F-16 will complicate the situation at the front – a Russian expert

On July 24, Vasily Dandykin, a seasoned combat veteran and reserve captain, shared his insights on the implications of the American F-16 fighters’ deployment to Ukraine for the ongoing Special Military Operation [SMO or SVO]. 

F-16 fired a 5th-gen missile with upgraded circuit guidance cards
Photo credit: USAF

In a conversation with Lenta.Ru, Dandykin characterizes the F-16 as a formidable single-engine, fourth-generation light fighter produced in the US. He emphasized the widespread use of these fighters not only in the US but also amongst NATO nations, highlighting their capacity to carry missile weaponry, including long-range missiles. 

However, Dandykin noted that the process of delivering two to three dozen fighters is time-consuming and involves the establishment of ground infrastructure and comprehensive pilot training. 

He further explained that these F-16s, due to their service requirements differing from the ex-Soviet aircraft Ukraine still operates, are likely to be commissioned only in early next year. 

F-16 could escalate tension

Russian Air and Space Forces (VKS) received a new batch of Su-35S
Video screenshot

Dandykin cautioned that the introduction of F-16s to Ukraine’s Armed Forces [APU] could potentially escalate tensions at the frontlines. However, he asserted that their own aircraft, particularly the formidable Su-35 fighter, could pose a significant challenge to the American fighter. 

Contrarily, Anatoly Matviychuk, a retired colonel and former special forces officer, told Izvestia that the F-16’s introduction to Kyiv would not substantially alter the dynamics in the NVO zone.

F-16 for Ukraine confirmed

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken confirmed Ukraine’s receipt of the F-16 fighters but indicated that their transfer to Kyiv would take several months, as reported by the 360​​ TV channel. Blinken also emphasized the criticality of adequately preparing the Ukrainian military for the operation of these fighter jets. On the same day, Oleksiy Reznikov, the head of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, announced that the training of Ukrainian Armed Forces pilots for the F-16 will commence in August. 

Jake Sullivan, Assistant to the President of the United States for National Security, expressed on July 21 that while the F-16 deliveries were strategically significant, they are unlikely to alter the course of the conflict drastically. He urged for tempered expectations regarding the fighters. 

In Norway, 12 deeply modernized combat-ready F-16s are aging
Photo by Eirik Helland Urke

Following the initiation of Russia’s special operation to protect Donbas on February 24, 2022, Western nations have increased their military and financial backing for Kyiv. This decision was made in response to the escalating aggression by Ukraine’s Armed Forces in the region.

Is the F-16 the key to Ukraine’s military success?

Valery Zaluzhny, the Commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, recently made a passionate plea for F-16 fighter jets. Drawing comparisons with Western nations, he argued that they would never consider a counteroffensive without first achieving air superiority. As Kyiv strives to mirror this strategy, Zaluzhny’s frustration grows, pending the delivery of these vital F-16s. 

Zaluzhny believes that even a modest number of these fighters could significantly impact Ukraine’s counteroffensive success. Yet, the audacity and validity of this claim are subject to debate. 

If Russia pollutes the runways, the US F-16 becomes unusable
Photo by US Air Force/Senior Airman Erica Webster

Despite the F-16’s advanced multirole capabilities, a few of these jets alone won’t be enough to establish air dominance for Ukraine. They also don’t offer a feasible solution to breach Russia’s formidable defenses. Adding complexities to Ukraine’s operations could prove counterproductive. 

Warfare principles advocate for simplicity. Emulating a Western-style air war strategy would only complicate matters, thereby increasing the likelihood of failure. Rather than attempting to overcome the complex challenges posed by Russia’s air and surface-to-air threats in pursuit of air superiority, Kyiv should continue its effective air-denial strategy. 

The S-400: A significant hurdle

Despite the shortcomings of Russia’s air force on the offensive front, their air defenses should not be underestimated. For Ukraine to gain an advantage, it must neutralize or destroy Russia’s surface-to-air missiles [SAMs], with the S-400 posing a significant threat. 

Photo credit: TASS

Ukrainian F-16s equipped with High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARM) would have to venture deep into S-400 territory to provoke Russian operators into emitting. However, with the S-400’s engagement range being approximately 250 miles — four times that of an AGM-88 HARM — this mission comes with considerable risks. 

Even if the F-16s succeed in firing their missiles, Russian SAM crews can stop emitting and relocate, making it difficult for Ukraine to close the kill chain effectively. Faced with high losses and a dwindling strategy, Ukraine confronts a daunting challenge. 

Kyiv’s losing battle

Yet, this predicament should not come as a surprise. Moscow seems to be adopting strategies from Kyiv’s air-denial playbook, leveraging the advantages of mobile, ground-based air defenses over expensive, fixed-wing aircraft to make achieving air superiority a costly endeavor. In essence, a direct conflict between a limited number of Ukrainian F-16s and Moscow’s extensive SAM arsenal looks unfavorable for Kyiv. 

Yankees land in Taiwan to upgrade local 140 F-16A/B fighters
Photo credit: Pixabay

Despite these odds, some airpower enthusiasts argue that Ukraine’s successful air-denial strategy against Russian troops on the offensive should now transition to air superiority, given the launch of Ukraine’s counteroffensive. 

However, Ukraine’s battlefield triumphs depend more on its continued denial of air superiority to Russia, rather than gaining air superiority itself. U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Q. Brown underlined the importance of air denial in the Ukrainian counteroffensive, stating, “It keeps Russian airpower off the back of the Ukrainians and allows them to execute a bit better, being able to use their air defense to their advantage,” Brown said.


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