by: Tim Wing
The McDonnell-Douglas F-203 Dragon II was a multi-role fighter designed shortly after the crash of the SDF-1 by the United States and Sweden, utilizing many of the new technological advancements from the downed alien spaceship. It was later accepted into service by the UN Spacy and served as their primary conventional fighter through the First Robotech War.
- Role: All-Weather, Non-Variable Air Superiority Fighter
- Designers: McDonnell-Douglas / Saab Scania
- Manufacturer: McDonnell-Douglas and Saab Scania
- First Flight: June 2002
- Introduction: December 2003
- Retired: UEDF Navy – 2020; Bolivian Air Force – 2030
- Status: Retired
- Primary Users: UN Spacy, US Navy, Swedish Air Force, UEDF (Navy)
- Number Built: 2932
- Unit Cost: F-203J – $63 Million (In adjusted 2070 International Credits)
Background and Design
Design of the F-203 Dragon II began in early 2001, soon after the crash of the SDF-1, by a joint effort between the United States’ McDonnell-Douglas and Sweden’s Saab Scania company. Because both the F-15 Eagle and other existing fighter designs were getting rather old for the air supremacy role, and the F-15’s newly completed successor, the F-21 Talon, was costly to produce in both money and time while still utilizing pre-SDF technology, The United Nations Space Agency (UN Spacy) initiated a Joint Strike Fighter competition to provide a new fighter for the Unified Forces. McDonnell-Douglas/Saab Scania won the competition with the YF-23 Dragon II. The Dragon’s role was to eventually replace the Talon and the venerable F-14 Tomcat in the air supremacy role.
The F-203 Dragon II was named in honor of the Saab 35 Draken, which was the Swedish word for Dragon. Indeed, in the Swedish Air Force, the F-203 served as the Saab 39 Draken II.
Since the Dragon was intended for fast production (indeed, it went from design concept to production in an unheard of two years!), as many of-the-shelf components and technologies were used as possible. The front of the Dragon is therefore a marginally smaller version of the F-15 cockpit, and the engines are improved versions of those on the Talon that utilized new materials discovered after the crash of the SDF-1. The exhausts were vectored-thrust nozzles. In addition, the US Marine Corps specified the incorporation of V/STOL capability to allow it to fly from short deck aircraft carriers. The original electronics suite also utilized standard components, but these were quickly replaced in follow on versions with newly developed systems.
The wings were unique to the Dragon, and incorporated the newest in aero dynamical science when first designed. The armament fit was a new 16mm rotary cannon in each wing root with a large number of small conformal pylons as pioneered on the F-16XL for external loads. However, it soon turned out that the new lower-caliber cannons were less effective than was hoped, in addition to being mechanically unreliable. The manufacturers’ solution of mounting a redundant pair was less than ideal, and the guns were soon replaced by Swiss KCN single barrel 25mm cannons.
The F-203A, B and C versions were mass produced by the United States and Sweden, and saw much use in combat during the Unification War. (The Dragon was accepted into service by the United States as the F-23, while the UN Spacy gave the fighter the designation F-203. To avoid confusion, the Dragon II will be referred to as the F-203 from here on.) In 2006 an updated version, incorporating many of the Tirolian technologies that went into the VF-1 Valkyrie, was put into production as the F-203G, H and J (in the US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps). The improvements involved the installation of a far more powerful radar/EW suite, with the new Hughes AWG-20 radar system, active missile jammers, and so forth. This suite became standard equipment for most advanced fighters throughout the UN Spacy, being used on craft ranging from the F-14S to the VF-1.
The Dragon saw some service in the Zentraedi Uprisings, but being a conventional (chemically propelled) fighter, it could not sustain high Mach speeds the way the Zentraedi Fighter Pods could, and it was far inferior to the Quaedluun-Rau Power Armor at the sub-Mach speeds which the Zentraedi mecha could reach. It was therefore quickly replaced in the UN Spacy inventory by VF-1 Valkyrie Veritechs. A number of F-203s saw service in the hands of the Royal Navy (United Kingdom) and the Spanish Armada for use on ski-jump equipped carriers, and with various European Union Air Forces.
The F-203A to F models were equipped with two Volvo Aero RM18 turbojets. The RM18 was a derivative of the General Electric F414 chemical turbofan. The RM18 was interesting in that it deleted the bypass section of the F414 turbofan, thus turning the engine into a true turbojet. Though this made for an engine that was less efficient at low speeds, the design made up for it with increased thrust, lower weight and more compact dimensions. These power-plants produced 98 kN of afterburning thrust each, and allowed for super cruise at speeds above Mach 1 without the use of afterburners. For the F-203 G through M models had the improved RM19 with 102 kN of afterburning thrust. On the final F-203N/P, the improved General Electric F424 with 110kN thrust was used instead, Volvo Aero having ceased to exist. All models were equipped with vectoring nozzles and the C, F, J, M, N and P variants had ducted fans powered by the main engines which gave the fighter V/STOL capability.
Early F-203s (A to F) had two M-65 16mm six-barrel, hydraulically driven rotary auto-cannons with linkless feed, mounted in left and right wing roots. The M-65 fired light explosive armor piercing (LEAP) ammunition and hypervelocity tungsten AP flechettes at 6,500 rounds per minute, with a max effective range of 1,200 meters. Ammunition payload was 1500 rounds total. These cannons were failures and were replaced on all Dragons by 2011 with twin Oerlikon KCN 25mm autocannons, firing APHE (Armor Piercing High Explosive) or HEI-T (High Explosive Incendiary – Tracer) rounds at a maximum rate of fire of 2000 rounds/minute. The ammunition supply was 275 rounds/gun.
