Ukraine Requests Two Squadrons Of F-16s But Giving ‘Vipers’ to Kyiv Is Easier Said Than Done

Ukraine F-16


Ukraine F-16
File photograph of an F-16 Combating Falcon plane pilot assigned to the 77th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, conducting pre-flight checks prior from a sortie Jan. 12, 2023, at King Fahad Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, throughout an off-station agile fight employment train. (U.S. Air Drive photograph by Employees Sgt. Shannon Bowman)

Quickly after the current Ramstein summit, throughout which president Zelensky requested once more F-16s, the Ukrainian Air Drive stated a Western sort of plane has been chosen and can probably be offered to Ukraine.

After having the ability to acquire massive numbers of Western tanks (doubtlessly as much as 175 thus far, together with M1 Abrams, Challenger 2 and Leopard 2 tanks), Ukrainians negotiations are actually specializing in the availability of Western fighter plane and one thing would possibly already be in movement. In actual fact, on Jan. 24, Colonel Yuriy Ignat, the speaker of the Ukrainian Air Force, stated {that a} cooperation on this space is being actively mentioned.

“Our navy pilots traveled to the USA, funds had been allotted for the coaching of our pilots. That’s, the aviation subject has by no means left the agenda”, stated Col. Ignat in an announcement to Ukrainian tv. “The kind of plane that can most likely be offered to Ukraine, and the corresponding phrases for coaching has already been decided.”

Whereas Col. Ignat didn’t present additional particulars to substantiate his claims, Ukrainian officers many of the instances particularly requested to be supplied F-16 Fighting Falcon jets (or “Vipers”, because the pilots name them). Amongst these, we discover president Zelensky, who appealed the contributors of the Ramstein summit held on January 20 to present Ukraine F-16s and long-range missiles. Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of the Nationwide Safety and Protection Council of Ukraine, even revealed a F-16 video on his official Fb account, accompanied by “Quickly in Ukrainian skies”.

The availability of Western fighter jets has been one of the top requests from the Ukrainian authorities for the reason that begin of the warfare, however thus far this request didn’t yield concrete outcomes, additionally for concern of additional escalations. The help as an alternative targeted on the availability of weapons, together with the AGM-88 HARM that was adapted on MiG-29s and Su-27s, and spare elements to maintain Ukrainian plane within the battle.

Two Ukrainian fighter pilots, recognized by their callsigns “Juice” and “Moonfish”, reportedly traveled to Washington in June 2022 to induce lawmakers to assist Ukraine with plane and coaching. They described their fight sorties, flying outdated MiG-29s against the latest Russian fighter jets, as “suicide missions” and stated that Russian pilots modified their ways to raised counter to those utilized by the Ukrainian Air Drive.

“Juice” and “Moonfish” additionally requested for F-16s throughout their go to to Washington, mentioning that Ukrainian pilots are keen to start out coaching on the F-16 and are taking English classes of their free time to prepare for this. They stated one of many causes the F-16 is being requested is its Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses capabilities. Even with out the Hurt Concentrating on System pod (which has by no means been exported exterior the US), the F-16 remains to be a formidable SEAD asset.

In late 2022, Col. Ignat additional detailed the Ukrainian requests for fighter jets. Because the Ukrainian Air Drive flies in squadrons of 12 plane, he stated that two F-16 squadrons plus reserve plane is likely to be sufficient to show the tide of the warfare with Russia. Whereas being conscious that the switch of F-16s by any nation would require US approval, Col. Ignat stated that Ukraine is able to observe the lead of the neighboring Poland and Romania that already made the identical transition from MiG-29s to F-16s.

On the time of writing, nonetheless, nobody confirmed the claims about an plane already being chosen, with the Pentagon additionally saying they don’t something to announce on that entrance. The identical was talked about by Air Drive Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, as reported by The War Zone after a press convention this week. “Nor, once more, do I’ve something to announce in terms of plane. As we’ve stated all alongside, we’re going to proceed to have a strong dialogue with the Ukrainians on what their protection wants [are] that features the close to time period, the medium time period and the long run.”

File photograph on a Royal Netherlands Air Drive F-16 throughout Train Gioia Falcon in 2021. (Picture: Stefano D’Urso / The Aviationist)

The Dutch authorities, which only a few days in the past stated it was ready to consider the delivery of F-16 fighters to Ukraine with an “open thoughts”, additionally retracted saying there aren’t any plans to provide plane presently and that it appears unlikely to occur within the close to time period. “That may be a very large step, larger than tanks,” stated Prime Minister Mark Rutte, including that no such request has been obtained from Kyiv by the Dutch authorities.

