One of the smallest countries in Europe is set to become the latest country to buy the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Slovakia will soon operate the most advanced F-16 fighter in existence: the F-16V, or Block 70.
The F-16 was borne of the U.S. Air Force’s lightweight fighter program from the Cold War era. Developed in the 1970s, the fighter jet was meant to be a maneuverable, relatively inexpensive plane to complement the Air Force's larger, more capable fighters, and to fill the inventories of smaller air forces worldwide. NATO allies, South Korea, Indonesia, and other countries relatively friendly to the United States flew the plane. In many ways, the F-16 was the F-35 of its time. In many countries, like the Norway, the Netherlands, and Turkey, the F-35 is now replacing older F-16s.
As for Slovakia, the nation spent much of the 20th century as part of Czechoslovakia, a Warsaw Pact state allied with the USSR. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Warsaw Pact, and Soviet Union, the country split into two new countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The latter suddenly inherited a pile of aging Cold War tech, took possession of , and .
But MiG fighters are old and can’t be easily integrated into NATO’s defense architecture, so Slovakia went shopping for new jets. The small country needed a small, single-engine fighter, which left them with the choice of the Swedish Gripen and the American F-16. The F-16 has now won the competition, and defense contractor Lockheed Martin will supply 14 F-16Vs by 2023.
The features a number of improvements over many older Falcons, including those operated by the U.S. Air Force. One of the most important is the integration of the Northrop Grumman Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR, or "Sabre"), which has greater long-range detection and tracking compared to previous tech. SABR can not only detect aerial targets but moving targets on the ground or at sea, giving it a multi-mission capability. The jet also features a Central Pedestal Display that displays data in a six-by-eight-inch LCD display between the pilot’s legs, an advanced friend-or-foe recognition system, and an automatic ground-collision avoidance system.
The F-16V features the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System II that cues weapons and sensors to the pilot’s line of sight, giving the pilot an edge over adversaries in dogfights. For self-defense, it features a fully modern suite of active and passive electronic warfare systems, including a dual chaff/flare dispenser for distracting radar and infrared-guided missiles. Conformal wing tanks fitted over the left and right wing roots supply 600 gallons per tank, allowing the F-16V to fly farther than previous F-16 versions.
Over the years, the F-16V has evolved from a lightweight fighter carrying just short-range missiles and unguided “iron” bombs to a vastly more capable fighter carrying beyond visual range missiles and precision-guided bombs. For air-to-air combat, the F-16V can carry the short-range AIM-9X Sidewinder infrared guided missile and the medium- to long-range AIM-120 AMRAAM radar-guided missile. Against ground targets the F-16V can carry iron bombs, Paveway III laser guided bombs up to 2,000 pounds, and GPS-guided Joint Directed Attack Munition bombs of up to 2,000 pounds. The F-16V has 11 hardpoints for carrying fuel, weapons, and sensors, two more than the original F-16.
Slovakia could have, like other smaller countries, elected to give up its fighter jets and focus on funding other military capabilities (New Zealand comes to mind). A larger military and a small force of modern fighters will give the country more clout within NATO, something especially useful for a small country surrounded by larger, more powerful neighbors.