All F-203s had twelve hard-points for ordnance, 5 under each wing and 2 on the centerline. Typical air-superiority load (for the N variant) was 8 medium range (65 km) Mach 3.0 combined active radar and thermal imager guided AMM-1 Stiletto missiles, four under each wing, and a large conformal fuel tanks occupying the two centerline hard-points.
The F-203 was the most prolific conventional fighter of the First Robotech War. In addition to serving with the United States Military and UN Spacy, the F-203 was purchased by virtually every Air Force and Navy in the Western World. Its versatility allowed it to operate in all environments, from fixed airfields to ski-jump equipped aircraft carriers. The F-203 served as a front line fighter for the United Earth government until 2020, and with many third world countries until the Invid Invasion.
A total of 2932 F-203s were built from 1994 to 2011. (Note: Only the US Military type classified the Dragon as the F-23. While other air forces had different designations as well, the UN Spacy designated the Dragon the F-203.)
F-23A/D: One seat (A) and two seat (D) ground based multi-role fighter, first designed for the US Air Force and Swedish Air Force.
F-23B/E: One seat (B) and two seat (E) carrier borne multi-role fighter, first designed for the US Navy. Included heavier duty landing gear for carrier operations.
F-203/F-23 C/F: One seat (C) and two seat (F) V/STOL multi-role fighter, first designed for the UN Spacy, US Marine Corps and the Royal Navy (UK).
F-23G/K: One seat (G) and two seat (K) improved ground based multi-role fighter.
F-23H/L: One seat (H) and two seat (L) improved carrier borne multi-role fighter.
F-203/F-23 J/M: One seat (J) and two seat (M) improved V/STOL multi-role fighter.
F-203/F-23 N/P: One seat (N) and two seat (P) V/STOL multi-role fighter. This was the final version to be built, and was purchased by the UN Spacy, the US Marine Corps and the Royal Navy (UK).
F-203S/T: One seat (S) and two seat (T) final production variant, non-V/STOL UN Spacy naval forces use on Prometheus-class carriers. Last version to serve with the UEDF Naval Division.
United Nations (UN Spacy) 2003 to 2018
United States (USAF, Navy and USMC) 2003 to 2018
Sweden (Swedish Air Force) 2003 to 2018
United Earth Government (UEDF) 2018 to 2031
United Kingdom (Royal Navy) 2004 to 2018
Other operators – Bahrain, Belgium, Bolivia, Chile, Denmark, Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Republic of China (Taiwan), Thailand, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates
General characteristics (F-203J)
- Crew: 1
- Length: 17.3 m
- Wingspan: 13.8 m
- Height: 5.6 m
- Standard Take-off weight: 18,800 kg
- Powerplant: 2 x Volvo Aero RM19 chemical turbojets with two-dimensional thrust vectoring nozzles, total of 204 kN (20,800 kg) of afterburning thrust.
- Maximum speed: Mach 2.8 (2,960 km/h) at 14,500 m
- Maximum speed at sea level: Mach 1.2 (1,440 kph)
- Stall Speed: 120 kph
- Combat radius: 1,950 km
- Ferry range: 5,500 km
- Service ceiling: 15,240 m official (24,000 m was claimed by later sources)
- Rate of climb: 416 m/s
- Thrust/weight: 1.11
- Max load runway length: 538 m
- Design-g limits: 9.5 g
- Guns: 2 x M-65 16mm rotary autocannons, with 750 rounds each
- Hardpoints: 12 total – 2× under-fuselage, 10× wing
- Missiles: AAM-1 Stiletto, Hughes AGM-65R Maverick
- Bombs: JDAM Precision-guided munition (PGMs), Paveway series of Laser guided bombs, Mk 80 series of unguided iron bombs
- Other: 2 x 1000 l drop tanks for extended range/loitering time, 1 x 2600 l conformal fuel tank, occupies the center hard points between the engine nacelles
- Hughes AWG-20 X-band pulse-Doppler radar
- Thomson LT-3 multi-frequency laser ranger/designator
- Zeiss FOI-8 infra-red imaging sensor and low-light level camera system in retractable optical ball-turret in front of the cockpit canopy
- Westinghouse ALQ-200 active radar jammer
- Elettronica Radar Warning Receiver (RWR)
- OlDelft Infra-red Warning Receiver (IRWR)
- Active missile jammers
- Chaff dispenser
Robotech (R) is the property of Harmony Gold. The Super Dimension Fortress Macross (R) is the property of Big West Advertising and Studio Nue. This document is in no way intended to infringe upon their rights.
Original artwork by: Shoji Kawamori, Miyatake Kazutaka, Haruhiko Mikimoto and Hidetaka Tenjin.
Acknowledgement is also extended to the work of Egan Loo and the Macross Compendium. Egan Loo is given all credit for all quotes and paraphrasing of the Macross Compendium that has been utilized on Robotech Illustrated.
Images Courtesy of Chad Wilson (Marchly) and the Macross Mecha Manual. Chad Wilson is given all credit for all images from the Macross Mecha Manual that have been utilized on
Acknowledgement is also extended to Peter Walker, Pieter Thomassen and Robert Morgenstern of the unofficial Robotech Reference Guide. Peter Walker, Pieter Thomassen and Robert Morgenstern are given credit for all quotes and paraphrasing of the unofficial Robotech Reference Guide that has been utilized on Robotech Illustrated.
Sources: The Macross Saga Sourcebook (Robotech RPG) Paperback – 2008, by Jason Marker
Content by Tim Wing
Copyright © 2015 Tim Wing