The answer to the question of whether the F-16 or the F-18 is the better aircraft in a dogfight is probably best answered with, “it depends.”

It depends on what kind of dogfight we are talking about. Most often the preferred dogfight would be the “basic fighter maneuvers,” type, i.e. up close with just guns.

Yet, this is not at all realistic today because it leaves out the standoff capabilities of sensors and missiles that these aircraft employ. And missiles and sensors have decided the battle in almost every instance of air combat in the last 30 years. Most of the air-to-air combat kills have occurred without either pilot ever laying eyes on the other.

In Long-range Fight, I’d Give the Advantage to the F-18

Here’s why. The Navy generally has better radars and jammers to blind an adversary in a long-range fight. Back in 2019, the Aviationist Geek Club did a story about an EA-18G Growler (the electronics warfare variant of the Hornet) that was sporting under its cockpit the kill silhouette of an F-22 Raptor.

As the story goes, the Growler managed to jam the F-22, get behind it, and then kill it with an AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missile. Of course, this was a simulation, but it took place at Nellis Air Force base, practically the front porch of the Air Force and home to the Air Combat Command where they train fighter pilots in combat tactics.

It could be dismissed as just a lucky shot, but the F-22 was designed to remove any hope of such luck by an adversary in a dogfight.

In that long-range fight at standoff range, it comes down to who detects the other’s emissions first and then jam and blind their opponent to put a warhead on his forehead first. Since this what the F-18 was built and its pilots train for, I’d give this fight to the Hornet.

There have been a ton of varients on both fighters since their introduction in the 1970 and 80s respectively. This makes comparison difficult.