That's about how long the planning for our newest and most advanced fighter ever has been ongoing, as detailed by Bill Sweetman at the Ares Blog:
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I covered a Society of Automotive Engineers aerospace conference in Anaheim. It was the first public occasion where industry and air force people talked about the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF), and it was pretty clear where the requirement was headed: supersonic cruise, stealth and a primary air-to-air mission.
That was TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO.
He inserts an interesting note:
The most successful fighter of the modern age is indisputably the F-16. The project was launched in 1972 with a contract for two prototypes...
It was operational eight years later.
The mighty F-16 was also designed under the watchful eye of Col. John Boyd, likely America's greatest military strategist of this generation. I have consistently called for production of more F-16s, which have been fighting all our wars anyway for the past 20+ years, to replace our aged and worn out fighter fleet. Otherwise, we may see our unmatched aerial armada become another "hollow force".