F-35. I’m sure they are very talented and very experienced, and some fantastic work is getting done. But, based on the past where it is clear that some real procurement mistakes were made, I’d like to see more guys like Sprey around who will not only challenge the status quo, but will back up their arguments with razor sharp thinking.


  42. Zbigniew:

    Though the issue of F-15 vs F-16 is a lame duck that only matters in the lesson it teaches, in the totality of performance factors the F-16 seems fully competitive with the F-15. On this subject Frank and I have both provided accurate numbers verified with third party references, so it is puzzling to me that you keep ferociously resisting what seem to be simple facts. This effectiveness is born out by the results of realistic trials, and to some degree by the combat record as well. The only problem with the combat results, as Frank has pointed out, is that victory over inferior competition only proves your varsity is better than the enemy junior varsity.

    The F-15 and F-16 are now old aircraft that are probably only still highly effective when facing competition at least a step behind the best. The published Red Flag results are that the F-22 achieves at least a 10:1 kill ratio against them using BVR engagement based on stealth and AESA surprise and high radar missile Pk. If the F-15’s and F-16’s could close within WVR, they would probably give a good account of themselves, as they still can against most of the potential opponents. But, this result does indicate that stealth / AESA / BVR missiles are here to stay as dominant factors that must be accurately taken into account, though they are not the only factors. Numbers and cost will still matter.

    Sprey might be very arrogant, but that is not really the issue. The issue is if his lifetime of work still has lessons for us today. He counsels maximum practical effectiveness based on numbers and real combat results, which is sometimes hated by other experts who want to call the shots based on their opinion, their career goals, and money. No senior officer, DoD official, or defense company executive likes to be publically proven wrong, and Sprey did a lot of that over his career.

    Sprey’s approach to figuring out what is most effective is very similar to the true story movie “Moneyball”, where the 2002 Oakland Athletics under manager Bill Beane used statistics to select the best available players. The primary issue was not how a player looked and was judged by baseball experts promoting their own careers, it was his on-base percentage and his cost. Using this approach the Athletics put together a highly competitve record setting team with less than 1/4 the budget of major market teams. Though this statistics based method was hated by the old timers of baseball (it reduced their value as gurus of the game), it worked beautifully and has now been fully adopted across professional baseball.

    We are still left with the open question as to how the United States should define its future fighter fleet. The F-22 “high” and F-35 “low” mix strategy has been damaged by both aircraft being sky high in cost. The F-35 is as heavy as the F-15, has become the most expensive defense program in U.S. history, and is taking so long that much of its edge may be lost by the time it is deployed in volume.

    What should we do about this? My own opinion is that some Sprey / Moneyball type thinking might do some real good, and that the most likely result would be for the Air Force to add a true “low” to the mix with a lightweight semi-stealth fighter. Carrier deck space is so precious that the Navy may be better served with more expensive full stealth aircraft. But for the Air Force and its volume needs we could reuse much of the R&D results from these high end fighters and their subsystems at lower cost in a disciplined lightweight design. Such a fighter might give 80% of the bang of the F-22 / F-35 for 30% of the buck, allowing volume procurement and the regular flight training needed to keep fighter pilots in peak condition. Perhaps a fighter drone should also be added or even substituted for the low end.


    1. I’m not resisting “simple facts”, I’m resisting LM corporate propaganda and the lies of that professional blowhard Pierre Sprey. (That he is arrogant is a minor problem; the biggest problem is that he doesn’t have the faintest clue what he’s talking about, and neither do you.)

      I’ll try to say it one more time, succintly:

      The F-16 is virtually useless these days for the USAF. It was designed as a lightweight, daytime clement weather fighter for use strictly in small theaters such as Central Europe, against similarly-designed and sized Soviet fighters (e.g. the MiG-21) for what was thought would be daytime duels in good weather with these Soviet fighters and battlefield interdiction of Warsaw Pact tank armies – once Warsaw Pact air defenses were eliminated by more capable aircraft.

      That scenario is now obsolete. The baseline F-16, with its puny combat radius of 550 km without CFTs (adding CFTs means less ammo carried) is useless as it cannot reach any combat zone from any base other than Okinawa and (if NK attacks the South) SK. If those bases are destroyed by China and/or NK, the F-16 is useless and practically does not exist. The F-15 can, even without CFTs, fly in from more distant bases if needed (e.g. Iwakuni or Andersen).

