A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft flies over U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility during a mission in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, July 17, 2021.

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft flies over U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility during a mission in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, July 17, 2021. (Taylor Crul/U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — The F-16 Fighting Falcon that shot down an unidentified flying object Sunday over Lake Huron is familiar to many in the DFW metroplex.

When the F-16 production line in west Fort Worth was rocking and rolling in the late 1980′s, it employed tens of thousands of workers and churned out nearly one jet per day.

General Dynamics had won a fierce competition to produce F-16s for the U.S. military, and interest from other countries quickly followed. Lockheed Martin bought the plant in 1993.

Lockheed Martin says about 3,600 of the fighter jets were built at the Fort Worth location from 1973 to 2017, before the company shifted production to South Carolina.

That move freed up capacity in Fort Worth to produce the current cutting-edge F-35 joint strike fighters.

While the Pentagon has completed its own purchases of F-16s, orders continue to come in from international customers.

F-16s now operate in 25 countries and continue to roll off the line. The latest version, known as Block 70, took off last month.

The Fort Worth location also continues to host F-16 development, sustainment and modernization operations.

U.S. fighter aircraft had encountered high costs and other problems in the Vietnam War era. The F-16 design offered a lighter, cheaper and more maneuverable alternative to the heavier, missile-focused fighters that had come before.

One of those F-16s fired the Sidewinder air-to-air missile Sunday that brought down an object over Lake Huron that was flying at 20,000 feet.

The Pentagon said the object’s path and altitude posed a hazard to civil aviation and represented a surveillance risk, though not a “kinetic military threat.” Many questions remain about that object and others spotted in recent days.

Biden administration officials say there is no indication that little green men from outer space are responsible for the apparent surge in unidentified flying objects.

Rather, they said, the surge is at least partly explained by greater U.S. scrutiny of its airspace and tweaks to radar capabilities since the large spy balloon was spotted over Montana.

“I don’t think the American people need to worry about aliens,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday. “If you set the [radar] parameters to look for a certain something, it’s more likely that you’re going to find a certain something.”

A U.S. F-22 Raptor shot down a high-altitude airborne object over northern Canada on Saturday using a Sidewinder missile. F-22s shot down an object over Alaska on Friday and the Chinese spy balloon on Feb. 4.

The F-22 is also a Lockheed Martin aircraft, developed as a high-tech successor to the F-15. The F-22 was developed in part in Fort Worth, although it has primarily been built in Marietta, Ga.

F-22 development continues at Lockheed Martin sites, including those in Fort Worth and Marietta.

The first balloon was shot down on Feb. 4 after flying across a large swathe of the United States, drawing massive public attention and kicking off a political firestorm.

Sen. Ted Cruz and other Republicans criticized the president for not immediately ordering the balloon shot down. They suggested that China could have garnered valuable intelligence because of the delay.

During his Monday podcast, Cruz praised Biden for adopting a more aggressive approach to the objects spotted since then.

“The reaction to the first balloon was incredibly weak and ineffective,” Cruz said. “But the second, third, and fourth one, thank God, like, this is exactly what you should be doing. If you’re flying over our airspace, we’re gonna shoot you down.”

©2023 The Dallas Morning News.


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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