It’s hard to believe but it has been over a year since Eagle Dynamics released DCS: F-16C to the public through their early access program. The module is still in early access and likely will be for some time, however, I want to look at the current state of the module now and ask the fundamental question on if its worth it to fly it and buy it now or wait until later? This is my take on it.
There were problems at the start
When the DCS: F-16C came out it became clear very early on that there were some problems and a lack of features. The most egregious at launch? No damage model. That wasn’t all as the community were also annoyed at not having quite a few systems not being available either. It was November 2019 when the F-16 started to get some serious upgrades including systems control for bingo fuel, bingo chaff and flare, chaff and flare program control, external lighting, Link16 datalink, and track while scan mode for air-to-air radar. And long after that we received steerpoint modifications. It wasn’t until mid-2020 when the targeting pod was decoupled from steerpoints and where slewing the targeting pod didn’t also move your waypoint. These all served as challenging distractions and turned many players away from the module.
Though some level this as a criticism on the same level as a missing a damage model, many were of course wanting more from the initial weapons load. I was, on the other hand, relatively satisfied with the starting arrangement given that the Hornet started at just about the same spot, albeit with even less capability.
The F-16C right out of the gate had its full air-to-air compliment of AIM-120B/C AMRAAM and AIM-9 variant missiles. The 20mm M61 Vulcan cannon was also available from the start, although it was well into 2020 before the radar tracking gunsight was available. Initially we also were lacking most of the features in the F-16C’s dogfight mode where the AIM-9X and M61 really become useful – those were added later too.
Understandably, the F-16C started out rather bare-bones. For some it was too limited while I counted myself in the camp willing to wait it out and become accustomed to the jet’s new features as they came online. Although progress seems slow we are starting to see some more significant features come to the jet now and that has expanded its profile of what it can do.
Growing list of abilities
While some look at the feature list and point to the things that are missing, I’m interested mostly in what the jet can do in any given scenario. The F-16, with its reputation as a multi-role fourth generation jet fighter, is capable of quite a few different mission types and that makes jet’s like this quite popular in both single player and mulitplayer DCS World. There’s a lot of potential value to owning a single jet in DCS World that can do it all. The F/A-18C already enjoys this status as its capabilities have grown over the last two years and now the F-16C is starting to take that mantle up as well.
While some features are still to come, the F-16C does now have the ability to perform some key roles. First, in the air combat arena there are few challengers as capable. I find the F-16C’s sensors, datalink situational awareness, HUD symbology and armament combine to make an excellent air-to-air platform for long range missile fights. It’s also an impressive the jet from an agility and speed perspective and in a dogfight the F-16C is challenged by only a few other very impressive jets. Here, there have been some critiques of the flight model. We’ve already seen an update ensuring that the F-16C can reach its full 9G capability and Eagle Dynamics has committed to evaluating and further tweaking the flight model as needed so it may yet grow in ability here too – though its no slouch.
Switching to the air-to-ground role, the F-16C has recently seen a major jump in capability. From the start it’s had the Litening II targeting pod and the ability to drop the GBU-10, 12 and 16 bombs in precision strikes. The CBU-87 and 97 smart cluster bombs were another impressive capability enabling the jet to potentially take out whole columns of vehicles.
Now with the AGM-65 Maverick and the AGM-88 HARM the F-16C can do precision attacks and it can finally start to take on the role of suppressing the enemy’s air defenses with the HARM missile.
Although there’s still quite a list of weapons coming to the jet, we’re now at a point where the F-16C can perform most of its typical mission profile. Striking a pinpoint target at high altitude? You can do that. Taking out enemy SAM radars? Now possible with the AGM-88 HARM in HAS (HARM as Sensor) mode. Wrecking a convoy from a standoff distance? Bring a loadout of 2, 4, or 6 AGM-65 Maverick missiles on the weapon pylons or load up some CBU cluster munitions.
Comparing available vs planned features
When Eagle Dynamics launched the module they laid out a plan for what would be available as a core feature and part of the early access phase as well as a sustainment phase where additional features were added on. Although this is all still part of ‘early access’ it does help paint a picture of where the module is at. Here’s an overview of what we do and do not yet have using Eagle Dynamics own planned features list:
- F-110-GE-129 turbofan engine
- AN/APG-68(V)5 multi-mode radar
- AN/ALR-56M Radar Warning Receiver
- AN/ALQ-131/184 ECM pods
- CCIP (Common Configuration Implementation Program) update
- ALE-47 countermeasure system
- Color Multifunction Display (CMFD) symbology, Horizontal Situation Display (HSD) format, and Head-up Display (HUD) symbology
- Digitally TACAN and Electronic Horizontal Situation Indicator (EHSI)
- RWS, SAM, and ACM A/A radar modes
- BDU-33, BDU-50LD/HD, Mk-82LDGP, Mk-82AIR, Mk-84LDGP, CBU-87 CEM, and CBU-97 SFW unguided bombs
- 2.75” rockets LAU-68 and LAU-131
- Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS)
- AIM-9L/M/P/X Sidewinder
- AIM-120B/C AMRAAM
- M61A1 20mm cannon
- TWS A/A radar mode
- Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS)
- Link 16 Data Link
- AGM-65D/G/H/K Maverick
- AGM-88C HARM
- AN/AAQ-28(V) LITENING targeting pod
- GBU-10, GBU-12, GBU-24A/B laser-guided bombs
- CBU-103 CEM and CBU-105 SFW Inertially Aided Munitions (IAM)
Still to come
- A/G radar modes
- AN/ASQ-213 HARM Targeting System (HTS)
- BRU-57/A Smart Rack
- GBU-31/A and GBU-38/B JDAMAGM-154A and AGM-154C JSOW Integration of the JHMCS with the HARM Targeting System (HTS), Link 16, and AIFF
- Night Vision Goggles (NVG)ALE-50 towed decoy
The list of things that are still to come, as part of the broad overview of features that Eagle Dynamics is putting together, has grown considerably shorter with the introduction of the HARM and Maverick missiles. Still, there is much work to do as there are additional features and display screens within the F-16 that are still a work in progress. Click through the MFD’s and before long you’ll find screens that display their work in progress status.
