It appears to a naive layman like myself that the QF-16 is an excellent platform to use for remote controlled missions akin to that of other drones. Except that the F-16 appears to have a broader mission envelope than a Predator or Global Hawk. For one, the F-16 is in general quite capable against the majority of the world's active combat aircraft. As I'm sure anyone qualified to answer knows better than myself, it has a proven record in a variety of air to air missions, dogfighting, and ground attack missions.

Are there any other drones, besides the QF-16 that are even remotely as capable, in comparison, and that already exist, in large numbers, like the QF-16?

The benefits of this should be obvious. The QF-16 is after all a disposable aircraft, yet one that is at least somewhat capable. With a drone, no pilot life is at risk. With an autonomous drone, no pilot is required at all for the actual fight, only planning of the mission. This should be an obvious advantage, and from what little I can tell, various---albeit less capable---drones exploit this advantage already.

Just to provide some more context: Many interesting things can be easily imagined, the F-22/F-35 often talks of using fourth generation aircraft as a "force multiplier" by feeding them data from its sensors, such as target information. Such a force multiplier with autonomous, disposable aircraft seems rather interesting to say the least.

I'd like the know if there are any plans to use the QF-16 as a drone for combat missions, and if not, why not?

I'd also like to know if there are any plans to use the QF-16 as an autonomous fighter, as in, program the target into the aircraft, and send it on its way, and have it return, all without any pilot input.

The last question is the most interesting to me. Is there any publicly known research in this direction? Towards making autonomous combat aircraft? Perhaps the QF-16 platform is greatly underpowered both in terms of hardware and avionics (sensors) to realistically (even if the software could be developed) to act in such a manner.

Are there any plans for such things? If not, why not? Are other aircraft in consideration, or is it in general a bad idea? Why?


1 Answer 1


There seems to be some ongoing research into just that:

There is an effort underway to develop a UAV version of the F-16. This would be based on the QF-16, the remotely controlled target version of the F-16. The air force is already in the process of converting 210 retired F-16s to QF-16s and it was noted that with a little extra work the QF-16 could be turned into a combat UAV for dangerous missions like SEAD (suppression of enemy defenses) or attacking ground targets guarded by heavy air defenses.

Other research is often related to sixth generation fighters, which are often described as being "optionally manned" meaning that they can fly with or without a crew onboard.

F-16s currently being converted into QF-16s are older models which are likely to require more maintenance per flight hour, and as always it is a matter of capability vs cost vs other platforms. The biggest question for such a conversion is whether or not an imagined MQ-16 would bring capabilities not already covered by existing UAVs to the table, and how expensive it would be to support this.

  • $\begingroup$ "The biggest question for such a conversion is whether or not an imagined MQ-16 would bring capabilities not already covered by existing UAVs to the table" Dogfighters capable of pulling >10G turns, since they don't have to worry about killing a squishy human flying around inside them. Also, reduced injuries for your pilots since they aren't getting injured by the extreme G-loads a fighter aircraft can exert during a dogfight. $\endgroup$
    – nick012000
    Aug 31, 2019 at 15:29

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