Revised June 2, 2016. See bottom of the page for the complete revision history
The Department of National Defense (DND) has indicated the intention to buy the FA-50 Golden Eagle (or Geagle), but some individuals in the Philippine defense sector has expressed doubts about its capability as a combat aircraft. Hence out of curiousity I wanted to compare it to a more popular combat aircraft like the F-16, for example, from which it was actually based from.
The F-16 was made by the American company “General Dynamics”, and first entered service with the United States Air Force (USAF) in 1978. It is described as an all-weather Multi Role Fighter (MRF) and one of the most successful modern aircraft designs as eventually over 4,500 were built and went into service into more than 26 countries worldwide.
The F-16C Block 50/52+ is the latest mass produced version of the aircraft first introduced into service in 2006 with a dorsal compartment for the 2-seat versions, conformal fuel tanks, advanced avionics like better radar and helmet mounted sight, and a more powerful engine. The official name of the F-16 is the “Fighting Falcon”, but its pilots preferred to call it the “Viper” after the fighter spacecraft in the Science Fiction TV series “Battlestar Galactica” back in the 1970s.
The FA-50 is made by the South Korea’s “Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI)”, and is a smaller, license-built version of the F-16 Fighter aircraft. It is intended as a Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) which can also be used as a Lead-In Fighter Trainer (LIFT) for more advanced aircrafts, and will enter South Korean Air Force service starting 2014. As of this time, the Philippine Air Force is (still) negotiating for the final procurement of the FA-50 into service.
For the “Maneuverability” and “Payload and Range” sections, the following considerations were made:
– Weights with 100% internal fuel was used to try to simulate the aircrafts going into combat with full internal fuel after dropping their external Fuel Tanks.
– The weights of the armaments were not included as the RATIOS and DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BOTH AIRCRAFTS will remain the same if they will be armed with the same type and same number of armaments.
– Fuel density of 0.81 kg/l was used to convert fuel capacity to kilograms
– Data for each aircraft was derived from various websites at .
The F-16C Block 50/52+ uses Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFTs) which allows it to carry more fuel (approximately 1,363 kg more) without allocating less SPACE for weapons (i.e., doesn’t have to occupy a pylon). These will also not increase F-16’s RCS significantly since they are “blended” into the aircraft’s body. The only penalty for using these CFTs is that less WEIGHT will be allocated for weapons. Data highlighted in bright yellow refers to the F-16C with CFTs.
For both aircraft’s maneuvering capability, I am looking at their WING LOADING* and THRUST TO WEIGHT RATIO.* I would’ve wanted to take a look at more aspects like Stalling Speed, Maximum Alpha, etc., but those data are hard to come by for both aircrafts. Hence, these should suffice for now. Remember that a lower Wing Loading means the aircraft can turn tighter and vice-versa, and a higher Thrust-to-Weight Ratio means the aircraft can go faster going straight up or straight down and vice-versa.
– WING LOADING: Favors the Geagle with its 15-29% lower wing loading
– THRUST TO WEIGHT RATIO: Favors the Viper with its 11-23% higher thrust to weight ratio
+++ Overall the result is a surprisingly even contest as each aircraft has its own strength, and the differences are about the same, hence they end up cancelling each other out. This means that if both planes are flown by pilots of equal skill and sticks to his plane’s strength, they will have a more or less even match.
‘Payload and Range’
The next aspect I am looking at are the the Payload (weight each aircraft can carry externally), and Range of each aircraft. For Range, I am using INTERNAL FUEL FRACTION (INTFF)* as a rough indicator how far each aircraft can go based on the INTERNAL fuel available to them.
– INTFF: Favors the Viper by 7-33%, indicating it can travel 7-33% for the same engine fuel efficiency.
– PAYLOAD: Favors the Viper as it can carry 67-104% (2,458-3,821 kg) more load
+++ The Viper is the winner over the Geagle as it can carry 104% (3,821 kg) more load 7% farter, or it can carry 67% (2,458 kg) more load 33% farther if it carries CFTs
‘Air Combat-related Avionics and Weapons’
Here I wanted to compare the capability of both aircrafts in terms of Within Visual Range (WVR) and Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air combat. This can be done by comparing some of the avionics and weapons they can use. Additional notes:
– Data for the FA-50’s Radar Cross-Section (RCS) is only ASSUMED to be 80% that of the F-16 as no reliable data is available for it, and that the Geagle is about 80% the size of the F-16.
