Procurement: F-16 Beats The F-35


March 31, 2010: Romania finally approved a two year old deal to buy 48 U.S. F-16 fighters for $4.5 billion. Half will be the latest model, the F-16C Block 50. The others will be used, and reconditioned to F-16C Block 25 standards. The used F-16s will arrive in two years, but the new ones won't arrive until 2020. Romania could have waited a few years and bought the new F-35 instead, but that would have cost them more money (nearly $6 billion for just 24). Romania did the math and realized that 48 F-16s would be more than adequate to handle any neighborhood spats. And if Russia became a problem, Romania is now a member of NATO, and capable of calling on some very big allies. There's still the possibility of buying some F-35s in the 2020s, but there's plenty of time to work out the best way to deal with that.

Romania is not alone in saving money by purchasing used F-16s. Five years ago, Chile bought ten new F-16s (Block 50 models) from the U.S., for $50 million each. Chile also bought 18 used F-16s (Block 20 models) from the Netherlands for $10 million each. Noting that the well maintained used aircraft performed as well as the new built ones, Chile continues shopping around for more used F-16s, to replace 16 elderly F-5s that are about to retire, and 24 Mirages 50s that were recently retired. There are a lot of used F-16s for sale, so buyers have a lot of good opportunities to explore. Chile is looking for another 18 F-16s, and the Netherlands is seen as the most likely supplier. Chile isn't the only nation taking advantage of the used fighter market. Chile also considered the air power capabilities of its neighbors, and concluded that a mix of new and used F-16s would be more than adequate.

While the U.S. still has about 1,300 F-16s in service (about half with reserve units), over 4,200 were produced, and America has hundreds in storage. The end of the Cold War in 1991 led to a sharp cut in U.S. Air Force fighter squadrons. Moreover, the new F-35 will be replacing all U.S. F-16s in the next decade. So the U.S. has plenty of little-used F-16s sitting around, and an ally that it would like to beef up militarily.

 F-16s are still produced for export, and these cost as much as $70 million each (the F-16I for Israel). Some nations, like South Korea, build the F-16 under license. A used F-16C, built in the 1990s, goes for about $10 million on the open market.

 The 16 ton F-16 has an admirable combat record, and is very popular with pilots. It has been successful at ground support as well. When equipped with 4-6 smart bombs, it is a very effective bomber.



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