The Lockheed F-16 Fighting Falcon has become a legend. It was the star of the 1986 movie, Iron Eagle, in which Doug Masters proved he was a better pilot than Maverick. It serves in many air forces the world over, but one in particular has shown the F-16 a lot of combat action. That’s Israel. All of that combat experience — which includes 47 kills — has lead Israel to make some modifications.
Ilan Ramon’s IAF F-16A Netz 243, which took part in the 1981 Osirak raid. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Zachi Evenor)
This is not a new phenomenon. In 1981, three years after getting their first F-16s, Israel used some Fighting Falcons to take out the Osirak reactor near Baghdad. The flight of almost 700 miles was supposedly beyond the range of the F-16, yet eight Falcons placed 2,000-pound bombs on the target, setting back Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program.
So, just how many Falcons does Israel have? Recent counts state that Israel has 224 F-16C/D/I Fighting Falcons on inventory. This is a substantial force — and these are not stock F-16s. Israel’s hacked the F-16 to make it much better than you might expect.
For instance, while the United States Air Force only uses 370-gallon drop tanks on the F-16, the Israelis use 600-gallon tanks, adding 62 percent more fuel to the external tankage. The Israelis also turned the F-16Ds, normally used as conversion trainers, into precision-strike specialist planes. Israeli planes are also equipped with a lot of Israeli-designed electronic gear, usually for electronic warfare. These hacks have a price – Israeli Vipers are heavier and require modifications to their landing gear.
Despite buying a custom version of the F-15E Strike Eagle, called the F-15I, Israel has opted to stick with their own F-16I won, and not just because its capabilities have been forged by combat use. The F-16I is significantly cheaper than the F-15I. Although Israel is among the countries that will acquire the F-35 Lightning, the F-16 will be around for a long time as a key asset for the Israeli Defense Force.