      As I have demonstrated in previous comments, the F-16 is decisively inferior to the F-15 by every criterion, measure, and standard, excluding raw unit cost. But buying more “cheaper” fighters would cost as much, if not more, than buying fewer better (F-15/F-22-style) fighters, and losing them would actually cost more if the cost of training more pilots who will get KIA or captured is accounted for. So measured over a total fighter fleet, your precious F-16 is actually MORE expensive.

      In actual combat, the F-15 has been far superior. Likewise, in China’s version of Red Flag/Blue Flag exercises, the J-11 (their counterpart of the F-15) consistently beats the J-10 (a Chinese clone of the F-16) everytime.

      Your F-16 would not give even 40% of the back for the buck you get from an F-22. Fact.

  43. Zbigniew:

    I just saw the above comment about our relative ranking as analysts. But, I’m not trying to prove I am a better analyst. As I have always maintained, I am just a hobbyist who likes to read about the issues.

    I would maintain I have brought some useful data to your attention which you seem to have been previously unaware of, as has Frank.

    If you care about the quality of your site as a forum for correct data and objective discussion, you will welcome such submissions. If you don’t care to have the input because you have some other purpose, that’s fine by me.


  44. Mitty,

    Who said this:

    “When the USAF put its own pilots in MIG-29s and SU-27s vs its same F-15 and F-16s; the USAF piloted Flankers and Fulcrums generally were superior to USAF piloted Eagles and Vipers. That is why the USAF had to press ahead and purchase the F-22 Raptor to regain its superiority in air to air combat”

  45. This is because the F-16 has very low frontal drag, and it does not suffer from trim drag in the subsonic range.

    Here are excerpts of an interview by Harry Hillaker, who was an engineer at General Dynamics, and is considered the father of the F-16:

    ” …..The real issue is how to apply technology. For example, the F-15 represents a brute-force approach to technology. If you want higher speeds, add bigger engines. If you want longer range, make the airplane bigger to increase fuel capacity. The result is a big airplane. The F-15 was viewed as highly sophisticated because it was so big and expensive. In my mind the, the F-15 was not as technically advanced as the F-4. The F-16 is much more of an application of high technology than the F-15. We used the technology available to drive the given end, that is , or was, to keep things as simple and small as we could. It is a finesse approach. If we wanted to fly faster, we made the drag lower by reducing size and adjusting the configuration itself. If we wanted greater range, we made the plane more efficient, more compact. …You can, for example, get a higher thrust to weight ratio by increasing the thrust. You can also get a higher thrust to weight ratio by leaving the thrust alone and reducing the weight, which is what we did on the lightweight fighter (the thrust on the F-16 was fixed at 23,800lbs with the original P&W F100 engine). ….The range equation can be treated like the thrust to weight ratio. The typical approach to increase range is to simply increase fuel capacity. But increasing fuel capacity increases volume, which means more weight and more drag. People think that big is better. It’s not. With the lightweight fighter, we wanted to achieve our ends through different means. We increased range by reducing size. ….Smaller aircraft have less drag. People always talk in terms of drag coefficients. But drag coefficients really don’t tell you that much. For example, the drag coefficient of an F-16 is about the same as that of a F-4. However, the F-16 has about one third the drag of an F-4 in level flight. At angle of attack, it is about one-fifteenth. The airplane’s (F-16) exceptional maneuverability is a consequence of that lower drag and a higher thrust to weight ratio.”

    Turn performace is not just solely based on wing loading. The Convair F-106 Delta Dart has a wing area of 697 sqft. and an empty weight of around 24,000 lbs. which gives a wing loading of 34.4 lbs/sqft. This figure is extremely low, however the F-106 does not have the best ITR or STR of a fighter. Now the Typhoon weighs about the same but has a wing area of 538 sqft. And we all know that a Typhoon can run rings around an F-106 in a turning battle. The real issue is how to apply the technology.. Having the lowest wing loading will do you no good if your jet suffers from trim drag. Same for the Mirage 2000. It has lower wing loading than a Rafale. But we all know that a Rafale has both higher ITR and a higher STR than a Mirage 2000.

    The same with fuel fraction and range. The F-16’s fuel fraction is pretty much ideal (31.5%), because with anything above 35% and you have basically a flying gas tank (which would be very vulnerable to shrapnel in a dogfight). The F-16 with its low frontal drag, and unstable design (no trim drag) is the reason why it has overall lower drag and very good range for such a small fighter.

