In February of 1977, in a well-meaning but ultimately futile gesture, President Jimmy Carter announced a new arms transfer policy in an attempt to reduce arms proliferation throughout the world. Under this policy, American manufacturers could no longer sell to foreign air forces any combat aircraft that were the equal of those in the US inventory. There were significant exceptions to this rule, e.g. the four NATO users of the F-16 and, as a special exception, the nation of Israel. Exceptions were also made for arms deliveries to Iran so that the Shah could continue to act as a bulwark against Soviet expansion into the Persian Gulf region. At first, South Korea's request for F-16s was turned down under this new rule, but was later approved as a quid pro quo for pending US troop withdrawals from Korea. However, nations such as Jordan, Taiwan, and Venezuela were denied access to the F-16.
One of the side effects of this new policy was the teaming of General Dynamics with General Electric to produce a less-capable export version of the Fighting Falcon powered by the J79-GE-17X single-shaft turbojet. This project was announced by General Dynamics in November of 1979. The J79 engine had powered the F-104 Starfighter and the F-4 Phantom, both of which were already in widespread service with large numbers of foreign air arms. As the J79-GE-119, this engine was installed in FSD F-16B serial number 75-0752. Since the J79 engine required a lower airflow than did the F100 turbofan used on all production F-16A/Bs, the shape of the air intake was altered, with the intake extending further forward than the standard shape and the splitter plate being enlarged. Since the J79 engine was 18 inches longer than the F100, the rear fuselage had to be extended aft of the stabilator pivot point. The J79 turbojet ran a lot hotter than the F100 turbofan, so a steel shield weighing about a ton had to be installed around most of the length of the new engine to provide protection from the extra heat. The aircraft came to be known as the F-16/79. It was projected that the F-16/79 would have a unit cost of a million dollars less than that of a standard F-16A.
The F-16/79 first flew on October 29, 1980 with company test pilot James A. McKinney at the controls. The J79-powered F-16 was initially offered to Venezuela as a substitute for the F-16A/Bs that had originally been ordered. An evaluation team from Venezuela flew the F-16/79 in February of 1981. It was considered by as many as 20 other air arms, and briefings on the F16/79 were given to Australia, Jordan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand.
However, most air arms were less than enthusiastic about the F-16/79. Not only was the F-16/79 less powerful than the standard F-16A/B, it was also significantly heavier because of the additional thermal shielding that had to be carried. This made the performance of the F-16/79 distinctly inferior to that of the F-16A/B.
The F-16/79 was attractive to other air arms only so long as politics and funding prevented them from purchasing the F100-powered F-16A/B. In 1980, President Carter relaxed his policy and allowed the delivery of some export F-16A/Bs to proceed, and the election of President Ronald Reagan later that year ensured that most foreign customers would have no problem in purchasing the F-16A/B provided they could come up with the cash. Consequently, no F-16/79s were sold.
The F-16/79 was later restored to its original engine configuration and was used as a private-venture testbed for close air support and night/bad weather attack systems. Systems tested included the Falcon Eye head-steered FLIR sensor installed in a mounting forward of the cockpit and the Martin Marietta LANTIRN navigation and targeting pods fitted to the forward intakes. The aircraft also flew with systems originally offered in competition with the LANTIRN system eventually selected for the F-16C/D Night Falcon, e. g., the GEC-Marconi Atlantic ahd Martin Marietta Pathfinder.
Engine: One General Electric J79-GE-17X turbojet, 18,000 pounds with afterburning. Maximum speed: Mach 2.0 at 40,000 feet. Dimensions: wingspan 32 feet 8 inches, length 49 feet 5 inches, height 16 feet 4 inches, wing area 300 square feet. Weights: 17,042 pounds empty, 25,646 pounds gross, 37,500 pounds maximum takeoff. Armament: 0ne 20-mm M61A1 cannon. An AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-homing air-to-air missile could be carried at each wingtip. An external ordnance load of up to 15,000 pounds could be carried on up to 6 external hardpoints.