Whenever I interview a modern fighter pilot, the subject of how his or her fighter compares to the F-16 in a close-in fight is always brought up. I collated these answers for a snapshot of how the pilots of other types (including the ‘Flanker’, Gripen and Rafale) rate the formidable Viper.
(The full interviews can be found on this site, I will link to them in a later edit)
Mirage 2000 versus F-16
“An interesting question – I must have flown against the F-14, F-15, F-16, F-18, Tornado F3, F-8 Crusader and the F-104 Starfighter in combat. The older generation didn’t stand a chance, but the F-16 block 50 was very good. One of the drawbacks of the Mirage 2000 being unique was that as we did a lot of 1vs 1 and 2vs 2 Mirage vs Mirage combat – you developed tactics and handling skills to fight Mirage vs Mirage. This actually was counter productive as these tactics -and the way you handled the aircraft – didn’t cross over to fighting other types. I got beaten by an F-16 by fighting him like a Mirage and learnt a painful lesson. “DACT was interesting in the M2000 – if your opponent was new to fighting a delta it could make his eyes water! At the merge the initial 9G+ turn was eye-watering, despite having a single engine it could still reach heights other fighters like the F-16 couldn’t. It also possessed, in my opinion, a far more sophisticated fly-by-wire system – it was in effect limitless. I managed to put a Mirage 2000 into the vertical whilst being chased and held the manoeuvre a few seconds too long – when I looked into my HUD I was in the pure vertical at 60 knots and decelerating ! As we hit Zero the aircraft began to slide backwards and the ‘burner blew out. My heart-rate increased. As the aircraft went beyond its design envelope, the nose simply flopped over pointing earthwards – with a few small turns the airspeed picked up. As I hit 200 knots I simply flew the aircraft back to straight and level. I admit that my opponent did shoot me down, but he did say it looked spectacular. This sort of carefree handling gave pilots huge confidence in the aircraft”
— Ian Black
Gripen versus F-16
Would you be confident facing an F-16?
“Absolutely. I can’t think of anything the F-16 would be better at, if we don’t count ease of refuelling (F-16 is refuelled with a boom and the boom operator does much of the job). Of course, there’s a lot of details and circumstances here, but generally the Gripen is a step or two ahead, especially in my favourite areas. As mentioned, I really like pilot UI and large screens, and F-16 is lacking a bit in that area, so maybe I’m a bit biased. I do like the F16’s side-stick though! I have flown an F-16 and I loved the stick. It didn’t take many minutes to get used to the stiffer stick, and it’s more ergonomic for the pilot in high-Gs (and probably for long missions) to have it on the side. Flying in close formation with another fighter was almost as easy as with the Gripen.”
“I’ve flown against F-16s and F-18s. No surprises really, they are what they are. The F-16s are a lot like the Gripens but you can claw yourself closer and closer to their behind, if that is your goal.
For F-18s you have to look out for their ability to do high AOA turns for quick point-and-shoot. They will be sitting ducks after such a move though. The Gripen ‘carves’ through the air better then both and you will not lose as much speed when turning. Saying that, I believe that ACM is mostly a curiosity today, but a damn fun one and good for training aircraft handling. The IRIS-T missile is so good (and as are others) that everything you can see with your eyes is basically within your Weapon Employment Zone, WEZ. You can of course end up in a ‘furball’, having to fight your way out with guns, but it would suboptimal to craft fighters for that purpose today, as anyone with a missile left would win hands down. So, it’s always better to opt for one more missile than guns, if we’re talking ACM.
I know the guys in the Swedish Air Force are very keen to fly their Gripens in air combat manoeuvres against Denmark’s and Norway’s F-35s. I think you can guess why.”
–– Lieutenant Mikael Grev, full interview here
F/A-18C Hornet versus F-16
What is the best way to fight an F-16? And the worst?
“Throughout my career I flew against F-16s many times and in my opinion, it was the hardest of the 4th generation fighters to beat. It was small, had a lot of thrust, and a very impressive 9G turn. The F-16 had a turn rate advantage and much better thrust to weight when compared to the F/A-18C. The F/A-18C had a better turn radius and could fly at a higher angle of attack (AOA) than the F-16. The best way to fight an F-16 is in a 1 circle fight, usually in the vertical. Getting the Hornet’s nose on first to try and get an early shot, whether with a missile or the gun. The key would be to get the F-16 reacting to the Hornet, bleeding energy, and getting slow. At slow airspeeds, the F/A-18’s AOA advantage meant I could point my nose easily and get a shot. The worst way to fight against an F-16 would be two circle fight on the Horizon. The F-16s 9G turn and superior thrust to weight would give him a better turn rate and the F-16 would out turn the Hornet. If an F/A-18 tried to match the F-16 turn rate, the Hornet would get bleed energy and its turn rate would continue to be less than the F-16.
