When I read about the A-10 I'm met with statements (e.g. Wikipedia) such as:

The A-10 is exceptionally tough, being able to survive direct hits from armor-piercing and high-explosive projectiles up to 23 mm. It has double-redundant hydraulic flight systems, and a mechanical system as a back up if hydraulics are lost.

What about the F-16 (from A to the latest block 70/72, maybe even F-21 should be included)? Will even small arms fire risk killing the pilot as well as destroying vital systems?

Although it was not designed as a ground attack aircraft, it seems that its role in ground support missions becomes more and more prevalent. The aircraft has also shifted its design goals from being as light and fast as possible to be heavier and feature more complex systems. The F-16's weight seems to only go up with each revision.

If the F-16 is supposed to loiter and provide ground support, it seems that some light (composite? Kevlar?) protection for at least the pilot from small arms fire and slightly heavier weapons would not be a bad idea. Keep in mind that I'm naive about this though, which is why I'm humbly asking.

From what little I know about the F-16, I believe it has quadruple redundant flight computers for its fly-by-wire system, and also has a redundant hydraulics systems (A and B, isolated by a check valve) which both can operate the FLCS (although beyond this, there are differences, A and B are not duplicates), and the EPU.

Design choices like this are obviously there to ensure the F-16 survives when systems fail. However, perhaps they are intended to ensure safe fail-over in terms of non-combat damage and failure.

I also understand that adding armor to a light and agile combat aircraft would be painful, as it adds weight and reduces flight time, makes the airframe thicker with perhaps slightly higher surface area/drag coefficient (?), and probably adds stress to an airframe that is supposed to be able to pull many G's in combat.

I've never heard of any armor whatsoever on the F-16. However, maybe there is? Is there any protection at all, to protect the pilot, or any of its critical systems (flight control computers?)? If no armor, perhaps the flight computers (of which I understand there are multiple physical ones), are they placed in different locations in the aircraft to make it less likely they are all lost from damage in the same location?

As a bonus question, this philosophy of no armor at all on fast combat aircraft, does this extend to most other aircraft? If there are a few notable exceptions, it would be nice to have a couple of the noteworthy ones mentioned (not looking for an exhaustive list).


1 Answer 1


No. The aircraft in question do not have ballistic protection, though they do offer system redundancy for battle damage and have to meet certain survivability criteria in live fire tests during development.

Just a note: the only armor an A-10 carries is a titanium pressure vessel for a cockpit which can take the kind of ballistic punishment you described. It’s main defense is system redundancy, self sealing fuel tanks and engines mounted well away from the airframe and fuel.

Again the chief reasons combat aircraft do not carry external ballistic armor is any kind of armor over the exterior which can deflect the kind of AP/HE/Frag type warheads used in AAA/AAM/SAM warheads would make the aircraft prohibitively heavy and drastically reduce the warload and performance metrics the airplane needs to survive in combat. And fighters like the F-16 and F-22 are considerably more vulnerable to enemy fire with engine surrounded by fuel tanks, causing even properly placed small arms fire to be catastrophic.

  • $\begingroup$ On the other hand, if you're armoured heavily enough to shrug off missile hits, you don't need spectacular performance to survive. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Oct 10, 2019 at 22:10
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The A10 canopy is obviously not titanium and is part of the pressure vessel. Only the windscreen in the canopy is armored, rated for small arms fire. The titanium 'bathtub' is rated for 23mm high explosive and armor piercing cannon fire from most likely directions. $\endgroup$
    – Pilothead
    Oct 10, 2020 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Vikki said airplane would also be useless for a fighter, let alone even being able to fly. $\endgroup$ May 6, 2023 at 14:31

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