Feb. 19 (UPI) -- A study is underway to replace the oldest F-16 fighter planes, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown said this week.
A new aircraft would have four and one-half or fifth-generation capabilities, approaching those of the F-35.
That fighter is regarded as a fifth generation aircraft that has stealth, low-intercept radar, airframes with super-cruise performance that allows sustained high speed, advanced avionics, and integrated and networked computer systems.
Brown suggested that development of a plane to replace the F-16 would be budget-conscious, but offer an opportunity for a "clean sheet design" without regard to the F-16s advantages or deficiencies.
His comments were the first time an Air Force official has publicly spoken on introducing another fourth-generation aircraft.
"If we have the capability to do something even more capable for cheaper and faster, why not?" Brown said. "Let's not just buy off the shelf. Let's actually take a look at something else out there that we can build."
"I don't know that it [a new plane] actually would be the F-16," Brown added. "Actually, I want to be able to build something new and different that's not the F-16, that has some of those capabilities, but gets there faster and features a digital approach."
He noted that the Pentagon's Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office would be involved in any plans to develop a new aircraft.
About 5,000 F-16s, known as Fighting Falcons, have been built since their introduction in 1978 and are a part of 26 countries' militaries. A Lockheed Martin facility in South Carolina currently builds the plane, but only for foreign sales.