Like all fighters, most of the ability of a fighter plane to fight is dependent on the skill of the pilot. The F-16’s performance, much like the Hornet’s, would suffer if it was carrying external stores. A slick Viper (F-16) flown by an experienced pilot was a beast and was always a tough fight. There was a Air Force reserve squadron out of Luke that was full of experienced pilots, all of them had at least a thousand hours in the Viper. They always flew slick Vipers and they were a tough fight for an F/A-18C which always had at least one external tank and two pylons. This reserve squadron also went on that Key West Det. From what I saw and experienced, in a pure visual fight a slick Hornet was better in the visual arena than a slick Viper. I rate the F-16 pilots from that reserve squadron in Luke as the best I ever fought and in the visual arena the Hornet more than held it’s own on that Key West det.”
Find out how F-15 and JF-17 pilots rate the F-16 here.
Rafale versus F-16
Which aircraft have you flown DACT against?
“Against F-16, against Typhoon, against Super Hornets. Against Harrier. Against Alpha Jet. Against Mirage 2000.”
…which was the most challenging?
“The F-16 is pretty cool. Typhoon is a joke, very easy to shoot. F-16 actually was a good surprise actually, I found it to be a pretty good aircraft. I think the most challenging was the F-16, it’s a pretty small jet so it’s easy to lose sight of it. So I think that was the big one.”
Typhoon versus F-16
What’s the best way to defeat an F-16 in within visual range fight? How difficult is it as an opponent? “The Typhoon is a superior fighter within visual range though we must always remember that we are not fighting the aircraft but the pilot.”
Of the aircraft you have you trained against — which was the hardest opponent and why? “I fought a Top Gun instructor out of Nellis Air Force base and he was in an F-16. I was not very experienced at the time though managed to defeat him – he did, however, make it very difficult!”
— Squadron Leader Roger Cruickshank, full interview here
MiG-29 versus F-16
How confident would a MiG-29 pilot feel going against a modern F-16?
“In a modern MiG-29 like the upgraded one or the M version, and trained well, I feel the pilot should be supremely confident against the modern F-16.”
— Air Marshal Harish Masand, full interview here
Su-30 versus F-16
What was your most memorable mission?
“Well there have been many over the years but a few that stand out are as follows: –
DACT with F-16 Block 60*of Republic of Singapore Air Force.
(*Ed: think these are actually Block 52)
The strongest adversary that we could possibly face in our life as a fighter pilot was the F-16 of PAF (for obvious reasons). So the excitement of facing an F-16, even in a mock combat was unbelievable. The weight of the mission was overbearing! Perhaps that’s what makes it special. As the combat commenced, we manoeuvred for our lives and in very little time the situation was in our favour! The desperate calls from the F-16, “Flare, Flare, Flare!” are very distinctly audible in my ears even today! From that day, the anxiety that prevailed over facing an F-16 in combat was gone forever…. vanished! It was clear what the outcome would be!”
“Another mission that stand out is a group combat mission that was pitching a Su-30 & one MiG-21 BISON against three F-16 . As luck would have it, the BISON did not get airborne and now the game was one Su-30 vs three F-16 in a BVR scenario. Again, we pushed the envelope, manoeuvred between 3000 ft to 32000 ft, pulling up to 8 g, turning, tumbling, firing and escaping missiles in a simulated engagement. The crew co-ordination between us in the cockpit and the fighter controller on the ground was the best that I have ever seen! The results in a mock combat are always contentious but with ACMI, they are more reliable. End score: one F-16 claimed without loss. When we got out of the cockpit we were thoroughly drenched in sweat and tired from the continuous high G manoeuvring but all smiles for the ecstasy that we had just experienced.”
Which aircraft have you flown DACT against and which was the most challenging?
“In the Su-30 I have flown DACT with RSAF (Royal Singapore Air Force) F-16, M-2000 H /5[ FAF], MiG -29 amongst the ASFs. I think the most challenging was the M2000 in France. The carefree manoeuvrability of the Mirage its nose profile and avionics package perhaps gave it an edge over the others. The F-16 beyond the initial turn loses steam, the MiG -29 is very powerful but conventional controls maybe …. . A good Mirage guy can manoeuvre more carefree.”
— Gp Capt Anurag Sharma, full interview here
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