Ukraine continues to experience unprecedented attacks since the start of the Russian invasion, with significant loss of human lives and massive destruction of property. UN reports that over 5 million people have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries. U.S military generals assess that the conflict will last for years despite the great optimism about reaching a ceasefire following the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kyiv. Moscow continues with its false justification that it is ‘'denazifying'' Ukraine and seems determined to launch more attacks. Ukraine needs fighter jets, anti-air defense systems, and anti-missile systems to fight the invaders and secure their country.
The U.S needs to prepare for any eventuality as the war poses serious security risks to the country and its allies. Part of the preparation includes ramping up production for F-16s fighter jets to prepare for defense against the country. Having enough F-16s fighter jets will also ensure enough jets to send to allies or Ukraine. On 13th April, Pentagon announced a meeting with top arms contractors in the United States to discuss the Ukrainian crisis and weapons production. A defense official stated that the meeting aimed to increase weapons production to aid the military assistance package promised by President Joe Biden to Ukraine.
Needs for F-16s
The meeting sought to discuss proposals to accelerate production of the existing weapon manufacturing systems, modernize the manufacturing capabilities, and develop new production lines. The Pentagon noted that increased production is critical to ongoing military assistance to Ukraine and the long-term readiness of the U.S and its allies. Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, who produce the effective lightweight Javelin anti-tank missiles systems, were invited to a meeting with Pentagon officials noting that the portable anti-aircraft stinger missiles and the javelin missile systems have proven to be effective for Ukraine forces.
Though the meeting did not discuss the production and sending of F-16s fighter jets to Ukraine, the production of the jets is critical for the current crisis. Lockheed Martin is the top manufacturer of the F-16s and was present in the meeting. The meeting discussed increased military arms production to assist Ukraine and prepare the U.S and its allies with the fighter jets needed to protect the territories. Such acceleration should increase the production of the F-16s necessary to counter Russian air power and carry out attacks against enemy targets. Last year, the U.S Air Force announced a new F-16 manufacturing line in collaboration with Lockheed Martin. The production line is located at the Lockheed Martin facility in Greenville, South Carolina, to support the growing demand for fighter jets from partner countries. The demand was from the United States military, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Taiwan, Slovakia, and several other nations.
The announcement was in 2021, before the Ukraine crisis, and the demand for the F-16s has grown due to security threats posed by Russia to U.S European allies. However, the production line rolled off their F-16s this year, and more are expected to be manufactured in the near future. In June 2021, Defense Block Reports reported that Lockheed Martin offered Ukraine the latest 4th generation F-16s to replace MiG-29, Su-27, and Su-24. However, the price details and the amount Ukraine offered to buy were unclear. The agreement highlights the need to increase the production of the fighter jets in preparation for possible assistance to Ukraine. On its website, military arms contractor Lockheed lists one of the achievements to deliver F-16s to the U.S military as part of the readiness in the first quarter of 2022. It is a testament that the production of crucial F-16s can be accelerated to arm the U.S and its allies with the best fighter jets in readiness for any security threats
Invoke the Defense Production Act and Accelerate the F-16 Production
According to Lockheed Martin, it takes about 6-8 months to produce a single F-16, with the fuselage body parts requiring over 40,000 hours of manpower. The production of the fighter jet is long and tedious, and accelerated production would require resources. Though the time needed to produce the fighter jets can be reduced, reducing the time would likely increase the rate of quality defects in a plane. In September 2017, Lockheed Mart halted the delivery of U.S Airforce fighter jets after a defect was found on some of the aircraft. It took 30-40 days to repair the defect on each jet, further increasing the manufacturing time.
The Defense Production Act (1950) gives the president the power to order corporations to produce goods and supply services to support national defense. It was first used during the Korean War and can be invoked to accelerate the production of F-16s for the U.S, its allies, and Ukraine. President Joe Biden should invoke the act and order U.S F-16 manufacturers Lockheed and General Dynamics to produce the fighter jets in accelerated mode to arm the United States. General Dynamics has not been producing the F-16s at peak level due to focus on other arms and space systems hence the order would force a full production of the fighter jets. Government grants and guaranteed purchase contracts from the U.S and European allies would enable the companies to expand their production capacity and recruit more workers needed to accelerate the production.
The order should include a decision to grant Ukrainian refugees with arms production experience in state arms manufacturing and private military contractors work permits to assist with production. The production of F-16s requires heavy manpower, and the decision to use the refugees would help with the production. U.S government should partner with NATO to guarantee the purchase of the manufactured F-16s as an incentive for the military contractors to accelerate the production. Today, President Joe Biden is set to convene the annual White House gathering of top U.S. military leaders, which has special significance as the war in Ukraine enters a critical phase. U.S is considering more military aid to Ukraine even as Moscow formally wrote to the U.S to stop arming Ukraine and stated that it considers it as harming Russia. Part of the meeting will discuss the Ukraine crisis and the security risks posed to the U.S and its allies.
Even with no commitment to giving F-16s to Ukraine, accelerated production should be achieved to prepare for any eventuality. Russian troops are experiencing difficulty penetrating the heart of Ukraine and have focused their offensive on the East and southeast parts. U.S intelligence stated that Putin's focus seems to have shifted to the Donbas region, where Russian-backed separatists control some areas. The plan is to annex the Russian-speaking regions to Crimea, and the war is likely to escalate. F-16s are needed to prepare for any escalation and arm European allies as the conflict threatens their security.
Geofrey Robert is an experienced freelance researcher and writer with over five years of experience. He holds a Bachelor of law. His research interests are International law, Peace & Security, Conflict, humanitarian issues, and climate change. He worked as a peace and security news writer for Peacehumanity.org. and also contributed to their periodic PEACE MONITOR MAGAZINE as a peace researcher and writer focusing on the Israel-Palestine conflict.