F-16 Option

Geofrey RobertMar 25, 2022

The Ukrainian Airforce needs immediate support with the latest Aircraft to respond to the Russian attacks that killed civilians and damaged critical infrastructure. The current airplanes used by the Ukrainian Airforce are no match for the advanced fighter jets deployed by the Russians. MiGs and S-34s have supersonic speeds that outperform Ukraine fighter jets allowing them to hit ground targets with ease. Ukrainian air force needs to replenish with modern fighter jets that can match Russians in the airspace which would reinforce their defense against President Putin's unprovoked aggression.

The superiority of the Russians in air warfare calls for a faster alternative to respond to the Russians' attacks in the air. The F-16 would be a good fit for the future of Ukraine's air force, he according to Richard L. Aboulafia, defense aviation expert and Managing Director at AeroDynamic Advisory. It can attack enemy armor but is also a multi-role warplane, capable of achieving Mach 2 and can hold its own against any MiG, he said. The current Russian invasion is primarily due to the support of the MiG fighter jets that are superior to Ukraine fighter jets that have been unable to stop their assault. At the start of the conflict, the Western Media had run stories of the "Ghosts of Kyiv", providing accounts of how the Ukrainian air force was downing Russian jets with great success. However, on 31st March 2022, the Ukrainian Air Force argued that praise heaped on them was misinformation and noted that Air superiority would be the deciding factor in the war. Further, the Ukrainian Airforce stated that the Russian air force was more prominent and better equipped than Ukraine. Additionally, Ukraine's fighter jets are four times older than Russian jets, placing them at a disadvantage.

F-16 Capability

F-16s are compact, multi-role fighter aircraft that are highly manoeuvrable and have proven themselves in the air-to-air and air-to-surface compact. Further, the manoeuvrability and combat radius provides an advantage in a battle that exceeds any potential threat to fighter aircraft. Additionally, it can locate targets in all weather conditions and accurately detects a low flying plane in its radars. In the air-to-surface scenario, the F-16 can fly more than 500 miles and deliver its weapons accurately while defending itself against enemy fighter jets. The capability to operate in all weather can accurately provide the ordnance during non-visual bombing conditions. According to Lt. Marshall B. Webb, a commander in the U.S Air Force notes that American F-16s are made to fight, not to fight, but to win in every battle they engage. F-16s would be a perfect match for the Ukrainian air force, which only possesses around 56 fighter jets and continues to lose many to Russian attacks and mechanical failures.

Dave Deptula, the dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies and the attack planner for the Desert Storm air campaign in Iraq, said Ukrainian pilots would be effective and would effectively resist Russian aggression if handed new fighter jets with the capability that can confront the Russian MiG[1]. According to Stephen Blank, a defence expert in the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Ukraine's air force would benefit from F-16 in the current war against Russia. The capability of the F-16s to fight both aerial and surface combat would empower the Ukraine air force to confront the Russian MiGs that are striking critical infrastructure, noting that the current Aircrafts possessed by Ukrainians are no march to the advanced Russian fighter jets. Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valery Zaluzhny recently complained that NATO had not answered the call for fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles. Specifically, the Airforce commander stated they needed F-15s and F-16s, which Ukraine pilots could learn to fly and fight in two weeks[2]. The need for F-16s is compounded by the ineffectiveness of the Kamikaze and Switchblade drones that can destroy ground targets but cannot fight in the air against fighter jets.

On 6th March 2022, the U.S gave greenlight to Poland to send fighter jets to Ukraine. However, Poland proposed that the U.S send the F-16 fighters to Ukraine to replace the proposed MiGs supplies. Poland utilizes the Soviet-era MiGs that are a generation older than the current version used in the war, disadvantaging the outnumbered Ukrainians. However, the F-16s being promised have not been delivered mainly due to the threat of escalation. The Russian government warned that sending warplanes to Ukraine would be considered involvement in the war. Russian Spokesperson Igor Konashenkov cautioned that they were aware that Ukrainian combat aircraft was flown to Romania and neighbouring countries, and such action will be considered involvement in armed conflicts[3]. Further, any nation giving fighter jets to the fight in the war would be considered an attack on Russia which would justify retaliation.

