Did the F-16 Just Go Stealth?

David Axe

A Texas Air National Guard fighter squadron flying F-16s is one of the first units to paint its planes in a new, radar-absorbing paint scheme. The paint signals the Air Force’s reluctant decision to keep old F-16s flying through the 2020s, at least.

The Air National Guard’s paint facility in Sioux City, Iowa in mid-December 2019 rolled out a Block 30 F-16C with the new version the Have Glass paint jobs. The F-16C, a Block 30 model, belongs to the 149th Fighter Wing flying out of Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

“The new, single-color paint scheme is a recent departure from the older two-tone gray paint scheme normally associated with F-16’s that belong to the United States Air Force,” the Pentagon stated.

Most American F-16s for decades have worn a mostly light-gray paint scheme. Since around 2012, however, the Air Force under the Have Glass V initiative slowly has been applying a new, single-tone, dark-gray livery to some F-16s

The new ferromagnetic paint, which can absorb radar energy, first appeared on some of the roughly 200 F-16s the Air Force assigns to the dangerous suppression-of-enemy-air-defenses, or SEAD, mission. SEAD squadrons reside in Minnesota, South Carolina, Germany and Japan.

The Texas Air National Guard F-16 apparently is the first Block 30 F-16 to receive a variant of the Have Glass V paint. Where previous Have Glass V paint jobs included a lighter-tone radar radome, the current scheme covers both the radome and the rest of the plane in the same, dark tone.

No paint can compensate for a plane's shape. In particular, the shapes of its wings, engine inlet and engine nozzle. Square shapes, right angles and perpendicular planes such as engine turbines strongly reflect radar waves.

Even with Have Glass, the F-16 on average has a 1.2-square-meter radar cross-section, according to Globalsecurity, while the F-22 and F-35 boast RCSs smaller than .005 square meters.

So the Have Glass V F-16s aren’t stealth fighters. But they are stealthier than are F-16s with older paint schemes. Since Have Glass V undoubtedly is expensive, the Air Force logically prioritized repainting planes in units flying the dangerous SEAD mission.

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