It’s time for the F-35 to start blowing up old F-16s

QF 16
The first QF-16 target aircraft at Tyndall Air Force Base, 19 November 2012. US Air Force photo by Chris Cokeing

Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle of the US Air Force recently declared a squadron of 15 unmanned F-16s operationally capable, IHS Jane’s reports.

These drone versions of the F-16s, called QF-16s, will provide targets for the US Air Force as they test out new weapons capabilities on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

“The QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target will provide the next generation of combat training and testing for US warfighters,” a Boeing statement on the drones said.

While it may seem like a costly target just to be blown up by an F-35 testing out a new missile capability, they actually serve to provide a realistic target, and are economical to some extent because they’re made from older, retired F-16 airframes.

“The QF-16 will replace the existing QF-4 fleet, and provide a higher capability, fourth generation aerial target that is more representative of today’s targets and threats,” the Boeing statement continued.

Having realistic targets to train against will help the F-35 pilots. F-35 Joint Program Office

“This leap forward in airframe capabilities, combined with advanced electronic pods, will allow us to properly test and evaluate our 5th generation aircraft and weapons,” Lt. Col. Matthew Garrison, 82nd Aerial Target Squadron commander at Tyndall, told C4ISRNET in an email.

In fact, an F-35 already participated in a test where an QF-16 drone was shot down, though it did so with an SM-6 missile fired from a land-based silo.

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