Some minor F-16 repair work will be carried out in Ukraine – US

As per the announcement by Bill LaPlante, US Deputy Defense Secretary, Ukraine is all set to receive F-16 fighter jets from various European countries, and the comprehensive repair and upkeep for these jets will be facilitated in Poland. The declaration was made at the Defense Summit hosted by the US-based Politico newspaper.

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

It is revealed that Ukrainian forces will execute minor repair work domestically, but expert assistance from global allies and partners will be indispensable for more complex maintenance operations, La Plante explained.

The US Deputy Defense Secretary further emphasized that the defense sector of the US, Europe, and the West will collaborate with Kyiv in managing the maintenance of these F-16 fighter jets. While expressing optimism, he hinted that precise directives regarding the topic might be unveiled shortly. He acknowledged the challenge in his statement, “This is a hurdle we are striving to overcome”.

Central Europe will produce much of the F-16's physical structure
Photo credit: Wikimedia

F-16 for Ukraine

For contextual understanding, the F-16 Fighting Falcon is a revered American light fourth-generation supersonic multirole fighter that is capable of undertaking multiple combat tasks. Its wide range of functionalities includes aerial combat assignments, backing ground forces, suppressing opponent’s air defenses, executing interception, performing reconnaissance, and striking both land and sea targets under all weather scenarios.

Ukraine is scheduled to obtain F-16s from countries including the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway who have consented to transfer their fighters to boost Ukraine’s military support. The process of upskilling Ukrainian pilots and technical crew has already commenced in Denmark and Great Britain. Additional specialists from the USA, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, and France are also being mobilized to join the effort.

Central Europe will produce much of the F-16's physical structure
Photo by Alex R. Lloyd, USAF

According to projections by the Pentagon, the full training program for the Ukrainian military personnel is expected to last between five and nine months. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Ukrainian military authorities are considering the deployment of these Western fighter jets in their operations by February 2024.

A challenge

In light of the Western allies’ agreement to supply Ukraine with their F-16s, a slew of expert analyses have surfaced around the potential challenges that Ukraine might face. This development, which follows the re-export green light from Washington, is prompting a fair amount of discussion. 

Give Ukraine a Gripen, the F-16 can't give what the Swede can
Photo credit: RSAF

A prevailing viewpoint among experts suggests that Ukraine might struggle with the practicalities of employing the F-16s within its current war scenario. The F-16s require meticulously maintained runways for taking off, which might not be feasible given the ongoing conflicts.

Following a hypothetical Russian bombing, for example, even the slightest runway damage could render take-offs impossible. The delicate design of the F-16s’ wheels is geared towards smoother, pristine runways – unlike sturdy counterparts such as the MiG-29 or Su-27, which are capable of launching from rougher terrains like a rustic roadway. 

Aside from operative conditions, another concern voiced by many is the intricate maintenance that the F-16 demands. When compared with the Swedish Gripen’s ease of maintenance, observers argue that the F-16 falls short. This is due to the requirement of the F-16 needing workshop conditions for servicing, as opposed to the Gripen which can potentially be maintained on a battlefield or hidden in forests. Built for battling Russian fighters, the Gripen showcases its superiority with these practical capabilities.

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