Again in November 2022, Col. Ignat stated {that a} cadre of pilots was already chosen ought to the chance come up to coach them on Western fighter jets. He later detailed that not less than 30 pilots with ample English proficiency had been chosen for this and are able to journey at any time to the USA along with floor crews and maintainers to be skilled.

Nonetheless, giving F-16s to Ukraine is simpler stated than completed. There are such a lot of elements to think about, together with coaching, upkeep, logistics, and so forth. Delicate materials will play a giant half too. Simply as Abrams tanks will need to be “cleaned” earlier than heading to Ukraine due to their labeled armor expertise and digital programs, F-16s would possibly have to have elements eliminated, like AESA radars and focusing on pods, to keep away from them ending in Russian arms if shot down.

Former US Air Forces in Europe commander Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, commented about the possibility of supplying F-16s to Ukraine. “That doesn’t occur quick. On the finish of the day, we’ve received to leverage what they’ve and provide them another distinctive capabilities to make the issue difficult, after which there’s the longer-term view,” stated the Common. “Collectively, we’ve received to step up and perceive what the Ukrainians’ necessities are and discover a method to get it to them and get it to them fast. You simply don’t throw any person an F-16 and need them good luck. That’s not a recipe for fulfillment, and we need to set them up for fulfillment.”

Some Twitter accounts even claimed that Ukrainian pilots have already been coaching on F-16s for some time within the US, saying that coaching started in April after which once more in October. Officers nonetheless denied, with Gen. Ryder saying “I’m not conscious of any Ukrainian pilots presently coaching in the USA, to my data, regardless of what these international press experiences are saying.” Earlier statements additionally talked about that “there aren’t any present plans to coach Ukraine on any air platform aside from those who they’re utilizing day by day successfully within the battle proper now”.

The one official point out of coaching for Ukrainian pilots arrived from the U.S. Home of Representatives, which added an modification to the 2023 Nationwide Protection Authorization Act that might authorize $100 million to provide training to Ukrainian pilots and floor crews on American plane. Nonetheless, including to uncertainty of whether or not the coaching will begin for actual, this modification was not discovered within the ultimate model signed into regulation by President Biden final December.

Ought to the coaching begin for actual, there isn’t a precise timeline to anticipate. Whereas the previous commander of the Ukrainian Air Drive optimistically stated in April 2022 that his pilots might study to fly Western jets in simply two or three weeks, Col. Ignat was more cautious. “To study the primary stage of takeoff and touchdown and flying from level A to level B, it should take a number of weeks, however to learn to battle on it, to learn to use missiles, we’ll take round six months,” he stated.

Even earlier than beginning coaching, the Ukrainian pilots have already got the belief of their US counterparts. “The Ukraine air drive has the pilot corps to fly these kinds of superior plane,” stated Col. Robert “Tigger” Swertfager, Operations Group Commander of the California Air National Guard’s 144th Fighter Wing. “The Ukrainians are so undervalued and under-appreciated. Which is precisely why I believe they’re profitable the warfare, as a result of all people underestimated that they had been means higher than anyone gave them credit score for.”

As we reported last year, the California Air Nationwide Guard has an nearly 30-year lengthy partnership with Ukraine and has helped to coach its navy below a state program since 1993. Col. Swertfager himself has 20 years of expertise in working with Ukraine, as he’s the previous State Partnership Program director and a key determine within the experience of the area, travelling there greater than 70 instances and retaining in contact with the pilots he skilled for the reason that warfare started in February.

“One among my duties is to problem and consider means to fly fight plane,” stated Col. Swertfager throughout an interview in June 2022. “My skilled evaluation, and I’ve been sharing this with lawmakers this week, is these guys are greater than able to flying our plane. one hundred pc”. Answering to the Ukrainian claims {that a} three to six-month coaching interval is likely to be sufficient to be able to battle in a Western fighter plane, Col. Swertfager backed the suggestion and stated he would roughly estimate {that a} four-month coaching program would suffice.