– Data for the detection range of the F-16C’s AN/APG-68v9 radar may not be reliable as it was taken from an military enthusiast’s website since no data has been released for it by the manufacturer.
– Other data for Avionics and weapons for both aircrafts were taken from these websites:
– WVR Capability: Here the Geagle is at an extreme disadvantage as it does not have the default mandatory avionics nowadays to be competitive in close-range air combat like a Helmet Mounted Sight and High Off-Boresight missiles
– BVR Capability: Favors the Viper as the Geagle does not have the capability to use medium range air to air missiles yet. The Viper’s radar detection range is also vastly superior as it will be able to detect the Geagle at 70 km, or 116% further than the Geagle can detect the Viper which is at only 32 km
+++ Even if the Geagle is certified for use with medium range air to air missiles, the Geagle’s radar is just too weak at least in the air-to-air mode compared to that of the Viper, hence despite the Geagle’s estimated low RCS, it still won’t help it much terms of detecting the other aircraft first. The Viper can detect and shoot down the Geagle long before Geagle can even detect the Viper.
The above results above show that except for MANEUVERABILITY, there is a significant difference between the Geagle and the Viper in terms of RADAR RANGE, AIRCRAFT RANGE, PAYLOAD, AVIONICS and WEAPONS. Its one thing to expect it, but its another to actually see and get a better idea on how big the difference really is. It is still possible to upgrade the Geagle’s Avionics to remove some of its shortcomings, but it will be at great cost, time and effort, something which we may not have and which may not be worth it anyway since you will still have the other deficiencies.
Despite KAI’s pronouncements, I don’t think the Geagle can really be considered as an LCA at this point, it just has so many shortcomings to be at that level, at least in this day and age, anyway. It fits more the description as still a LIFT, despite the fact that this is supposed to be a more capable version of the T-50, which is the designated LIFT in KAI’s Golden Eagle line.
So the big question is, should we still get the Geagle, then? I think there is still room for the Geagle in our air force, but in vastly different roles. For one, even if we do get a better combat aircraft or Multi Role Fighter like the JAS-39C Gripen, we will still need a LIFT for it. Without a LIFT, the gap between our Basic Jet Trainer, the AS-211 and aircrafts like the Gripen is just too large to enable pilots to transition to the Gripen SAFELY, hence a need for an “intermediate” aircraft in between which the Geagle can fulfill.
Second is that despite its limitations in payload and range compared to the Viper, the Geagle still has excellent ground attack with night/adverse weather capabilities which we never had before with previous aircrafts like the F-5A Freedom Fighter and OV-10 Broncos. I plan to highlight the Geagle’s ground attack capabilities in a blog to be released hopefully soon …
^ Philippine Air Force’s FA-50 fighter acquisition programme moves ahead,
^ Second crash has PAF rethinking P18.9-B Korean FA50 jet option,
^ General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon,
^ FA-50 Specifications and Features,
^ Army and Weapons – Deadly KAI T-50 Golden Eagle,
^ Which Fighter Plane is the No:1 in the Indian Subcontinent in the BVR(Beyond Visual Range) arena?,
^ KAI contracts for serial production of the FA-50,
^ Fighter Mig-21 Fishbed,
–> WING LOADING = is the amount of weight the wing supports during flight, and is expressed in weight per area, or in the metric system, kg/m^2. This is computed by: (Wing Area divided by Weight). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wing_loading
–> THRUST TO WEIGHT RATIO = means how much power the aircraft has compared to its weight, and is expressed by a simple number. This is computed by: (The maximum thrust of the aircraft’s engine divided by weight). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thrust_to_weight_ratio
–> INTERNAL FUEL FRACTION = is the weight of the internal fuel the aircraft compared to its maximum take-off weight, and is expressed by a simple number. Formula used is: (Maximum internal fuel capacity divided by maximum take off weight). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_fraction
(0) September 5, 2013: Originally posted
(1) November 25, 2013: Major blog overhaul in terms of data and conclusions, especially in terms of avionics and weapons as better references for the FA-50 Golden Eagle has finally become available from the manufacturer or has been found.
(2) June 2, 2016: Web-archived links on “The Wayback Machine” website, updated Revision History and End Note formats to the latest bstandards.