How does the F-16 perform against its adversaries in dogfight?

The Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon is the western world’s most prolific fighter of the last 40 years.

Even if medium and long range air-to-air massiles, such as the AIM-7 Sparrow and the AIM-120 AMRAAM,  have been integrated in the F-16 since 1986 for the BVR (Beyond Visual Range) engagements, the Viper was born in response to LWF (Light Weight Fighter) program, for a small and agile fighter: the USAF needed a small, cheap, maneuverable airplane to flank the F-15 Eagle, its air superiority fighter, to face the small Soviet fighters, such as the MiG-21 in close combat.

Indeed, Red and Green Flags, Tiger Meetings, and any other major western exercise feature tons of Vipers (the universal F-16’s nickname) of all types and ages and, almost daily, F-16 from different air forces take part to DACT (Dissimilar Air Combat Training) sessions against the most modern fighter jets, sometimes playing the Aggressor role.

Therefore, understanding which are the advantages and the disadvantages of F-16 against the modern western fighters in DACT sessions, based on pilots accounts and most widely known fighter jets characteristics (Rules of Engagement within the training scenario, pilots skills and other factores which may have a significant impact on the outcome of a dogfight will be ignored), can be interesting.

According to one of the more experienced of the U. S. Air Force Viper’s pilots, Lieutenant Colonel Philipe “Rico” Malebranche, the F-16 can do very well against the F-15. The F-16 is small, light and agile: although it has a lower maximum speed and rate of climb, it has a smaller Radar Cross Section and, once on the merge, it’s harder to spot. Furthermore, its turn rate is impressive: it does not lose much energy in turns (unlike, for instance, a Mirage 2000) and can outmaneuver the F-15 in low altitude dogfights.

However, the toughest of the fighter jet to face in aerial combat, at least if you are seated in an F-16, is the F-22 Raptor“It’s not a matter of trying to kill him, but to see how long you can survive!” as “Rico” says in “Viper Force: 56th Fighter Wing–To Fly and Fight the F-16” book by Lt. Col. Robert “Cricket” Renner USAF (Ret.).

WVR engagements versus the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet can be quite challenging as well.

The F-16 has a higher thrust-to-weight ratio than the “Super Bug” and this is an advantage Viper drivers can exploit in close air combat: “we can climb 3,000 feet above the F-18, then bunt over to put him in the HUD (Head Up Display) for a gun shot” Malebranche, who has also been an exchange pilot in a U.S. Navy Hornet Squadron, says.

However, while it bleeds energy faster than the F-16, the “Rhino” is much better than the Viper if the dogfight gets slow, because the Hornet handle high angles of attack and point the nose at the opponent easier.

And how can the Viper perform against the Eurofighter Typhoon?

During more or less  a decade of service with the Italian Air Force, the F-16 has been extensively used to train Typhoon pilots in WVR engagements. According to the Italian pilots, the F-16 matches the F-2000 under 10,000 feet. But above FL100 the Typhoon becomes quite difficult to beat since its superior aerodynamics give the Eurofighter can out maneuver the Viper at every engagement.

Dario Leone for TheAviationist.com

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

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8 Comments

  1. Modern air combat doesn’t happen in a pristine one on one basis in a clear blue sky. More often than not, fighters fly in pairs, with the leader out in front and his wing man some way behind and off to the side. When the Mirage 2000 does his famous jack knife to force a fly through by his attacker he has suddenly and alarmingly run out of energy (sharp turns do that to a delta) for a few precious seconds , hanging virtually motionless while his relatively weak engine struggles manfully to bring his energy levels up. In those few vital seconds he is a sitting duck for the wingman who can blast him out of the sky using guns only. I think the F-16 will win every time.

  2. Funny how the last comment post cannot understand English, the Typhoon is a joke really??? I guess ! the. “F-16 matches the F-2000 under 10,000 feet. But above FL100 the Typhoon becomes quite difficult to beat since its superior aerodynamics give the Eurofighter can out manoeuvre the Viper at every engagement” quote…the Typhoon is a very capable aircraft and very versatile, how anyone with any knowledge of aviation can call it a joke is beyond me, tell that to it’s pilots..apologise for the bad English in the above quote no idea how that was put on the site..anyhow we all really want to know just how it would compare to the soviet fighters also..the

    29-27-35…I wonder?

    • The Eurofighter is far from being a joke. It has killed both the Mirage 2000C and F-16A/C in WVR, and even the F-22. They Typhoon has far better aerodynamics (canard + moderate swept 53 degree delta wing) than either the Mirage 2000 or F-16, better TW ratio, and lower wing loading, For anyone to suggest the Typhoon is a joke in air combat is truly be out of touch with reality. And I am an American who is saying this-

  3. Unreal that a 40 year old airframe is still as relevant and being compared to other aircraft that are far newer, far more expensive, and far less expensive to produce. this has to be an all time aircraft success story on all fronts.

  4. Funny fact : Mirage 2000s have shot down F-16s, no F-16 has ever shot down a Mirage 2000… And you can be sure that both pakis and turkishs pilots would loooove too… Even old Mirage F-1 has downed F-16s…

    And it’d be fun if we were seeing much better : Rafale vs. F-22 : a single Rafale has some drill kill marks painted in its landing gear well : 3 F-16s and “just” 12 (!) F-22s! BTW, it was only declassified in last december : Rafale ain’t a Gen.4++ but a Gen.5 jetfighter… No need for radar absorbant coating, the RAM are directly baked in the composites of the airframe. No need for internal bays, the active cancellation system erases their cross section…

    Don’t believe Lockheed propaganda : They’re only building flying coffins! Remember the F-104! It killed more jetfighter pilots than any other aircrafts, unfortunately, they were its own pilots…

    • When you found out the drill was WVR, so inorder for the rafale to when they neutered the F-22.

    • Perhaps little boys shouldn’t have been playing in big boy toys like the F104?

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