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Russian war tactics: How Ukraine’s F-16 fighter jets could be a relief

No other fighter jet is as common as the F-16. In Europe, Ukraine would have many suppliers in the immediate vicinity. Will the US give the green light soon?

Western warplanes seemed to be out of reach of Ukraine for a long time, but now the resistance in NATO countries is decreasing. France has agreed to train Ukrainian pilots, Britain and the Netherlands want to form a coalition to supply Kiev with F-16 aircraft. It would not be surprising if US President Joe Biden also changes his mind and agrees to a delivery.

From the Ukrainian point of view, the F-16 is the ideal aircraft to replace its own fleet of Soviet MiG fighters. The F-16 developed for the US Air Force has been in serial production since the mid-1970s. According to manufacturer Lockheed Martin, about 3,000 of the vehicles are in use in 25 countries to date – more than any other fighter jet. Incidentally, Germany is outside the debate on the possible delivery to Ukraine, since the Bundeswehr has never used the F-16.

biggest F-16 fleet in Europe

Most of the F-16s are in the arsenals of twelve NATO armies. The US Army has the majority – more than 2,200 copies. Turkey has the biggest fleet of F-16s in Europe with 270, followed by the Netherlands with 213, Greece with 170 and Belgium with 160. Poland, Denmark and Italy also have dozens of F-16s in their hangars. Therefore the Ukraine would have many possible suppliers and technical know-how in the immediate vicinity.

Workhorse F-16: The vehicle is primarily used for air combat, but can also attack ground targets with the appropriate weapon. (Credit: CSP_fotogenix via www.imago-imag)

The F-16 was originally developed as a pure fighter to counter the fast and agile MiGs of the Soviet Union and its allies – in the dogfights of the Vietnam War, US aircraft were often inferior. Then it was further developed into an all-purpose aircraft that can also be equipped with bombs against ground targets.

The F-16 is relatively cheap

This versatility has earned it a reputation in many armies as a workhorse capable of performing all types of missions. The F-16 also became a bestseller thanks to its relatively low price of less than 30 million euros per unit. For comparison: The Bundeswehr’s new F-35 fighter jets cost more than 100 million euros each.

There were also technical innovations such as the water-shaped cabin window, which offers the pilot an almost all-round view; The control stick of the F-16 is positioned on the side, which keeps it maneuverable even with extreme G-forces in fast turns. The F-16 was also one of the first fighters to support the pilot with an on-board computer that compensates for the unstable flight behavior of the machine in subsonic flight.

F-16 hit at a distance of 180 kilometers

The F-16’s standard weapon for combating enemy fighters is a six-barrel automatic cannon built into the fuselage. The wings can also be armed with short-range heat-seeking missiles such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder and the long-range AIM-120 AMRAAM radar-based missile. The latter can shoot down enemy aircraft at a distance of up to 180 kilometers. This is also what makes the F-16 so valuable in Ukraine.

A US Air Force F-16 over Alaska: “Pilots with no prior action will definitely need up to two years of training before they are ready for combat.” (Source: IMAGO/Ssgt. Taylor Crul/US Air)

Until now, Russia has hardly been able to play its superior air force against the skillful air defense of the Ukrainians. Since the spring, nonetheless, Russia has increasingly used so-called glide bombs: simple aerial bombs with small wings and sometimes equipped with satellite control, fired from a great distance and then gliding to the target . Russian warplanes remain outside the range of Ukrainian air defenses. So far, Kiev sees no way to counter this new Russian tactic.

“Pilots need two years of training”

This is one of the reasons why President Vladimir Zelenskyj must have pushed more for the delivery of Western fighter jets during his European tour. nonetheless, it will probably be some time before the Ukrainian army actually has them. “Pilots without prior action definitely need up to two years of training before they are ready for combat,” defense expert Christian Mölling told t-online. “This is also a step towards making Ukraine able to defend itself against Russia in the medium and long term.”

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