The Multi National Fighter Program was created in June 1975 following the decision by Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway to purchase the F-16.
Taken on Oct. 21, 2020 by our friend Andrew Timmerman from Finn Aviation Photography, the cool pictures in this post feature a Belgian Air Force F-16 sporting a special colored tail to celebrate 45 years of Multi National Fighter Program (MNFP).
The F-16 evolved from a 1972 USAF Lightweight Fighter prototype program which sought a small, lightweight, low cost, air superiority day fighter designed for high performance and ease of maintenance.
These countries identified a clear requirement for a new fighter aircraft. At the same time, there was a need to meet the NATO standard which provided an incentive for a common aircraft among these air forces. The decision in June 1975 by the EPG, to purchase the F-16 air combat fighter created the F-16 multinational aircraft program. While the European governments purchasing the F-16s are known as the EPG, the air forces flying and maintaining the aircraft are part of the European Participating Air Forces (EPAF).
Specific circumstances existed during the development of the EPG program that provided for its success. The F-16 was developed by General Dynamic but called for co-production. The four European nations procuring the F-16 agree that they would benefit from procuring an aircraft developed in the United States but co-producing part of the aircraft in several European factories. This arrangement would allow for a new fighter without the costly development requirements, except for a pro rata share of the research and development cost for each aircraft, and to gain the benefits of greater production. It was stressed at multiple levels that, politically, production in Europe was indispensable to buying the aircraft. In turn, their procurement of an American fighter has large military and economic benefits for parties involved.
These smaller MNFP countries were constricted with limited resources and situated in an area of the world which rendered their locations both valuable and difficult to defend. During the Cold War, Russia was already expanding its country’s borders, combatting smaller countries who could not properly defend themselves. During this time, while the need for an advanced multirole fighter was identified, these European countries were located along the Baltic and North Seas and situated in a vulnerable with few barriers of any kind to invasion from larger and more powerful Russia.
The EPG was a strong influence which turned the Lightweight Fighter Program into a serious multi-facetted acquisition program. Because the four EPG countries, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway, were good NATO allies of the US and looked to upgrade their F-104G Starfighter interceptor, the option to acquire the F-16 made sound financial sense.