New Zealand Plans To Buy 28 Secondhand F-16C/D to Replace Skyhawk

The Royal New Zealand Air Force is planning to buy fighter jet, according New Zealand Defense Forces whitepaper. Anything New Zeland is planning to buy would need to be able to integrate with Australia. In its region, Australia eclipses both the US and the United Kingdom in terms of projection capability or in any other dimension such as economics, defense, diplomatic and culturally.

The NZ government looked carefully at F-16, which are a low-cost fighter. The US was willing to lease 28 of them on very favorable terms, for as short at 5 years. NZ did an analysis and was willing to operate as many as 22 and use 6 for spares. The lease cost would be just $1 billion over 10 years. Reactivation cost would be of the order of $217 million. This is actually a great deal for 28 aircraft ($30 million apiece – fly away!), but these are big numbers for NZ defence on just equipment costs.

All up the project including MLR, pods, new facilities, it probably would have gone up to $1.6 billion if the aircraft were permanently purchased. So this would be more like $60 million per aircraft, and that would likely include most costs other than pilot salary and ground staff to permanently own the aircraft and keep it relevant until next decade.

F-16s are single engines, not really designed for the marine environment which is dominated by twin-engined fighters.

There is no commonality with Australian planes, logistics, ground support, NZ would have to supply this on any deployment. The A4 skyhawks had previously utilized a lot of Australian support and expertise.

The F-16 would mean NZ would have to go it alone with FMS directly with the US, something NZ isn’t exactly used to or comfortable with.

Any NZ fighter force would be separately deployed. A unique airframe not used by Australia would require unique CONOPS, strategy, training partner, mission design etc.

Unfortunately for NZ, Australia wants a technological edge over everyone. Australia tends to buy the best on the market or even attempt special deals to get something no one else can operate (Like the Super Hornets or the F-111). Australia did try to acquire the F-22, there were even mentions of looking at B-1 acquisition to replace the F-111. So keeping up with Australia is likely to be a brutal task for NZ.

F/A-18 Super Hornet

F/A-18 Super Hornets

Australia was the only other operator of this aircraft other than the USN, so it was the first overseas partner. Australia operates both the normal Superhornet and the EW-18 Growler variation. Australia was key to migrating all the knowledge about EW from the US. Twin-engine carrier multi-role fighter. Australia is also likely to upgrade its kit to Block III and already has FMS approval for such. Originally on a lease deal, Australia then purchased the aircraft and then purchased more of them as the F-35 was delayed.


Lockheed Martin F-35A

Australia will be FOC on the F-35A by 2023 with all its aircraft delivered, making it one of the very first fully operational F-35 fleets. Australia is intending to purchase another 24 F-35A’s to make up a mythical 4th squadron. While rumors abound about F-35B purchase, any purchase would be on top of the 96 F-35A.

Anything else would be T-7A Red Hawk training aircraft. Australia operates a lot of Hawk 127 trainers (33). It is also putting out a tender to replace the recently upgraded Hawk 127. Australia puts this program at $4–$5 billion. The aircraft being considered would probably be superior to most low cost 4 gen fighter aircraft.

Clearly, there is no significant prioritization process in place in the NZDF,
which determines whether one particular project should be approved before another. The maritime helicopter and the F-16 project are prioritized latter.

Royal NZ Air Force Sky Hawks in flying formation.

The aircraft to be flown comprise 28 F-16C/D aircrafts. They would have the same roles as the Skyhawks: Close Air Support, Air Interdiction and Maritime Strike.

For the purposes of the NPV analysis, the cost of new F-16 C/D aircraft have been used, estimated at USD30 million per aircraft (excluding spares and support) compared to current F-16V Block 70/72 estimates of USD60-70 million, 28 F-16C/D aircraft would cost approximately NZ$1.9 billion.

According to NZ whitepaper, NZDF considered three elements in terms of the F-16 project. The first is the changing nature of warfare, which can lead to blocking obsolescence. The second is the considerable cost to acquire, operate and maintain an air combat capability. The third is the utility – compared to other force options – of an air combat force.

Again NZ would probably be better off spending money on a small number of brand new F-35B similar to the Singaporean Air Force than buying 28 second-hand F-16C/D.

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