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F-16 Viper: The Best Non-Stealth Fighter Jet Ever? You Decide

F-16 Viper
Image: Lockheed Martin.

The F-16 Fighting Falcon is one of the world’s most successful and combat-proven military aircraft to ever fly. F-16s in operation with militaries worldwide have now collectively taken part in more than 400,000 combat sorties and have logged a combined 19 million flight hours. Today, the air services of 25 different militaries worldwide continue to operate F-16s with roughly 3,000 Fighting Falcons still operational. The United States Air Force itself operates more F-16s than any other type of aircraft as part of its fighter fleet. The success and the longevity of the F-16 can be attributed both to its reliance and combat capabilities and to its impressive cost-effectiveness, with the Falcon coming in at a significantly reduced cost compared to its larger fourth-generation counterpart in the F-15.

Its proven track record and cost efficiency have allowed the F-16 to soldier on even in the face of the continued proliferation of more modern fifth-generation stealth fighter aircraft. To ensure that this remains the case, the F-16 is receiving upgrades that will allow it to remain competitive in the air for years to come. Moving beyond the C/D variants of the aircraft that have become commonplace in many air forces around the world, the newest generation of F-16s – labeled the F-16V or “Viper” – are incorporating a number of technological enhancements that will further improve the F-16s combat capabilities.

Here Comes the F-16 Viper

Revealed for the first time in 2012, the Lockheed Martin F-16 Viper makes use of advanced technology leveraged from advanced fifth-generation fighters such as the F-35 and F-22 as a means to improve the F-16V’s interoperability with these aircraft. Perhaps the most significant upgrade incorporated by the F-16 Viper is the installation of the advanced Northrup Grumman APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, which gives the F-16V fifth-generation radar capabilities. The addition of the APG-83 AESA radar affords F-16 pilots greatly enhanced situational awareness by granting greater detection and tracking ranges along with the ability to track more than 20 sperate targets at a time, while also producing high-resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) maps for precision strike operations in all types of environments and offering greatly increased system reliability.

Along with the upgraded radar capabilities, F-16 Vipers are also outfitted with a modern commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) avionics subsystem, an improved Center Pedestal Display (CPD), and an upgraded data bus.

The F-16 Viper is powered by a single Pratt & Whitney engine, and the aircraft has a maximum speed of Mach two alone with a maximum range of 1,740 nautical miles. The Viper is capable of being equipped with a variety of air-to-air weapons systems, and is also able to be outfitted for air-to-ground strikes with both tactical missiles and laser-guided bombs.

The F-16 Viper can either be produced itself or offered as an upgrade package for existing F-16s. To date, a number of countries have ordered either newly produced F-16 Vipers or the upgrade package, including Taiwan, Bahrain, and Bulgaria.

While clearly no fighter jet is perfect, any air force around the world that cannot afford say the F-35 and wants to avoid Russia’s latest weaponry the F-16 Viper seems like a world-class choice.

Written By

Eli Fuhrman is an Assistant Researcher in Korean Studies at the Center for the National Interest and a recent graduate of Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program, where he focusedd on East Asian security issues and U.S. foreign and defense policy in the region.



  1. Slack

    July 23, 2021 at 4:33 pm

    Yup, the viper has star-like qualities and credentials and has earned a sterling reputation in the middle east, but as a military aircraft, can it be better than the (2-crewed) J-16?

    The J-16 has a larger aesa, carries longer range munitions and a second engine plus an extra pair of eyes.

    On the other hand, the F-16 family relying on only a single engine has experienced over 1,500 crashes (actually more).

    And when it comes to cost, the j-16 is likely the less expensive one.

  2. Gael

    July 23, 2021 at 11:25 pm

    Where does the nose wheel go when it retracts?

  3. Ian

    July 24, 2021 at 12:30 pm

    Have you completely lost your mind? A j16 better than the viper? 😂😂😂😂😂 First of all why the hell would you believe china at all about anything? Even if people did believe their b.s. they still can’t muster up any excitement or sales. There is literally nobody that would choose the j16 over a viper. It could be the viper is the best 4th gen aircraft, but I would probably lean towards the f15ex. I would follow that with the Rafale and su35 and the Chinese fighters aren’t even close. The Russians may exaggerate a little but in the case of the su35, it sure does look like the real deal.

  4. Adam Gajewski

    July 24, 2021 at 12:31 pm

    I think you have to add up losses, part availablity, and operational readiness, cost to maintain to the loop. Too much unanswered for, her is the facts I believe. No one and I repeat no one builds aircraft better than the US a far as capability. However our aircraft are much much more finicky to operate and maintain.

  5. Rim Hardigan

    July 24, 2021 at 2:48 pm

    The F-16 has been called the “Viper” for far longer than the F-16V has been on the market; USAF pilots have never referred to it as the “Fighting Falcon.” The nickname “Viper” emerged because airmen thought it resembled the Viper Starfighter in Battlestar Galactica. So, all F-16s are Vipers, not just the F-16V.

    Further, the F-16V is not a recognized military designation for any F-16 model; Lockheed has christened it the “F-16V.” Similarly, Boeing called the new USAF F-15s the “F-15EX,” but it has been officially adopted as the “F-15 Eagle II.”

    The “V” designation for the newest F-16s likely emerged because the previously highest “lettered” F-16 model is the F-16U, flown by the UAE, so “V” is necessary to show that this Viper is the most advanced. So, the “V” in F-16V does not necessarily stand for “F-16 Viper,” although it is a nice coincidence.

  6. Brandon byerly

    July 24, 2021 at 4:54 pm

    Something along the lines of 105/0. F15 no question record probes it.

  7. Brandon byerly

    July 24, 2021 at 4:59 pm

    Something like 105/0 f15 best fighter.

  8. Bill W

    July 24, 2021 at 10:17 pm

    F16XL blocked would be most kickers version ever.

  9. Bill W

    July 24, 2021 at 10:21 pm

    F16 XL Block 72 would be best F16 to ever fly if they would be smart enough to build it–longer range 27 hard points for weapons and Supercross plus thrust vectoring I think on the last one.

  10. Zeke

    July 25, 2021 at 7:06 am

    The F-16 is a great platform, no doubt, and the F-16V in particular an excellent aircraft. But answering the title’s question, technically, the best non-stealth fighter aircraft is the F-15EX, and in small aircraft config / non-restriction access: the Rafale. As for the export F-16’s success, it’s not just related to the aircraft capabilities but more in the LM’s lobbying power: Sale authorization, representative gifts, preferential information…

  11. Name

    July 27, 2021 at 1:48 am

    The articles on this site are almost as hard to read as on TheWarZone. They are so error ridden it’s laughable. As stated above, the “V” in F-16V does NOT stand for Viper. The viper nickname has been with the F-16 since it came into service with the USAF. It would be nice if in the future you would do some research and report accordingly. FOr so called ‘defense reporters” you do a terrible job. Also, your headlines are frustratingly single-minded and not well thought out. You state a something you want to talk about “F-16 Viper” and the ask a question “Best non-stealth fighter ever?” in almost ALL of your article headlines. It’s annoying to look at.

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