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Fighter Aircraft, Lightweight - US Policy

Since the end of World War II, the United States has been assisting friendly foreign countries in establishing and maintaining adequate defensive postures, consistent with their economic stability and growth, to maintain internal security and resist external aggression. The underlying reason for furnishing such assistance is based upon the tenet that the security and economic well-being of friendly foreign nations is essential to the security of the United States.

For over two decades the United States provided its friends and allies abroad various models of the Northrop lightweight fighter aircraft — a simple and fairly inexpensive fighter of good but limited capabilities. Chosen by 30 countries, Northrop or its licensed partners abroad had produced 2,500 aircraft in more than 20 different model configurations to meet the specific defense requirements of recipient nations. Replacements for many of the earlier models would be required in the 1980s, and many countries were looking for an aircraft more advanced than the current F-5E.

In 1971 the Air Force started its last lightweight fighter program, which produced the F-16 Fighting Falcon and (eventually) the F-18. With the F-16 and F-15, the service settled on a “high/low” mix of aircraft to replace Vietnam-era fighters. It procured more than 1,000 F-15s and F-15Es and more than twice that number of F-16s. The Air Force wanted the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to follow a similar high/low strategy, but as JSF costs grew, it turned into a high-high mix. The F-35 emerged from the US Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter Project, a strictly. American venture, announced in 1993, but it didn't turn out that way.

In the 1970s, the effectiveness of arms sales in preserving peace and securing US national interests was questioned more frequently. The Congress expressed its sense that the President should open arms trade control talks with leading arms-supplying nations, bring the debate to the floor of the United Nations, and generally use the power and prestige of his office to press for cooperative action among all nations to check and control the international sale and distribution of conventional weapons. Legislation was passed that would deny security assistance to governments which engaged in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.

A growing criticism of arms sales was that recipients were purchasing arms with scarce resources which should be used to address more urgent economic and social needs at home. Basic US policy thus evolved to deny the sale of sophisticated weapons to such countries where a serious threat to security could not be validated.

President Carter's policy, announced on 19 May 1977, was in large measure a continuation and further development of those Congressional initiatives of the early 1970s. Mr. Carter declared that the use of conventional arms transfers would be viewed as an "exceptional foreign policy implement" to be used only in those instances where it could be clearly demonstrated that the transfer contributed to US national security interests. The United States would not be the first supplier to introduce into a region newly developed, advanced weapons systems that would create a new or significantly higher combat capability. Further, these weapons systems would not be exported until they were operationally deployed with US forces.

On 4 January 1980, the Carter Administration announced a revision of its policy on the development of fighter aircraft specifically for export. This exception opened the way formally for submission of industry proposals for development and production of a new intermediate export fighter which was to be designated the F-X. Until this point, Carter's arms transfer policy had explicitly prohibited development or significant modification of advanced weapons systems solely for export, however, late in his term he was to realize that the sale of the F-X would be in the national interest and, thus, compatible with US arms transfer policy.

Carter guidelines for the new export fighter called for an aircraft having cost and performance characteristics which lie generally between the F-5E and F-16A fighters then in production. The aircraft was to be capable of defending recipients from projected air threats into the 1990s; have a secondary air-to-ground capability in close air support of ground forces but yet be sufficiently limited in offensive range-payload capability so as to be clearly out of the class of US advanced, fighter aircraft; and was to have lower cost and easier maintainability than current first-line US fighters. Unlike its predecessors in the export fighter arena, the F-X would receive no government funding for its development. Manufacturers were to assume all financial and marketing risks; however, the aircraft was to be sold on a strict government-to-government basis, in accordance with the provisions of the 1976 Arms Export Control Act.

On 29 July 1982, in a memorandum to the Secretaries of the Air Force and Navy, Deputy Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci observed that: "There are several friends and allies that are . . . modernizing their tactical aircraft forces. Only a few can afford first—line fighters, and because of fiscal and other restraints, it is important that the United States have alternatives to first—line aircraft available for export." This indication of policy reflected some of the change in approach to fighter sales during the Reagan Administration's first year. In 1981, for example, the government decided to sell the F—16 to both Pakistan and Venezuela.

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Page last modified: 08-08-2016 20:00:32 ZULU