    If you want to read all of Harry Hillaker’s interview, It was printed in “CODE ONE” the company magazine (General Dynamics). However, I believe it can be found on the web.

    From Frank

    1. The Mirage 2000 may have a lower WL ratio than the Rafale, but the latter’s is still very low, especially for a 21st century fighter – just 302 kg/sq m, way better than the Typhoon or any US, Chinese, or Russian fighter currently in service or in development.

    2. I’ll read it when I have the time, but what you’ve quoted here is very interesting. One caveat though: the original F-16 was indeed designed as a lightweight. Since then, however, the F-16 has taken on an awful lot of weight.

  46. Mitty,

    I sympathize with your reading impairments, so let me ask again who wrote this:

    “When the USAF put its own pilots in MIG-29s and SU-27s vs its same F-15 and F-16s; the USAF piloted Flankers and Fulcrums generally were superior to USAF piloted Eagles and Vipers. That is why the USAF had to press ahead and purchase the F-22 Raptor to regain its superiority in air to air combat.”

    1. The MiG-29 is not superior to the F-15 – it is much less maneuverable, slower, and low-flying. It is somewhat comparable in its cardinal parameters to the F-16.

      The Su-27 is comparable to the F-15, but it still doesn’t perform as well in terms of maneuverability, agility, speed, or altitude – the F-15, with its WL ratio of 358 kg/sq m, a T/W ratio of 1.12:1, a top speed of Mach 2.5+, and a ceiling of 65 angels, still outperforms the Su-27 in all cardinal parameters. But the deployment of the Su-27 (and even more advanced Flanker variants) in large numbers did prod the USAF to start developing the F-22.

      But the real reason why the F-22 is needed today is not the Su-27 or the MiG-29, but rather, the emergence of Russian and Chinese Generation 4++ and 5th generation fighters (most of them being stealthy) and very advanced air defense systems. The F-15 and the F-16 were developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the SA-11/17, the S-300, the S-400, the S-500, the HQ-9, the HQ-16, the PAKFA, the J-20, the J-31, and the Su-35 did not exist (and the F-35 is still being designed for such a world).

  47. 1) In a war, attrition is *unavoidable*. Wether it gets to the point of having a major influence on combat operations is another point, but cheaper and simpler fighters will have lower attrition rate due to operational causes, and will thus be able to sustain larger force. In both World Wars, Germany tried as much as possible to avoid attrition strategy (hence “blitzkrieg”); it worked well against incompetent opponents unprepared for that strategy (Western allies in 1940, Russians in 1941), but in the end Germany lost the war of attrition – a situation helped by “superior” wonder-weapons such as Panther, Tiger and Me-262.

    2) More expensive is not necessarily better. It is always possible to counter enemy’s latest technological advances asymmetrically, and it is often far cheaper too. For this reason, coupled with one above, cheaper and simpler weapons can be far superior to more expensive and complex ones, even on one-for-one basis. Case in point: you may have a stealth fighter (F-22), but what if I detect your radar, or detect you on IRST, and use it to fire IR BVR missile at you (which is what Rafale does)? Latter approach is clearly cheaper, while being even more effective. Using stronger radar to detect stealth fighter is a fool’s game when you can use IRST.

    3) BVR missile kills have historically been against unalerted opponents. With modern missile warners, something like that is impossible to achieve against properly equipped and competent opponent (a category that noone US have fought since Vietnam fits in).

    4) If US and China fight, it will never be 6 Raptors vs 6 Su-35. It will be 6 Raptors vs 24 Su-35. And literally every single fighter in Chinese arsenal is superior to F-35.

    5) J-20 does not pose a threat to US superiority, by looks of it it is simply an oversized F-35. And Dassault Rafale can effectively counter both J-20 and J-31.

    6) Defense spending is not same as DoD budget, and US direct defense spending is cca 700 billion USD.

    7) F-16 maneuverability is not stellar despite, not because of, Sprey. YF-16 as originally designed had good AoA capability, excellent thrust-to-weight ratio, low wing loading and low drag. But larger radar messed up aerodynamics and resulted in lower AoA, way below the AoA required for maximum lift, thus lowering turn rates; 25% weight increase was offset by 25% wing increase, but that meant more drag, and more weight = more inertia. And even then, F-16 had better maneuverability than many Western aircraft because as much as 40% of its lift comes from body, ofsetting the relatively small and highly loaded wing. Rafale and Typhoon have similar wing loading, yet Rafale outturns Typhoon (as does Gripen) for precisely that reason.

