Ukraine and F-16 fighter aircraft: Is there any chemistry?


Kyiv will receive F-16 fighters from the West. It is believed that it goes about 60 aircraft. However, the fighters will be transferred to Ukraine in 2024, and they will not be able to ensure air superiority to the Ukrainian side.

Denmark and the Netherlands will transfer F-16 jet fighters to Ukraine, the Danish Ministry of Defense said on August 20. There are three key conditions for the transfer to take place:

  • Ukrainian pilots must be trained to fly this aircraft,
  • US legal clearance for the transfer is required,
  • appropriate infrastructure should be prepared in Ukraine for the aircraft in Ukraine.

The transfer of F-16 fighter jets will be conducted gradually, Danish officials said. The armed forces of the kingdom will thus be able to smoothly switch from F-16 to the more modern F-35 fighter aircraft (they are to be supplied in October, and the Danish Air Force plans to complete the transition to F-35 by 2025) .

Another important condition: Ukraine will be allowed to fly F-16 aircraft only over its own territory. 

"We are transferring the weapons provided they are used to drive the enemy out of Ukraine. These are the conditions, whether it be tanks, fighter jets or something else," said Danish Defence Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen said.

The news about the transfer of the military aircraft was announced during the trip of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the Netherlands and Denmark on August 20-21. Copenhagen promised 19 and Amsterdam 42 aircraft. At the same time, acting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte declined to specify the number of fighters, Reuters said. Air Force of the Netherlands has only 42 F-16 fighters. Twenty-four of them are operational (they are planned to be decommissioned by mid-2024) and 18 others are for sale.

The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a fourth-generation US light supersonic multipurpose single-seat fighter. It is capable of performing air-to-air missions, providing fire support, suppressing enemy air defences, intercepting, conducting air reconnaissance, delivering tactical nuclear weapons and strikes in all weathers.

About 3,000 such aircraft are in service with 25 countries. The F-16 is produced mainly by Lockheed Martin, a US-based defence corporation. It is also manufactured in Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway. Its price reaches $63 million.

US officials indicated that Washington would formally approve the transfer of the fighters jets to Ukraine.

"I am writing to express the United States’ full support for both the transfer of F-16 fighter aircraft to Ukraine and for the training of Ukrainian pilots by qualified F-16 instructors. It remains critical that Ukraine is able to defend itself against ongoing Russian aggression and violation of its sovereignty," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote in a guarantee letter to Denmark and the Netherlands.

During the NATO summit in Vilnius in July, the Netherlands and Sweden initiated the so-called F-16 Coalition to train Ukrainian pilots for F-16 fighters. The coalition includes eleven countries - Belgium, Great Britain, Denmark, Canada, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden.

Russia reacts to F-16 for Ukraine 

Speaking at the plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June, Russian President Putin said that NATO was definitely involved into the war in Ukraine. If F-16 fighters are deployed at airbases outside Ukraine and used in combat, Moscow should think about how and where to hit them, Putin said. 

“Tanks are burning <...>. F-16s will also burn, there is no doubt,” Putin said.

The Russian Embassy in Copenhagen commented on the statement from the Danish Ministry of Defence on the supply of F-16s to Kyiv. Russian Ambassador Vladimir Barbin said that the transfer of military aircraft "leads to an escalation of the conflict." 

"Denmark, by its deeds and words, is striving to leave Ukraine no choice but to continue the military confrontation with Russia. Such a position pushes Ukraine into the abyss and condemns its population to new victims. There will be no other result from Denmark’s decision to transfer the F-16 to Ukraine,” Barbin said. 

Kyiv expects to receive a total of 100 fighters. According to Yuri Ignat, a representative of the Air Force Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Ukraine needs as many as 100 fighter aircraft to completely replace the Soviet fleet and gain superiority in the air. 

The delivery time remains an open question. General James Hecker, the commander of US Air Force in Europe and Africa, said that Ukraine would not receive F-16 fighters until at least 2024. In addition, retraining even trained pilots for these aircraft could take four to five years. 

The Russian expert community believes that the transfer of F-16 fighters to Ukraine is more of a political step. 

Alexander Ermakov, a researcher at IMEMO RAS, believes that the transfer of F-16 fighters to Ukraine has certain difficulties. 

First, it is the insufficient level of flight competence and ground personnel. 

“A bad pilot and aircraft technician can easily break the plane even in peace time, while it is still difficult for an inept mechanic to disable a tank or an armoured vehicle,” he said.

Secondly, there are many countries participating in the training program. Plus, there is a language barrier. 

"It appears that Ukrainians will first be sent to the UK to improve their language skills, then they will go to France for flight training and then they will go to Denmark, the Netherlands, or Romania. This plan can hardly be called optimal," the expert said.

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Author`s name Andrey Mihayloff
Editor Dmitry Sudakov