The F-16V Block 70/72 Viper for the Philippine Air Force? – Part One

A Computer Generated Image (CGI) of an F-16V Viper with Indonesian Air Force markings. Photo courtesy of the official Lockheed Martin website.

In November 2019, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) revealed to the defense publication Jane’s that the F-16 Fighting Falcon is one of the aircraft they are considering for their Multi-Role Fighter (MRF) program, along with the Su-30 Flanker, JAS-39 Gripen and Eurofighter Typhoon.1

A month later Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the selection had been narrowed down to only two aircraft, the Gripen and F-16V Block 70/72 Viper.2 The F-16V is the same version that Lockheed Martin (LM) showed as a Scale Model with PAF markings during the 2018 Asian Defense and Security (ADAS) event in the Philippines.3

I’ve written quite a number of blogs already over the years about the F-16, but I decided to do an updated one with the focus more on the Philippines possibly owning it and covering also some topics which I haven’t discussed before.

’F-16V Viper’
I think everybody who grew up starting from the 1970s and onwards know about the F-16 since it is one of the most successful aircraft of recent times in terms of the number of Air Forces that adopted it and the total number of aircraft that were produced.

It is also quite iconic, having been featured countless times in different forms of media over the decades. The F-16 is a single engine, supersonic Multi-Role Fighter aircraft that first entered service with the United States Air Force (USAF) in 1979.4

Its manufacturer LM says that as of now there are around 3,000 F-16 aircraft in service with 25 Countries all over the World.5 The F-16V is the latest model of the aircraft and was first introduced during the 2012 Singapore Air Show.6

Since then the F-16V has been ordered either as an upgrade or as a brand new unit buy by the countries of Taiwan, Bahrain, Greece, Slovakia and Bulgaria.

‘Payload Advantage’
I am now comparing below the F-16V to the JAS-39C Gripen, the same model that the Swedish company Saab brought a Full Scale Mock Up (FSMU) of during the 2018 ADAS Event.7 8 9

One clear advantage of the Viper has over the Gripen is in terms of Payload where at Full Internal Fuel and at Maximum Take Off Weight (MTOW), the Viper can carry 65% or 3,130 kg more Armaments and External Fuel Tanks (EFT). It also has one more Pylon to distribute those load to compared to the Gripen

’Range and Endurance Advantage’
Another advantage of the Viper is in terms of Range and Endurance thanks to its Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFT) which I considered as part of its Internal Fuel since it doesn’t produce as much Drag as EFTs.

Because of its CFTs, the Viper can carry 93% or 2,235 kg more fuel than the Gripen. This boosts its Internal Fuel Fraction (IFF) to 24% more which in theory means it will have that much more range than the Gripen when using only internal fuel and if both aircraft took off at their MTOW.

A study made by the Slovak Republic comparing both aircraft confirms the Viper’s range advantage, showing the Viper to have 31% or 940 km more range than the Gripen when using their internal fuel and EFTs. The study also showed that in the Air-to-Air configuration, the Viper has 89% or 740 km more range and it can stay on patrol for 842% or 101 more minutes than the Gripen.10

’AESA Advantage’11
The Viper’s AN/APG-83 radar uses a more advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) antenna compared to the older Mechanically Steered Array (MSA) Antenna used on the Gripen C’s radar, and this has several advantages.

First off, AESA antennas are more reliable because they have no moving parts and thus require less maintenance. They also use multiple radar modes at the same time instead of switching between them, meaning it can track air, sea or ground targets at the same time. It is more resistant to jamming since it uses a wider band of frequencies.

Most importantly, the signals of an AESA antenna have what’s called as a Low Probability of Interception (LPI), meaning that even if an enemy aircraft has Radar Warning Receivers (RWR), they still won’t necessarily know that an AESA radar has already spotted and tracked them since they won’t be able to detect its radar signals easily.

This is a big advantage in some scenarios as the AESA equipped aircraft could remain undetected while locking on and launching its missiles without the enemy aircraft knowing about it. Because of this characteristic, an AESA radar can also be called a “stealthy” radar.

’WVR Combat’
In terms of Within Visual Range (WVR) Combat, like the Gripen the Viper also has systems like High Off Boresight Missiles (HOBM), Helmet Mounted Sight (HMS) and Fly By Wire (FBW) Control Systems.

However, one instance where its high internal fuel load becomes a liability is when it contributes to the aircraft’s high Wing Loading (WL), higher by 38% or by 136 kg/m^2 indicating it to be less maneuverable than the Gripen.

It does have a higher Thrust to Weight Ratio (TTWR) than the Gripen indicating faster acceleration and climb, but not by much, only by 5%. The Viper’s M61 Vulcan cannon has a Rate of Fire (ROF) of more than three times faster than the Gripen’s BK-27 cannon, but it is of a lower caliber thus resulting in less hitting power and range.

Overall I am more inclined to give a slight WVR Combat advantage to the Gripen by virtue of its significantly lower WL compared to the Viper.

’BVR Combat’
On paper the Gripen C’s PS-05/A Mk 4 radar is supposed to have 31% or 60 km more range in detecting targets with 5 m^2 Radar Cross Sections (RCS) than the Viper’s AN/APG-83 Radar, but I have some doubts about this claim since it seems too high.

For that to be true then the PS-05/A Mk4 will have to be almost as good as the AN/APG-77 radar of the F/A-22 Raptor and that doesn’t seem to jibe since a radar’s range still depends mostly on the size of its Antenna and the Power Output of its Transmitter,12 and the APG-77 has a bigger Antenna and higher Power Output than the PS-05/A Mk 4.

The PS-05/A typically only has maximum Antenna diameter size of 0.6 m and a maximum Power Output of 10 kW13 while the APG-77 has a 1 m maximum diameter Antenna size and a maximum Power Output of 20 kW.14

But of course I’m not a radar expert, I only base those claims above on research, and since Saab put their claim in writing then I will give them the benefit of the doubt and might as well use their claim for now.

The Gripen C needs a powerful radar in order for it to take full advantage of its Meteor Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile which outranges the AIM-120 Advanced Air to Air Missile (AMRAAM) used on the Viper by a good margin, up to twice the range or 160 km more.

The Viper’s AESA radar though still retains some tactical advantages as mentioned in an earlier section above, although if it is outranged by the Gripen’s radar then those advantages will be lessened. Overall, due to my doubts about the Gripen C radar’s true range, I am inclined to just call the BVR Combat for both aircraft to be even, at least for now.

’To be continued’
I am cutting off this blog at this point to give readers a break in terms of reading, you can access the next part of the blog here: The F-16V Block 70/72 Viper for the Philippine Air Force? – Part Two

A scale model of the F-16V Viper Fighter Aircraft with Philippine Air Force (PAF) markings. Photo courtesy of rhk111 thru Wikimedia Commons.

SOURCES:

3 thoughts on “The F-16V Block 70/72 Viper for the Philippine Air Force? – Part One”

  1. I am more interested on the comparison political aspect and their respective practical operability. Obviously, the Viper has technical advantage over the Gripen in terms of payload, range and endurance. But is it all that matters in acquiring MRF?

    1. Personally, its a question of Pros and Cons, and for me the Gripen’s lesser performance would be made up somewhat by its cheaper Operating Costs and better survivability thanks to its improved Dispersed Operations capability.

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