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Multi-Role Fighter (MRF) 1990-1993

The US Air Force's Multi-Role Fighter (MRF) program began in 1991 as a relatively low-cost F-16 replacement. Similar in size to the F-16, the MRF was to have been a single-seat / single-engine aircraft, with a unit flyaway cost in the range of $35 to $50 million.

The MRF Program was managed by the Aeronautical Systems Center (ASC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. ASC hosted a planning meeting with industry in October 1991, and issued a Request For Information (RFI) with responses due in January 1992. The major U.S. aircraft manufacturers began to conduct concept and design studies for the MRF at their own expense.

A formal program start was expected around 1994. The MRF was expected to replace a large number of F-16s reaching the end of service life. The MRF might also have replaced Air Force A-10s and Navy F/A-18C/Ds. Therefore, providing large numbers of aircraft affordably was a higher priority for the MRF Program than any specific capability enhancements.

However, the post-Cold War defense drawdown made the F-16 service life situation considerably less critical. A reduction in the total number of U.S. Air Force fighter wings meant that the existing aircraft would not be replaced one-for-one. Furthermore, F-16 aircraft flying hours were reduced, allowing F-16s to remain in service longer than originally projected.

In August 1992, the MRF program was effectively put on hold. Due to budget pressures and the Air Force's commitment to the F/A-22 program, sufficient funding for a new program start did not appear likely until around 2000. Until then, it was expected that MRF activity would proceed at a low level. Meanwhile, the Air Force intended to continue production of Block 50 F-16s.

The Defense Science Board Task Force on Aircraft Assessment was convened to respond to direction received from Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1993, (Public Law 102-484). The Task Force first met on 21 January 1993; OSD requested the report be provided on 25 February 1993. During this time the Task Force met seven times.

The Multi-Role Fighter (MRF) was being considered for the low end of the Air Force tactical air force mix for both air superiority and ground attack. As of early 1993 the MRF program was intended to start toward the end of the 1990s or beginning of the next decade. It could also serve the Navy as a replacement for the F/A-18 if designed from the outset for carrier suitability. (Airframes might differ to a considerable degree but this is not a given, however. Both services could use the same engine and avionics).

If, as was likely and prudent, the requirement included advanced low-observable characteristics, the follow-on would need to be a very significant departure from either aircraft. At the same time, the follow-on needs to be significantly lower in cost (nominally half) than the F-22 or the A/F-X to provide an affordable force. Given that aggregate force mission effectiveness and life-cycle cost are the relevant measures of merit, the development cost savings from common aircraft use may not be sufficient when measured against total force life-cycle cost and mission effectiveness considerations.

By early 1993 the MRF's projected IOC had slipped to 2015. Shortly thereafter, the BUR canceled the MRF Program.



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