Aircraft deliveries, pilot training… The F-16s have become the sinews of war on the Ukrainian side. Volodymyr Zelensky estimated, on the sidelines of the G7, that the F-16s were part of the equipment that Kiev will need “in the future” to “be able to deter and defend against any Russian aggression”. And Joe Biden understood it well. The President of the United States said he was ready this Friday to allow other countries to supply Ukraine with these combat aircraft. But what exactly are these F-16s and what could they bring to the Ukrainian army?
Owning F-16s “will significantly help our air force,” the Ukrainian president said on Twitter. These fighter jets are of American origin, entering service with the US Air Force in 1978, hence the need to obtain Joe Biden’s agreement to authorize their delivery. With 4,500 examples built, and more than 2,200 in service, or 16% of the world’s combat fleet, it is the most widespread fighter-bomber in the world.
Today, the one nicknamed the Fighting Falcon (“Falcon de combat”) is gradually being replaced by more modern F-35s, but it remains an excellent reinforcement for Kiev. “The F-16s are in large numbers. It is the equivalent of the Leopard tankbecause there are a lot of them, so that would make it possible to supply a certain quantity to Ukraine”, noted General Dominique Trinquand, military expert in geostrategy, in Le Parisien a few days ago.
Developed by the American company Lockheed Martin, the F-16 is a single-engine, single-seat, rather light fighter aircraft (9.2 tons empty) and fast. It can reach a speed of Mach 2.2 (more than twice the speed of sound)the equivalent of around 2,400 km/h, with a range approaching 4,000 km.
Designed at the end of the 1970s, the F-16s have been modified and improved over time against the Soviet MiGs, to be able, for example, to bomb on the ground, to operate at night and in bad weather. The F-16 can now carry anti-ship, anti-aircraft and air-to-surface missiles as well as two bombs of one ton each, in addition to an external cannon with a caliber of 20 mm. These American air-to-air and air-to-ground planes also have AESA radars, which have “no equivalent because they allow you to carry very far without being detected”, Xavier Tytelman tells us.
The only problem is that to perfectly control these planes with a wingspan of almost 10 m, it is normally necessary a training period of approximately three years. On the kyiv and European side, it is estimated that three or four months in accelerated mode could be enough. Denmark announced on Friday that they would participate in the training effort. If mastered, the F-16 could be a determining factor in the Ukrainian counter-offensive.
I welcome the historic decision of the United States and @POTUS to support an international fighter jet coalition. This will greatly enhance our army in the sky. I count on discussing the practical implementation of this decision at the #G7 summit in Hiroshima.
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) May 19, 2023
“He is capable of carrying out offensive and defensive missions. It is a very efficient aircraft in combat zones. This would give the Ukrainians an opportunity to break through the Russian defense,” said Jean-Christophe Noël, ociate researcher at IFRI and former fighter pilot, for Le Monde. The real sinews of war.