Military Aviation

Former US Navy Operations Specialist explains why the F-16 fighter jets can be the catalyst that turns things for the better in Ukraine’s favor (but they are not a magic bullet)

The US will allow its Western allies to supply Ukraine with American-made F-16s, in a major boost for Kyiv. Will the F-16s be a game changer for Ukraine?

As the major media outlets reported last month, the US will allow its Western allies to supply Ukraine with advanced fighter jets, including American-made F-16s, in a major boost for Kyiv.

Ukraine has long sought advanced jets and President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the move as a “historic decision”.

Countries can only resell or re-export American military hardware if the US approves it, so this decision clears the way for other nations to send their existing stocks of F-16s to Ukraine.

The F-16 is widely used by a number of European and Middle East nations as well as the US, which still manufactures the aircraft.

According to BBC, the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark also welcomed the US move.

Will the F-16s be a game changer for Ukraine?

Eric Wicklund, former US Navy Operations Specialist, explains on Quora;

‘Those F-16s can make a big difference. It’s all in how well you use your tools, and Ukraine has proven far superior at using their tools compared to Russia.

‘Russia’s aircraft advantage hasn’t killed Ukraine’s air force yet; so, newer-tech F-16s will be even harder for Russia to kill.

‘From the start of this war, Ukraine has operated antiquated Soviet-era Su-27s, MiG-29s, and Su-25s. At the same time, Russia operated the newest tech on each type plus operated new-build Su-35s and Su-34 strike aircraft. Yet, the Ukrainian air force continues to fly and perform strikes against Russian positions. Russia cannot even eliminate an 80s tech air force. What happens when Russia encounters 2000s tech?

‘Ukraine’s aircraft have had to operate very low to avoid detection, and this has limited their effectiveness in the air-to-air realm. By contrast, F-16s can fire HARM missiles, with full abilities enabled, to take out Russian NGADs, and push back the protective Russian air defense umbrella. From there, F-16s may operate at higher altitudes (higher, thinner air means greater range) where their air-to-air missiles (like AMRAAM 120C-7) will have a larger effective range than at any time in the wat so far. Plus, they’ll have a LOT of AMRAAMs available (unlike their limited store of Soviet missiles), so they can fire them off to push Russian fighters into defensive maneuvers, and it doesn’t matter if it scores a kill or not, as long as the Russians must go defensive and fly away.’

But the F-16s are not a magic bullet.

Wicklund continues;

‘F-16s alone won’t win the war for Ukraine. But, like most air assets, F-16s will function as a “force multiplier.” F-16s will make it easier for Ukraine’s ground forces to do their job. F-16s will allow Ukraine to gain, at least temporary air superiority, so that they can perform ground strikes against Russian positions, limiting the effectiveness of Russian ground units, and thereby enhancing the effectiveness of Ukrainian ground units.

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‘So far, Ukraine ground units have held far better equipped Russian ground units to a standstill. And that’s with little to no air support. With F-16s available, Ukraine will finally have that air support. So, while F-16s alone are not a magic bullet, they can be the catalyst that turns things for the better in Ukraine’s favor.’

Andy Burns, former US Navy Surface Warfare & Flight Officer, adds.

‘RuAF frontline aviation stopped flying directly over the battlefield months ago; neither side has been able to establish air superiority. The Russians have fallen back on delivering only standoff munitions that can be released from outside the Ukrainian SAM WEZes.

‘The Vipers Ukraine will be getting are older but they’ve been continuously upgraded to current NATO standards by their owners (most likely they’re getting ex-Danish and -Norwegian jets).

‘Not to mention, by all accounts the Ukrainian fighter guys are really good. One of the reasons the US administration changed their mind about supplying F-16s is the evaluations done of UAF pilots over the winter by NATO instructors, after which the instructors cut their estimated time to train down to only a handful of months.’

Photo credit: Airman 1st Class Daniel Phelps / U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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