Military Aviation

US Navy Operations Specialist explains why F-16s will provide Ukrainian Air Force with tactical options it has never had since the war against Russia began

Ukrainian Air Force F-16s

Kyiv expects to receive its first F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets from its Western allies in June-July, a high-ranking Ukrainian military source said on May 10, 2024, Reuters reports.

Ukrainian Air Force has sought US-made F-16 fighter jets to help it counter Russia’s air superiority for more than two years of war. The source did not say which country would supply the jets.

So far, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Belgium have committed to sending F-16s to Ukraine.

As we have already reported, although the Vipers alone won’t win the war for Ukraine, they can make a big difference.

Tactical options

‘F-16s will provide Ukraine with tactical options they’ve never had since the war began,’ Eric Wicklund, former US Navy Operations Specialist, explains on Quora.

‘There will be several steps for doing this, and there will be some overlap in these actions:

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  • F-16s must push the Russian CAP (Combat Air Patrol) out of position, or shoot it down. Either one works. F-16s can do this because they can fly high, giving their air-to-air missiles longer range to threaten the Russian CAP. They can do this because their far more advanced EW means the Russian CAP aircraft cannot get a lock without getting closer, putting those aircraft at risk of being fired upon by the F-16s. So, the Russians must either engage and risk getting shot down, or run for it. We’ll see both reactions.
  • F-16s must then conduct SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) missions. They can do this much better than before because they have full connectivity with the AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile). Once the Russian air defense is either withdrawn to safety, or destroyed, the surviving Ukrainian Su-24s, Su-27s, and Mig-29s will be able to operate more freely and participate in hitting ground targets.
  • Once the Russian CAP and SAM batteries are no longer a hindrance, we’ll see all of Ukraine’s Air Force (including the F-16s) become much more active in hitting ground targets like supply depots, command HQs, logistics centers, etc.

Another layer of tactical flexibility

‘All this won’t happen theater-wide, but more likely in small specific regions at a time. We may see strikes in the Avdiivka region, but not in the others. Or just in the Bakhmut direction. Ukraine won’t have enough F-16s to do this theater-wide, so they will have to nibble around the edges, slowly eating away at the Russian strong points.

‘So, no, F-16s will not destroy the “entire Russian air force.” They don’t have to either. They simply must provide Ukraine with another layer of tactical flexibility.

  • When Ukraine received HIMARS, that increased Ukraine’s tactical options.
  • When Ukraine received the Storm Shadow/SCALP missiles, that increased Ukraine’s tactical options.

Wicklund concludes;

‘Neither of those systems, “destroyed the whole Russian army” but they did increase the number of ways that Ukraine could engage the enemy. Likewise, F-16s will do something similar.’

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Photo credit: Shane Hughes/180th Fighter Wing Ohio National Guard

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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