Defence and Geopolitics expert Ashish Dangwal questioned why the EU was sending obsolete fighter jets to battle a Superior Russian Air Force[4]. The expert claimed that sources at the EU stated that the union was sending Aircraft already being used by the Ukrainians despite manufacturing the best modern fighter jets. A decision to send the older models of fighter jets is justified because the country does not have adequate time to train pilots on the new fighter jets. Currently, Ukrainian pilots are incapable of operating F-16s and would require training through western instructors. NATO and U.S fear putting their troops to assist would provoke Russia into a greater war. However, the justification does not make sense given the air capability of the Russian jet fighters, and the obsolete jets will stand no chance. The EU seems to be concerned about angering Russia and escalating the situation, but the current situation requires action to save Ukrainian lives and the country.

Different Perspectives

AP News quoted a senior U.S defence official who spoke on anonymity and noted that Ukrainians do not need more planes but can effectively use the donated equipment such as anti-tank javelin missiles and anti-aircraft stinger. The official explained that Russia could hit any part of Ukraine with surface-to-air missiles from Russia and warships in the Black sea. U.S defence official comments are surprising, considering Ukraine has made it clear that it needs new fighter jets to support its defence against complicated Russian bombers. The current anti-aircraft stinger is no match to advanced Russian Jet fighters that are only compared to F-16s[5]. However, anti-stinger is justified in its success in the Afhanistan war. Still, the current Russian fighter jets such as Su-57 travel and latest versions of MiG travel and supersonic speeds may make it difficult for the anti-stingers.

Politico Alexander Ward and Joseph Gedeon pointed out that fears of escalation and the potential of Russia attacking a NATO member led to the refusal of the deal to harm Ukraine with the latest jets[6]. The U.S seems to be interested in sending all other weapons but not the F-16s fighters that are urgently needed to support Ukrainian troops against the Russian offensive. Ukrainian troops have been downing the Su-34s with their limited air force and absolute soldiers. So far, Su-34 has been lost in Ukraine, and one pilot was captured alive. The U.S and NATO are denying Ukraine the S-16s, which would help defeat the Russians and cause retreats, ending the conflict. It is tiresome and risky for the country's Air force to continue using obsolete jets against well-equipped military invaders. U.S anti-aircraft stingers have successfully destroyed one Su-34 jet earlier in March, but they cannot stand a more prolonged offensive if the Russians decide to scale up the offensive[7]. 42 Republican Senators called for faster approval and deployment of jet fighters to Ukraine to help support the resistance against the offensive[8]. The senators reiterated the need for the government to assist Ukrainians who are fighting for the "soul of the nation".

Final Thoughts

Ukraine requires F-16s to mount an effective defence against the Russians, who may decide to scale up the operations. The current air force cannot mount a serious defence against Russian attacks due to the progressive nature of Russian fighter jets. F-16s can engage in air-to-air combat and surface-to-air offensive, making them a valuable asset in the war. Ukrainians can be trained faster on the American-made jets' operations, and there is no justification for denying the request. The Ukrainian government has reiterated the need for jet fighters to support the anti-aircraft defences and cannot repel Russian jets that are bombarding cities and residential areas. The fears of escalation should not be used to allow Russians to kill civilians with no support from the west. Failing to give the F-16s ignores Ukraine's calls for support and empowers Russians to attack other sovereign countries with no repercussions.

Geofrey Robert is an experienced freelance researcher and writer with over five years of experience. He holds a Bachelor of law from Kenyatta University (Nairobi, Kenya). 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.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/22/world/europe/ukraine-air-force-russia.html?msclkid=f5325a3eb18c11ec82deeeae46218bd3

[2] https://www.theweek.in/news/world/2022/04/01/stingers-not-inadequate-we-need-f-15-f-16-patriot-missiles-ukranian-air-force.html?msclkid=4a43ad7fb18911eca148995fca597113

[3] https://www.the-sun.com/news/4836190/us-green-light-supply-fighter-jets-ukraine/

[4] https://eurasiantimes.com/eu-providing-obsolete-fighter-jets-to-ukraine-to-battle-russia/?msclkid=d28ce3f9b19811ec8e5d782475945481

[5] https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-europe-poland-nato-5724ff192113703d829024dc4410664e

[6] https://www.politico.com/newsletters/national-security-daily/2022/03/11/the-u-s-cant-stop-poland-from-giving-ukraine-its-migs-00016664

[7] https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidaxe/2022/03/29/the-russian-air-force-is-losing-its-best-jets-over-ukraine/?sh=56f6570d42d5

[8] https://www.politico.com/newsletters/national-security-daily/2022/03/11/the-u-s-cant-stop-poland-from-giving-ukraine-its-migs-00016664