The U.S.-made F-16 Fighting Falcon might arrive in Ukraine in the upcoming months. Kyiv has long wanted to acquire these formidable fourth-generation fighter jets to supplement its aerial capabilities against Moscow. Earlier this year, the Biden administration reversed its policy of not providing these airframes to Ukraine, and Washington also gave its NATO allies permission to do so.
Ukraine might not be the only nation to acquire F-16s in 2023. According to recent reports, a budding partnership between Washington and Hanoi could culminate in the sale to Vietnam of the latest F-16 iteration. The Southeast Asian nation is facing escalating tensions with Beijing in the South China Sea, making the potential deal with Washington more significant.
Any deal is still in its early stages, but talks between Washington and Hanoi indicate that security cooperation between the two countries is growing.
A deal to send F-16s to Vietnam would not only anger Beijing, but also undercut Russian industry. Moscow has been one of Hanoi’s major military equipment suppliers. The Vietnamese Air Force has flown a variety of Russian fighter jets, including the Su-27, Su-30, and Su-22. If Hanoi does agree to purchase the American platform, Moscow would lose out on money it desperately needs to fuel its invasion of Ukraine.
Introducing the F-16 Fighting Falcon
Following the U.S. Air Force’s experience in the Vietnam War, the service recognized the need for air superiority fighters. General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman were tasked with studying design theories that would lead to the Advanced Day Fighter concept. The service required an air-to-air day fighter that could fly at Mach 1.6 and reach altitudes of up to 40,000 feet.
General Dynamics’ YF-16 prototype was selected in the early 1970s. The Fighting Falcon featured a frameless bubble canopy and the first use of a relaxed static stability/fly-by-wire flight control system. Over the decades, the F-16 became a mainstay of the U.S. Air Force and built an honorable service history in combat. While the U.S. no longer purchases the formidable airframe itself, new iterations are still exported to other nations.
Over the years, the F-16 has undergone a series of facelifts to retain its edge over competing jets. The latest variant, Block 70/72, is fitted with the Active Electronically Scanned Array radar and a new avionics architecture, in addition to a litany of other upgrades.
As detailed by The Aviation Geek Club, “F-16 Block 70/72 software takes advantage of technologies not available when earlier Block F-16s were developed and produced. Operational capabilities are enhanced through an advanced datalink, targeting pod and weapons; precision GPS navigation and the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS).”
Hanoi has everything to gain by procuring the latest Fighting Falcon variant, though potential future deals with Moscow could get in the way.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is 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. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.
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