The US Navy was the only operator of the special N-series of the F-16. They were specifically designed for the Navy to be used as agressor aircraft in a dissimilar combat environment. The airframes featured a strenghtened structure and although derivatives of the C/D-models they had the older APG-66 radar installed.
|US Navy aggressor: VF-45 'Blackbirds' TF-16N #163281 [Photo by Keith]|
F-16N & TF-16N
The U.S. Navy announced in January 1985 that it had selected the F-16 to fulfil its dissimilar air combat training (DACT) requirement. The F-16s were going to be used as adversary aircraft, emulating Soviet aircraft capabilities and tactics. A total of 22 single seat F-16N's and four two-seat TF-16N trainers were ordered by the Navy.
The F-16N and F-16N aircraft were based on F-16 Block 30E models, and were all built during 1987/1988. They were optimized for one thing only: the Dissimilar Air Combat Training mission. The airframes were made lighter, and they were strengthened to cope with the continuous high-G loads associated with air combat manoeuvring. To save weight, the F-16N was fitted with the less cabable but lighter APG-66 radar of earlier F-16A/B models, the M61 A1 internal gun was removed, and all provisions for external stores were removed. All F-16Ns used the General Electric F110-GE-100 engine. TF-16N models are identical to F-16Ns except for the addition of a second seat.
Deliveries of the F-16N to the Navy began in early 1987 and ended in May 1988. In April 1987, VF-126 Bandits based at NAS Miramar achieved IOC with 6 aircraft. Three other units followed: VF-45 Blackbirds from NAS Key West, VF-43 Challengers from NAS Oceana, and the Navy Fighter Weapons School at NAS Miramar. The latter operated one aircraft in "Marines" markings to represent the USMC's participation in the adversary program.
Despite the fact that (T)F-16Ns were strenghtened, the airframes were experiencing metal fatigue before the end of their operational lifetime. This resulted in their premature withdrawal from service. In 1991, the Navy temporarily grounded its F-16 fleet. The adversary training mission was more and more shifted to F-14s and F-18s. Finally, in 1994, the US Navy announced the retirment of the (T)F-16N fleet; the last F-16N arrived at Davis-Monthan AFB in January 1995.
Embargoed Pakistani F-16s
After the withdrawal of the (T)F-16N's, the Navy found itself lacking a high performance aggressor aircraft, and the decision was made to re-introduce the F-16. Fourteen airframes, ordered by Pakistan in the early nineties but never delivered to the country because of a weapons embargo, were taken out of storage and delivered to the Navy. Since the aircraft were stored at AMARC straight from the production line, these airframes have a very low airframe life, making them useful for the demanding aggressor task. These aircraft are also the last Block 15s ever built, and are more advanced than any other F-16A/B stored at AMARC. Additional Pakistani aircraft will go to the USAF.
|U.S. Navy F-16B #92-0460, one of fourteen embargoed Pakistani F-16s, now used for Dissimilar Air Combat Training by the Navy. [Tailslides photo by Fred Krause]|
Modifications & Armament
The F-16N was optimized to conduct DACT. The only 'armament' they could carry was an ACMI pod under the engine intake.
Contrary to normal C/D models, these aircraft had the earlier A/B models' AN/APG-66 radar installed, mainly to save weight. The (T)F-16N aircraft were fitted with an ALR-69 radar warning receiver, instead of the standard ALR-56M fitted to USAF F-16s, plus an ALE-40 chaff/flare dispenser.
It is worth noting that even though the U.S. Navy F-16Ns and TF-16Ns retained the standard runway arrestor hook fitted to all F-16s, it was not able to land on aircraft carriers. The F-16 and its landing gear in particular are simply not designed to absorb the high impact energy associated with carrier landings. The arrestor hook is used only in emergencies, e.g. to prevent runway overruns.