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Research Report

Learning from the F-16

Gary Schaub
Copyright Date: Apr. 1, 2015
Pages: 53
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Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 1-4)

    On 11 June 1975, the Danish parliament authorized the acquisition of 48 F-16 combat aircraft, with an option to acquire 10 more, by a vote of 114 to 48.¹ At 2.65 billion Danish Kroner (DKK), this was the largest military acquisition in Danish history. Each F-16 was expected to have a useful service life of 4000 hours—or roughly 20 years.² The first F-16 was delivered to Denmark in 1980 and deliveries continued through 1985. It was therefore to be expected that they would require replacement in the 2000–2005 timeframe; however, a refurbishment program in the 1990s enabled the...

  2. (pp. 4-12)

    Denmark is a small state with limited resources in a geographic location that rendered it both valuable and difficult to defend. The flat terrain of Denmark presents few barriers to invasion. It sits astride the entrance to the Baltic Sea, the key waterway connecting the Baltic to the North Atlantic Ocean. Its possession, Greenland, is strategically located between Europe and North America,14 and Bornholm provided a window into the eastern bloc during the Cold War.15

    Danish statesmen found themselves reluctantly drawn into the bipolar alliance structure of a divided Europe during the Cold War.16 They crafted a grand strategy for...

  3. (pp. 12-14)

    Denmark’s initial 58 F-16s were purchased as part of an order for 998 combat aircraft for the USAF, Norway, the Netherlands, and Belgium—and constituted the smallest portion of the order.52 As such, Denmark received a “volume discount” on the aircraft price. But this was only the beginning of the economic benefits enabled by acquiring an aircraft with a configuration that was common to multiple allies.

    While the mantras of interoperability and standardization have only gone so far in NATO as a whole, the common configuration of the F-16 fleet across the members of the Multinational Fighter Program (MNFP) has...

  4. (pp. 14-15)

    The F-16s also opened up new avenues of cooperation, particularly in multinational exercises. Although Danish pilots had been sent to the United States for advanced pilot training since the mid-1950s, the RDAF rarely exercised with USAF and other allied air forces outside of Denmark. But the post-Vietnam USAF exercise known as Red Flag pitted pilots against aggressor squadrons that simulated Warsaw Pact tactics, operational concepts, and aircraft performance characteristics in an exercise that quickly became a standard mechanism for building interoperability in an operational environment—that is, training as NATO would fight.65

    In November 1982, Denmark’s Chief of Defence, General...

  5. (pp. 16-18)

    Aircraft cannot fly themselves. Although the F-16 represented the largest defence expenditure in Danish history, political, civil service, and military leaders together failed to ensure that the RDAF had sufficient numbers of pilots to fly them. Pilot shortages had been chronic prior to the acquisition of the F-16 and, apparently, little changed.76 The RDAF faced a severe pilot shortage in the mid-1980s as the final F-16 squadron was stood up. Each F-16 squadron had 16 aircraft during this period, and the NATO manning standard specified a minimum of 1.5 pilots for every operational aircraft. The full manning of these squadrons...

  6. (pp. 18-22)

    The missions of the RDAF changed when Danish elites changed their ideas regarding what military forces could and should be used for after the Cold War. Territorial defence was supplmented by expeditionary operations on the European periphery and beyond. This meant that the Danish armed forces, including the RDAF, had to adapt its weapon platforms, systems, personnel, and organization to more effectively and efficiently address these new missions. In early 1999 the TACDEN commander, Major General Ebbe Rosegaard, announced that “the RDAF will be restructured following a concept of increased emphasis on international operations somewhat at the expense of the...

  7. (pp. 23-28)

    The purpose of this report has been to reflect upon the Danish experience owning and using the F-16 to deepen the reader’s understanding of what other studies imply when they argue that military and political partnerships have weighed heavily on these decisions in the past and should weigh heavily today. I have argued that when Denmark purchased its F-16 fleet, it bought more than just 58 aircraft. It deepened its ties to its Alliance partners, which has paid very large dividends over the past 35 years. Danish leaders should attempt to replicate this experience when choosing a new combat aircraft...