TechF-16 jets: Will their arrival in Ukraine shift the war's balance?

F‑16 jets: Will their arrival in Ukraine shift the war's balance?

American F-16 - illustrative photo
American F-16 - illustrative photo
Images source: © Pixabay
Norbert Garbarek

29 June 2024 15:12

F-16 fighter jets should soon start arriving in Ukraine. The long-awaited aircraft, however, is still a topic of discussion among experts who have recently claimed that the F-16 will not be a turning point in the war.

The Ukrainian agency Unian reminds us that Kyiv has been appealing to allies for over two years to send F-16 fighters to the front. Finally, the wait will be over, as the first aircraft should arrive in the war-torn country within the coming weeks.

Although the F-16s will most likely soon be over Ukraine, the defenders will still face a strong opponent. Reuters explains that delays in the transfer of the fighters allowed the Russian Federation to prepare for the arrival of the F-16, making it easier for the aggressor to defend against the threat. Analyst Oleksandr Kovalenko recently confirmed this, noting that the F-16 may face more significant challenges in combat along the eastern line or the northeastern border.

Further concerns about the presence of F-16s in Ukraine

– You'd have to separate symbolism from the actual impact on the battlefield - which will be useful but modest, particularly in the beginning – said Mark Cancian, an expert from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Justin Bronk from the Royal United Services Institute expressed a similar sentiment. – You can have lots of fast jets, but if they don't have effective weapons and aircrew able to employ them with effective tactics, then they will just be shot down in large numbers – he asserts.

According to a Reuters publication, the F-16 fighters will undeniably be valuable support for Ukraine, but their presence will not be a turning point in the war with Russia. Proper training and use in combat, as well as protection when they are not flying, are crucial.

Experts unanimously note that the Russians have been hitting all potential airfields and bases where F-16s might be stationed for weeks. The attacks also include efforts to destroy runways and infrastructure – important because, as an American pilot previously commented – "F-16s are prima donnas". They require specific maintenance and suitable conditions for taking off. American F-16s need a flat runway, free of any irregularities. Even minor damage from Russian shelling could effectively ground the F-16s before they even take off.

F-16s in Ukraine

Let's recall that the eagerly awaited F-16s by Ukrainians are aircraft that can carry weapons on nine underwing weapon stations. These can hold several air-to-ground guided missiles (such as the AGM-65 Maverick) and air-to-air radar missiles like the AIM-120 AMRAAM, which in the coming months will be delivered as a priority by the USA to Ukraine's armed forces. The latter variant can also carry Mk82/84 bombs weighing up to 907 kg.

The F-16 also boasts significant manoeuvrability. The fighter accelerates to a speed of approximately 2,500 km/h and weighs relatively little—its empty weight is just 8,000 kg. The maximum range of the American aircraft in the basic variant is 3,200 km while equipping the F-16 with additional fuel tanks boosts this value to 4,200 km.

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