Military Aviation

Former USAF Intelligence Analyst tells why the F-16 will have a huge impact on the Ukraine battlefield but not in a typical air superiority or close air support role

First batch of F-16 fighters to be delivered to Kyiv this summer

Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib told the Belgian broadcaster RTL on May 28 that her country will supply Ukraine with 30 F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft by 2028.

She added that the first of these aircraft should arrive already “by the end of the year.”

On May 28 Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky will visit Belgium on May 28 to sign a bilateral security agreement. Lahbib said that the agreement on F-16 fighter jets will be signed on the same day.

As reported by The Kyiv Independent, Belgium was among the first countries to join the coalition established in the summer of 2023 to bolster Ukraine’s Air Force. The initiative has been spearheaded by the US, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

Besides providing several F-16 fighter jets to Kyiv, Brussels will also help with the training for Ukrainian pilots in EU countries.

The Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway have also pledged to supply Ukraine with dozens of US-made fourth-generation jets.

In fact, the first batch of F-16s will be delivered to Ukraine this summer the Danish Defense Ministry announced earlier this year.

F-16 impact on the Ukraine battlefield

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-16CM Fighting Falcon – Wild Weasel 50th Anniversary, 2015

But will the F-16 effectively help Ukraine in the ongoing war against Russia?

R. W. Carmichael, former USAF Intelligence Analyst, explains on Quora;

‘My personal opinion is that Ukrainians already have a plan in mind for the F-16s and it is very likely not to be one that people with western military experience expect. I see a lot of Ukrainian emphasis on destroying Russian AWACS and S-300/400 sites and pushing the Black Sea Squadron (nee Fleet) away from the approaches to the Crimea. That is likely in preparation for the advent of F-16s on the battlefield.

‘The effect of the F-16 will not be what people expect. There will be no Ukrainian air superiority. The environment is simply too SAM-rich for that. But the F-16s will be able to run right up to the MLR and launch missiles if the Ukrainians continue to devastate the Russian S-300/400 sites and keep the Black Sea Squadron (nee Fleet) confines to the far eastern Black Sea.

‘What I would expect is to see the F-16s used in conjunction with sea drones, air drones, missiles, etc. in coordinated attacks. This is an area in which the Ukraine is leading all the militaries of the world — in creativity and innovation.

‘The F-16 will likely be used as a drone interceptor. With the Black Sea Squadron (nee Fleet) now pushed far to the east, that gives plenty of warning to get an F-16 into the air and on an intercept course. So that makes a great deal of sense.’

Opening the door to huge amounts of NATO weaponry

He continues;

‘But what the F-16s will do is to open the door to huge amounts of NATO weaponry that is fully compatible with the F-16. As just one example, the Ukrainians can currently launch HARM missiles against Russian radar sites. But this is only because they were able to kludge the system with an adapter to the MiG-29 hardpoint and running the electronics from an iPad in the cockpit. This is not an especially good way to launch a missile and it often fails. But with the F-16, the HARM would be natively compatible and would be much more effective.

‘The Ukrainians are focusing a lot on destroying Russia’s S-300/400 sites. It appears that most of them are guarded by Pantsir and ZPU systems that the HARMs can easily take out. Then ATACMS or a low and slow drone comes in and hits the S-300/400 which is apparently unable to cope very well with either. Since the S-300/400 sites in the Crimea are almost all along the coast, the 80nm range of a HARM would work quite well for a very low approach and a pop-up firing.

‘But the Black Sea Squadron is almost inoperable. It has already lost one sub and another is laid up for repairs that will likely never happen. Almost all the BSF aircraft have already been destroyed. It has no command-capable ships left, so coordinated activities are history. And whenever any ships venture out of port they are at extreme risk. That is not how you project power. But it is how you get poorly coordinated ships sunk.’

F-16 impact on the Ukraine battlefield will not be in a typical air superiority or close air support role

Carmichael concludes;

‘It is not the F-16 that worries Russia but the huge variety of compatible weapons. Not only does this means that Russia has to defend against many more types of threats, but it also enlarges the numbers of different weapons systems that NATO can give to the Ukraine from existing stocks.

‘The F-16 is likely to have a huge impact on the Ukraine battlefield but not in a typical air superiority or close air support role. The Russian air forces and air defenses are simply too rich for that. But the F-16 is a highly reliable weapons truck that deliver a huge diversity of ordnance to the battle.’

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Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

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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