January 29, 2010:
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Air Force is spending $290 million to buy 1,600 U.S. Paveway laser guided bombs for its 80 F-16E fighters. This is bad news for Iran, which is the most likely target for the F-16Es. This is the most advanced version of the F-16, and has an additional conformal (it blends into the fuselage of the aircraft) fuel tank that gives it a range of 1,600 kilometers. That makes the F-16Es, and their laser guided bombs, capable of reaching any part of Iran. The Gulf Arabs are taking advantage of the fact that Iran has been unable (because of embargos and budget problems) to upgrade their air force and air defenses over the last three decades. The Iranians have long feared American F-16s carrying smart bombs, but now they have Gulf Arabs equipped to deliver the same kind of punishment. The Gulf Arabs are hoping that this keeps Iran from getting too aggressive.
The UAE occupies much of the western coast of the Persian Gulf, but has a population of less than three million and armed forces of only 65,000. There are 70 million Iranians, and about half a million of them are in the military. While the Iranian air force only has about 200 operational, and quite elderly, combat aircraft, sheer numbers can be encouraging to the Iranians. The UAE has a hundred, much more modern, warplanes, and it uses the training assistance from the U.S. Air Force, to provide a qualitative edge. The Americans also work with UAE commanders to figure out what kind of surprises the Iranians might try to pull. Arab nations fear the Iranians, who have dominated the region for thousands of years, and have a long history of coming up with imaginative tactics, and using them aggressively and often with success. Meanwhile, the Saudis have a larger air force than the UAE, and it's believed that the Iranians must have some kind of surprises planned, to deal with this imbalance in air power.
The UAE hopes to even things with one of the two most advanced versions of the F-16 (which are both in use by foreign air forces). The UAE has 80 "Desert Falcons" (the F-16E) which is optimized for air combat. It is a 22 ton aircraft based on the Block 52 model, but with an AESA (phased array) radar and lots of other additional goodies, including excellent ground attack capabilities. The UAE invested $3 billion to develop, build and test the additional features found in the F-16E.
The U.S. F-16 is one of the most modified jet fighters in service. While most are still called the F-16C, there are actually six major mods, identified by block number (32, 40, 42, 50, 52, 60), plus the Israeli F-16I, is a major modification of the Block 52. The other special version (the Block 60), for the UAE, is called the F-16E. The F-16D is a two seat trainer version of F-16Cs. The various block mods included a large variety of new components (five engines, four sets of avionics, five generations of electronic warfare gear, five radars and many other mechanical, software, cockpit and electrical mods.) The F-16 is the most numerous post-Cold War jet fighter, with over 4,200 built, and more in production. During The Cold War, Russia built over 10,000 MiG-21s, and the U.S over 5,000 F-4s, but since 1991, warplane manufacturing has plummeted about 90 percent. However, the F-16 has been popular enough to keep the production lines going strong.