    8) I remember a pilot mentioning in a forum that F-16 detects F-15 sooner than F-15 detects it despite having weaker radar. Can’t remember which forum though.

    9) “Like I said, rigged, scripted exercises and Lockheed/GD propaganda prove nothing. GD was the designer and LM is the producer of the F-16, so they have an interest in lying.” And that somehow doesn’t hold true for the F-22?

    10) Numerical superiority is important, and technology does not guarantee advantage. Cases in point: 2 billion USD gives 10 F-22s or 50 Gripen Cs. As F-22 is more complex to maintain, this results in 5 F-22 sorties against 100 Gripen C sorties per day, or 2 F-22s vs 50 Gripens in one go. 2 F-22s can carry 16 missiles and remain stealthy, but even with 100% Pk, remaining 34 Gripens will get through, shoot down two F-22s and destroy F-22s that are on the ground. For RL example, Tiger I was decisively superior to T-34, but was technologically inferior to IS-II. Yet some Tiger I units achieved same kill:loss ratios against IS-II as they did against T-34/76. Why? Training and coordination. But Russians still won the war due to numerical advantage. If T-34 was destroyed, surviving crew was immediately transferred to a brand new T-34.

    1. The last time the US had a $700 bn military budget was in FY2011. In FY2012 it was close at roughly $680 bn. But in FY2013 and afterwards, it was nowhere even close to $700 bn, even counting the GWOT (OCO) and the DOE.

      There is no way that an F-16 could detect the F-15 sooner than being detected by the Eagle.

      Historically, BVR missiles have had a poor Pk; however, by now, missile and radar technology has improved dramatically, with much better FOF identification, better range and accuracy, and much less warning time for the enemy. I would not advise anyone to fly unprepared into BVR combat and count on the fight transforming into WVR combat quickly.

      As for numbers, the US can never compete with China on that score. Not only can China procure much more fighters of any type than the US, it can – most importantly – have more of these at its disposal in a war zone than the US. Take Taiwan, for example. Even if the Philippines allow the US to use Clark AB in a war over Taiwan, that still leaves the US with only two airbases in Taiwan’s immediate vicinity (a 500 nm radius) – Kadena and Clark – while China has dozens of airbases that are that close to Taiwan.

      That being said, though, China has around 1,200 fighters. Say they deploy half of them over Taiwan. That would require the deployment of only 75 F-22s, with 8 internally carried A2A missiles each, to shoot down 600 Chinese fighters, and any Chinese fighters that US A2A missiles would not get could be shot down with guns. The F-22, may I remind you, is far more maneuverable than the Su-30, J-8 and J-10 (and probably J-20) and as maneuverable as the Su-27 and J-11 – and is equipped with better WVR missiles (AIM-9Xs) and a 20 mm gun. Add an IRST system to it and you’ve got an even more lethal machine.

      75 F-22s shooting down 600 Chinese fighters (8 shot down by each Raptor) might sound far-fetched… but keep in mind that the previous USAF air superiority fighter, the F-15, has scored 102 kills for no own losses.

      1. “There is no way that an F-16 could detect the F-15 sooner than being detected by the Eagle.”

        F-16s RCS is far lower than F-15s in a typical configuration, as F-16s engine face is partly hidden (unlike the F-15) and it has superior shaping, both aerodynamically and in terms of RCS.

        “Historically, BVR missiles have had a poor Pk; however, by now, missile and radar technology has improved dramatically, with much better FOF identification, better range and accuracy, and much less warning time for the enemy.”

        Countermeasures have also improved, as did aircraft situational awareness and maneuverability. Considering that no BVR kill has been scored against a maneuvering opponent with competent ECM suite, it doesn’t bode well for long-range radar-based missiles (surprise is number one in gaining kills, and the F-22 has no IRST, so it either has to get a firing solution from ana ircraft that has it, turn on its own radar or hope that the enemy is stupid enough to turn on his radar).

        “Take Taiwan, for example. Even if the Philippines allow the US to use Clark AB in a war over Taiwan, that still leaves the US with only two airbases in Taiwan’s immediate vicinity (a 500 nm radius) – Kadena and Clark – while China has dozens of airbases that are that close to Taiwan.”