A member of the r/Hoggit group has put together an unofficial list of features not yet implemented that goes into more depth and detail on exactly what the jet still needs to fill in before it is more or less complete. Check that list out right here.
An area that the F-16 hasn’t really struggled with is the visuals. Although the exterior model needed a bit more work after launch and the skin quality has improved a few times since release, the jet never really had any serious visual quality issues and the F-16 is one impressive looking jet. Go inside the cockpit and the visuals there have always been exceptional. The F-16 is one of the best artistically pulled off cockpits in the DCS World series and I appreciate the hard work that the artists at Eagle Dynamics went through to pull this off.
Added to the experience since launch is the ability to adjust the canopy’s tint. While some F-16’s have a more golden coloured tint, other more recent additions to the Block 50 fleet in the USAF have a clearer less colourful tint. Eagle Dynamics now has both implemented for those that were bothered by the tint.
The sounds are also exceptional. I watched a video clip from the backseat of a Thunderbird F-16 and then hopped into the Eagle Dynamics F-16 and I was impressed at just how close the sounds were. The F-16’s engine has a characteristic whine to it that carries into the cockpit and that is conveyed excellently. I also love the startup sequence as the engine makes a “chug,” “chug,” “chug,” noise as it begins to spool up. I’ve heard that at airshows and it’s here too.
These all go a long way towards making me feel immersed in the jet and I always appreciate the effort put into making these a reality.
Ready to fly?
When it comes to DCS World modules in production, there are two essential groups of virtual pilots. Those that would prefer to fly a completed module with all systems functioning and ready and with no retraining or relearning required once done and those that are interested in getting in early and having as much of the experience as possible while adapting to the changes as they come. I am definitely in the latter camp and so when I bought the DCS: F-16C to write my first articles about it here I was and remain more forgiving on what is and isn’t available to the jet.
Although the first three months were rather rocky experiences, the features that have been added from that three month mark and on have only served to further my enjoyment with the F-16C. I’ve logged enough hours on the jet in both single and multiplayer to now know a good amount of the features that the jet has and have put it through it’s paces in challenging multiplayer scenarios.
Bottom line? I like this jet. I like it a lot. I wondered if I’d be bored or not have much use for the F-16 given my primary jet in DCS World is the F/A-18, however, the differences between the way the two fly and fight are big enough that I’ve grown to appreciate the capabilities of both.
While the F/A-18C can go fast and turn tightly, it always feels like its struggling to regain its speed after those tight turns. The F-16 doesn’t nose point quite so rapidly but it rarely feels sluggish or slow in any sort of maneuver. Even with the throttle at 50%, the F-16 can climb and accelerate quickly and there’s been a few nail-biter scenarios where I was down to just a couple thousand pounds of fuel that I was able to make last with the engine producing only part of its thrust and my F-16 maintaining a high cruise speed.
The F-16 is definitely a fly-by-wire jet. It gives you supreme amounts of confidence in most situations and it doesn’t require the kind of stick and rudder work that you would need from the older generation of jets like the F-14. For some this is a huge benefit, for others it’s robs the aircraft of character. Still, I can see the benefits for a real world pilot who doesn’t care so much about character when the threats are many and the situation is dire.
Though the F-16C started out a little rough back in 2019 I still think that the DCS: F-16C is a quality module that is progressing relatively well, if slowly, in its early access development period. Improvements have come with long periods between updates but with a substantial amount of changes that have boosted the jet when they have come. It has recently has gained enough capability to become a very useful presence in both single and multiplayer scenarios. For me, I also think it’s insanely fun to fly. Be it dodging missiles and repositioning for the next missile salvo in a long range missile fight or scraping the bottom of canyons in a low altitude attack run, I love flying this jet. The sounds are great, the visuals at the highest standards, and many of the early problems have been eliminated. While this jet definitely needs more time before it will be close to total sum of capabilities that the BMS version has, it’s getting there and that hasn’t stopped me from having a ton of fun with the jet already.
A few missing features and systems aside, I can easily recommend the F-16 as a great air-to-air and strike aircraft in DCS World. It has come a long way from the early days and it will surely gain in capabilities through 2021.