The Indonesian Defense Ministry in February purchased $22 billion worth of Western fighter jets. Among the powerful platforms soon to be acquired by the Indonesian air force is the newest variant of the American-made F-16 airframe — Block 72.
This newer model of the F-16 Fighting Falcon airframe incorporates many fifth-generation elements that also adorn the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II, making this variant a 4.5-generation platform.
Since entering service in the late 1970s, the F-16 has earned a steady reputation as a formidable fighter, and it continues to fly with dozens of nations across the globe.
Additionally, the Fighting Falcon’s extensive combat experience makes it an appealing, cost-friendly alternative for client states.
Indonesia’s purchase of the Block 72 variant will likely be emulated by other nations – and that’s a smart move for many clear reasons.
F-16: How the Fighting Falcon Rules the Skies
Developed by General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin), the F-16 fighter was designed to achieve air superiority.
A fighter tactics instructor in the Korean War collaborated with a mathematician to create an airframe with elevated combat potential.
The energy-maneuverability equation that emerged from their efforts guided the development of the F-16.
The Falcon’s smaller frame and increased thrust-to-weight ratio greatly improved air-to-air training for pilots. Since the fighter is all-weather capable, it can effectively strike targets during non-visual bombing conditions.
Perhaps the most significant perk lending to the Falcon’s export success is the fighter’s inexpensive makeup.
Although the Falcon lacks the range of the F-15 Eagle, it costs less than half to produce it.
The Fighting Falcon’s first combat success dates back to 1981, when Israel’s air force used its new fleet of F-16 fighters to take out Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor, using 16 MK-84 bombs. The U.S. Air Force’s fleet of Falcons first saw action during the Gulf War a decade later.
F-16s were then the standard fighter for U.S. and NATO air campaigns over Iraq, Syria, and the former Yugoslavia.
What Sets the F-16 Block 70/72 Apart?
The Block 70 and Block 72 variants of the F-16 airframe feature the same capabilities and are only differentiated by their engine. Block 70 variants sport the General Electric F110, while the Block 72 models are powered by the Pratt & Whitney F100 engine.
Both models feature an advanced upgrade package that includes the AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar, a modernized cockpit with new safety elements, conformal fuel tanks, and advanced weapons.
The 70/72 Block variants also have a prolonged service life of 12,000 hours, which is roughly 50% more than its predecessors. The APG-83 AESA radar included with the Block 70/72 upgrades leverages hardware and software commonality with the F-22 and F-35 fifth-generation fighters.
According to The Defense Post, “the radar is linked with a new active and passive internal electronic warfare system (Viper Shield), incorporating a new digital radar warning receiver.”
Since its introduction, at least five nations have opted to procure the F-16 Block 70/72 in the near future.
Bahrain is set to receive 16 Block 70 jets, and Bulgaria and Jordan also have placed orders. Indonesia’s air force has an existing fleet of F-16 fighters, making the Ministry’s recent announcement to procure the newer Block 72 airframes a no-brainer.
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.