The US Navy is seeking congressional support to fund the acquisition of 18 Lockheed Martin F-16s and upgrade its 36 Northrop F-5E/Fs to expand its adversary fighter programme.

A recent report submitted to Congress reveals that the USN in the last fiscal year generated fewer than 13,000 aggressor sorties, or around 33% of the required core and lower priority non-core sorties. This includes a shortfall of 9,866 sorties in US Navy and Marine Corps high-priority adversary requirements.

While the number of USN and USMC operational aircraft has fallen from 1,318 to 878 over the last 10 years, the report notes the ratio of combat to adversary fighters has risen while the "fleet continues to demand a more robust adversary programme". This is largely because of the loss of four out of seven adversary squadrons and the retirement of 34 McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawks and 24 F-16Ns in the mid-1990s.

"Eighteen additional dedicated dissimilar Category 4 [Cat 4] aircraft are desired to address this shortfall. The most available aircraft capable of providing the Cat 4 service is the F-16," says the report. A Cat 4 threat is a late 1980s or early 1990s fighter, while the F-5 simulates Cat 2/3 fighters of 1960-70s vintage.

The navy operates a third adversary squadron equipped with 12 Boeing F/A-18A Hornets, but it contends the aircraft cannot simulate "high-end supersonic speeds of most fighter threats". Also, the aircraft cannot be viewed as dissimilar when USN and USMC fleets largely comprise F/A-18s.

After a review of stored F-16s, the USN has decided the only suitable aircraft are 28 Block 15OCU aircraft built for Pakistan, but never delivered because of a US embargo. The aircraft are again available after New Zealand cancelled a lease deal (Flight International, 28 March -3 April).

The F-16s would supplement the F-5s, which the USN wants to upgrade and retain until 2015. Replacement of the Emerson APG-153/159 radar with a Cat 4-type system is viewed as a "partial solution" to the high-threat shortfall.

A lower-cost alternative to the F-16s might be to acquire more F-5E/Fs and the navy has opened talks with potential foreign suppliers to determine the cost. A plan to lease 18 ex-Canadian CF-5A/Bs was dropped after it was determined the aircraft had "significantly less manoeuvring capability than the current low-end F-5s"

Source: Flight International