“I’ve flown with these guys, a number of, a number of instances. And so they’re skilled pilots. They arrive from a Soviet doctrine, which is way totally different than ours, however they’ve tailored as a hybrid of their capabilities. They’re someplace in between”, stated the Colonel. “And that is the place I believe they get loads of benefit after they’re preventing the Russians. They might, given the chance to, excel.”

File photograph of a U.S. Air Drive F-16 Combating Falcon of the Ohio Air Nationwide Guard’s a hundred and eightieth Fighter Wing flying over Iowa Aug. 11, 2022. (U.S. Air Nationwide Guard photograph by Airman 1st Class Tylon Chapman)

Often, the F-16 Fundamental Course, taught at Luke AFB and Holloman AFB, takes about 9 months to graduate pilots that can then go on to operational items for his or her fight readiness coaching. In accordance with the US Air Drive, throughout the 37-week lengthy B-Course, college students go surfing common 70 hours of flying time over 59 sorties along with roughly 245-hours of educational coaching and 69-hours of flight simulator coaching.

Pilots that attend the B-Course often come straight from Undergraduate Pilot Training and Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals, which give a powerful basis to start out constructing the brand new capabilities with the F-16. Generally, pilots is likely to be transferring from one other plane and the coaching length is likely to be shorter as a result of they have already got operational expertise and solely have to “translate” that have on the brand new plane.

Within the Ukrainian pilots’ case, issues are somewhat totally different. Whereas they may have already got sufficient operational expertise, they arrive from MiG-29s and Su-27s, that are complete totally different world in comparison with the F-16. Initially, there may be a wholly totally different doctrine behind the plane and the pilots need to have a different mindset earlier than approaching a brand new plane.

Present Ukrainian plane are ruggedized, constructed to endure harsh situations, whereas Western plane are somewhat extra delicate, so pilots are much less area for errors. MiGs and Sukhois include all analogue cockpits, exhibiting important information within the metric system (m, km/h, km), whereas Western plane are actually discovered with glass cockpits exhibiting important information within the imperial system (ft, kts, nm), however additionally they present all types of additional information for a better situational consciousness.

One other distinction are the ways used with Western plane and their weapons, which could even be restricted by the operational situations they may discover in Ukraine. Contemplating the nonetheless excessive threat from Russian surface-to-air missiles, aircraft might have to fly at very low altitudes, limiting the benefits they might have over Russian plane.

Initially, they might have much less power to commerce within the occasion they merge with an enemy fighter jet advert need to battle their means out. This may additionally scale back efficient vary of their weapons, each air-to-air and air-to-ground, as lofting them wouldn’t present the identical vary augmentation that might be offered by a excessive altitude launch. That is very true for stand-off weapons like the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb and the JDAM-series weapons (each rumored as attainable weapons to be despatched in Ukraine), whose vary depends on the velocity and altitude of the vector plane.

Different guided weapons, like Paveway laser-guided bombs and laser-guided variants of the AGM-65 Maverick missile is likely to be restricted in that setting, as they require continuous lasing with a targeting pod and that might be tougher at low altitude, particularly if you happen to think about goal masking by close by objects (like bushes and buildings). Air-to-air missiles could be in bother too, as they must commerce kinetic power for potential power as they climb to achieve a goal at the next altitude, shedding the vary benefit they’ve towards Russian missiles.

Even when we think about these disadvantages, the Ukrainian Air Drive would nonetheless profit vastly from a fighter just like the F-16. With greater than 2,000 plane nonetheless in service around the globe, the F-16 has a strong sustainment and training infrastructure. Comparatively low cost to function and simple to keep up, the F-16 is likely to be among the many finest decisions for the brand new Ukrainian fighter jet.

Ought to the switch occur, Ukraine would seemingly get second-hand plane to hurry up the method. Frank St John, chief working officer of Lockheed Martin, told the Financial Times that there was “loads of dialog about third celebration switch of F-16s”, that means that the Ukrainian F-16s might come from one other nation as an alternative of the US. Lockheed Martin is just not immediately concerned within the talks, however St John stated the corporate is “going to be ramping manufacturing on F-16s in Greenville [South Carolina] to get to the place the place we can backfill fairly capably any nations that select to do third-party transfers to assist with the present battle”.

Stefano D’Urso is a contract journalist and contributor to TheAviationist primarily based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he is additionally learning to realize a Grasp Diploma in Aerospace Engineering. Digital Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT methods utilized to the world of navy operations and present conflicts are amongst his areas of experience.


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