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US Air Force looking for a new 4.5-generation fighter jet to replace F-16

The US Air Force is looking for a new clean sheet 4.5-generation fighter jet to replace its F-16 Fighting Falcon fleet. 

The officials were once thinking of replacing the F-16s with the 5th-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. But the cost of the later jet remains sky-high. 

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So the officials are looking for another budget-conscious, clean sheet fighter jet whose capabilities fall between F-35 and F-16. It lacks the stealth of the 5th-generation F-35 JSF jet but could pack many of its other features. 

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US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown said that the Air Force would like a new fighter jet to replace the F-16 with capabilities somewhere between F-16 and F-35. 

General said during a Defense Writers Group, “If we have the capability to do something even more capable for cheaper and faster, why not? Let’s not just buy off the shelf, let’s actually take a look at something else out there that we can build.” 

He added, “Now I will also tell you I don’t think that everybody’s going to exactly agree with what I say. But I want to actually have a starting point, as a point of departure, a point of dialog.” Breaking Defense reported. 

According to Breaking Defense, Gen. Brown is launching a study, in sequence with the Department of Defense’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), on the service’s future mix of tactical aircraft.

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He said the goal is to finalize the study in time before the Air Force’s 2023 budget request. “In the budget for FY23, that’s where I see that we will really make some key decisions.” 

Gen. Brown elaborated, the study will include a clean-sheet design for a new four-and-a-half-generation or fifth-generation minus fighter jet to replace the F-16.

In particular Brown said he would like to see any F-16 replacement support “open mission systems” that would allow near-real-time software updates to meet new threats. Breaking Defense reported. 

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He explained we need 5th-generation F-35 fighter jets to remain competitive against our adversaries and to maintain our Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD). 

The study will be based on “facts” and “not just opinions”. Gen. Brown stressed. To ensure service gets the right answers requires some modeling and simulation and analysis and that’s what I plan to do here over the coming months. 


The US Air Force may be looking to replace its F-16 Fighting Falcons with a new relatively cheap 4.5-generation aircraft in near future to maintain its air dominance and to be one step ahead of its adversaries. 

On the other hand, Gen. Brown did not appear to offer a solid reason why the Air Force would develop a new plane, but one obvious reason to replace F-16s and to remain competitive against its adversaries in future combats is the cost-effective solution.


  1. Popular Mechanics
  2. Breaking Defense
  3. Aviation Week
  4. Real Clear Defense
  5. Defense News