US military turns old F-16 fighters to drones

US military turns old F-16 fighters to drones
Thu Sep 26, 2013 16:04:44

US military is turning its old F-16 fighter jets to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as it faces worldwide criticism for its assassination drone attacks, especially in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Boeing has revealed a plan to convert retired fighter jets into drones in order to be used as aerial targets for fighter pilots training for air-to-air combat. Once turned into a drone, the aircraft is called the QF-16.

A retired Lockheed Martin F-16--which had previously sat mothballed at an Arizona base for 15 years-- made a first flight without anyone in the cockpit last week.

The aircraft was controlled by two US Air Force pilots as it took off from a Florida base, went supersonic and landed in the Gulf of Mexico. The jet was equipped with a system that would have allowed it to self-destruct if necessary.

"It was really amazing to see an F-16 take off with nobody in it," said Michelle Shelhamer from Boeing.

The aircraft is one of six aging F-16 jets that will be used as targets for fighter pilots, she told AFP. "They're basically built to be shot down."

Once testing is complete in Florida, the QF-16s will be moved to Holloman Air Force Base, in New Mexico where they will be used as aerial targets for training pilots.

In 1998 dollars, an F-16 cost nearly $19 million.

Since 1997, the Pentagon has converted more than 80 F-4 Phantoms into drones.

US government has been repeatedly condemned in Pakistan for its illegal drone attacks which it says targets al-Qaeda agents, but has left hundreds of civilians dead.

According to figures compiled by human rights organizations, since 2004 close to 3500 people --mostly civilians-- have died in the US drone attacks in Pakistan.

The attacks have also been criticized in Yemen where dozens of people have been killed in US drone attacks.


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