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From the very beginning, F-16 was intended to be neither a technical break-through, nor an enormously powerful weapons platform, but rather a cost-effective "workhorse", that could perform various kinds of missions and maintain around-the-clock readiness. This distinguishes the F-16 from its predecessors, many of which were not designed for all-weather operation (F-104) or were extremely expensive / made for aircraft carrier operations (F-14).
From the point of view of design, the F-16 is closer to a fighter than to a ground attack aircraft. It is small and agile, and its canopy is designed for the pilot's optimal visibility, a feature vital during air-to-air combat. For this purpose, the F-16 carries an M61 Vulcan cannon, and can be equipped with air-to-air missiles. However, the F-16 can also perform ground-support tasks if necessary. For that task, it can be equipped with missiles or bombs.
The F-16 originates in a set of specifications the United States Department of Defense issued in 1974. Two companies were chosen during the concept stage: General Dynamics with the XF-16 design and Northrop with a design which bore the name XF-17. The F-16 was chosen from the two prototypes; however the two-engined XF-17 was not abandoned and later on became the F/A-18 Hornet.
Initially, the F-16 was manufactured in two models: A (combat version) and B (two seats, used for training). The first time an F-16A took off was in December 1976; the first aircraft was delivered to the US Air Force in January 1979. In the 1980s, the F-16A/B was superseded by the F-16C/D with improved avionics and engine.
Due to their ubiquitousness, the F-16s have participated in numerous conflicts, most of them in the Middle East. In 1981, 4 Israeli F-16s participated in a raid that destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor near Baghdad. The following year, during the invasion into Lebanon, Israeli F-16s engaged on numerous occasions with Syrian aircraft, ending up victorious at all times but one. F-16s were also used afterwards in their ground-attack role for strikes against Lebanon. In the Gulf War of 1991, F-16 from the air forces of the Coalition participated in the strikes against Iraq.
The figures are as of 1992.
See also: Fighter aircraft, Comparison of 2000s fighter aircraft