        Ideally, you wouldn’t need to rely on the air bases. Gripen is designed with road basing in mind, and Sukhois can fly from nearly anywhere.

        “That would require the deployment of only 75 F-22s, with 8 internally carried A2A missiles each, to shoot down 600 Chinese fighters”

        That assumes a 100% missile Pk. But even if Chinese fighters had no countermeasures and all pilots somehow got drugged on LSD and unable to think clearly enough to even try an evasive action, you wouldn’t get a Pk above 50%. In an actual US-China war, radar-guided BVR missile Pk will be =<10% against non-stealthy fighters.

        "and probably J-20"

        Replace "probably" with "almost certainly". J-20 may have canards, but no matter what accessories a fighter has it still requires lift to turn, and everything I know points to the J-20 having higher weight, higher wing loading and lower thrust-to-weight ratio than the F-22.

        "but keep in mind that the previous USAF air superiority fighter, the F-15, has scored 102 kills for no own losses."

        Against Arab forces, by no means the brightest and best equipped air forces in the world. If you gave USAF F-5s and Iraqis F-15s, air battles in both Desert Storm and the Iraqi Freedom would have still been one-sided slaughters with USAF delivering. Pilot quality matters far more than aircraft quality.

  48. Drones are a game changer, so time to get attached to a new paradigm. Sorry Ziggy, you are rude and have no technical knowledge, a huge disadvantage for a big mouth. -Steve-

    1. Drones are not a game changer. Their links with their “pilots” can be jammed or disabled, and they carry pitiful combat loads. Nor are they necessarily cheaper to buy an operate than manned aircraft. DefenseOne has recently published an article debunking three myths about drones.

      So it’s YOU who has no technical knowledge.

      1. From Lt Col Fred Clifton at http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/how-to-win-in-a-dogfight-stories-from-a-pilot-who-flew-1682723379. Clifton is a Fighter Weapons School grad and instructor, highly experienced aggressor pilot, one of the few with over a thousand hours in each of the F-15 and F-16. He gives the air to air edge to the F-16 over the F-15.

        F-15 Eagle Vs F-16 Viper, which wins the day in an air-to-air engagement?

        Starting from BVR, the F-15 enjoys a big advantage in radar detection range. Surprisingly, the Viper’s radar has significantly higher peak power than the Eagle’s radar. Because the F-15s radar can operate with a high pulse-repetition frequency versus the Viper, whose radar operates with a medium pulse-repetition frequency, the Eagle’s radar is actually transmitting more radar energy down range resulting in greater detection range. Because of some of the limitations of the old APG-63 I flew with in the F-15A, the F-16C’s APG-68 was actually a step up for me. The APG-68 had more modes and multi-targeting capability. Unfortunately, for the first couple of years I flew Vipers, we were AIM-9 only. AMRAAM didn’t start to come into the equation until late 1991.

        In an air-to-air configuration, the F-16 has a higher fuel fraction and lower specific fuel consumption than the F-15. An F-15C IP at the Fighter Weapons School, (then) Major Mike “Boa” Straight, wrote an article about this in the Fighter Weapons Review in 1988 or 1989. I’m not just making this up. On-station time, acceleration to intercept speed and range advantages go to the Viper.

        WVR (within visual range) scenario: An F-15C and GE-powered F-16C merge head-on, no missiles, guns only. This is truly where the F-16 excels. The F-15 is absolutely no slouch in this arena and the margin for error is small, but he F-16 enjoys a sustained turn rate advantage and a thrust-to-weight advantage. My game plan would be not to slow down too much in the F-16. Where the F-16 starts to fall off in comparison is when it gets slow and butts up against its hard-wired angle-of-attack limiter. Slow is not a place to be in the F-16 unless absolutely necessary. I wanted to keep my airspeed up relative to the Eagle and beat him down to where his nose track starts to slow and use the vertical as required and the F-16’s turn rate advantage to bring my nose to bear. Both jets bring excellent handling qualities and visibility to the equation. What you really don’t want to be is the MiG pilot who faces off against either jet in this scenario.

      2. Thank you for your comment, Farron. Before responding to it, though, I will need some time to prepare my response, and on my present job I often have overtime, so I won’t be able to respond until at least this weekend. I’m sorry. See you here on this blog on Saturday… I hope.

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