Russia has plenty to counter the possible transfer of F-16s to Ukraine. This is what retired pilot Vijainder K Thakur of the Jaguar attack aircraft of the Indian Air Force [IAF] says in his commentary.
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At present, says Vijainder K Thakur, Russia has used the Su-57 for reconnaissance through surveillance and communications support. However, the retired pilot believes the Su-57 is one of the biggest threats in the air to the F-16.
A possible scenario for the use of the Russian “criminal” [Su-57 Felon from felony – a person who has committed a felony] is if Russian fighter pilots are thrown into a more active combat role. For example, the expert says, the Su-57 has a very big advantage over the American F-16 if it is in head-on interception mode.
This means synchronized combat flights of the Su-57 with the ground radars. They [the radars] can quite easily carry long-range and medium-range missiles under the wings of the Su-57. BulgarianMilitary.com remembers that under the wings of the Su-57, there is a long-range missile RVV-BD with a range of 200 km and a medium-range missile 110 km RVV-SD missile.
In this way, the expert believes, the F-16 pilot will not know at all that he is actually being pursued by the Su-57 beyond the visual range. Thakur describes a situation that has already been used in Ukraine, although he claims otherwise. At least twice, the Ministry of Defense of Russia confirmed that the Su-57 was engaged in head-on interception mode beyond visual range. This information was also confirmed by the Ministry of Defense of Great Britain at least once.
Although it is still too early to comment on exactly which F-16 model will be transferred to Ukraine, there are already speculations. Thakur for example thinks it will be an F-16 MLU version.
The F-16 MLU features an upgraded AN/APG-66 radar with a new signal processor, higher power output, and improved reliability. It can detect and track multiple targets at a distance of up to 150 km. Its jamming or jamming detection range is 83 km.
The F-16 MLU will most likely reduce Russian flights over eastern Ukraine, but will not really change the air dominance of Russian fighters in the skies. The American fighter will have to carefully determine the limits of its flight. If he enters 50 km inland from the front line, the Russian S-300 air defense system will immediately meet him with its operational range of 150 km.
An interesting story is told by a US Air Force colonel stationed in Germany. Craig Andrle is the commander of the 388th Fighter Wing and spoke to the media almost a year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He explains that with his F-35 they carried out reconnaissance missions. Gathering data is a key role in a war, the colonel says, recalling that he has never “crossed the border” [entered the airspace over Ukraine].
However, the colonel recounts one of his failures, if the following incident can be called that. Military intelligence informed him in which area the Russian army’s air defense system, model S-300PMU-1, is located. The colonel said that despite the data provided, he and his aircraft did not identify the S-300PMU-1 as such. According to the colonel’s expert opinion, his F-35 did not identify the S-300PMU-1 as such because the Russian air defense was operating in “a war reserve mode”.
Of course, Russia has also deployed S-400 air defense systems in Ukraine. However, exactly how many systems there are still remains unclear. In any case, the presence of F-16s in Ukraine could force a long-delayed decision – sending more S-400 batteries to the front.
BulgarianMilitary.com recalls that the S-400 has already been tested against an American F-16 fighter. However, the confirmed test came from Turkey, when almost immediately after the S-400 was integrated into Turkish air defense, they intercepted a Greek F-16 during tests. A complaint from the Greek state followed.
However, Ukraine, through the F-16 MLU, will be able to strike targets in Crimea, including the Russian Black Sea Fleet. This ability is extremely important for Ukrainians.
Their intention since the beginning of the war is the return of not only the temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories in 2022 and 2023 but also the temporarily occupied Crimea years ago. It is the F-16 MLU with its actions in the air that can inflict much more damage on the bridge in Crimea and thus cut the path of the Russian ground troops stationed on the peninsula.
The F-16 is unlikely to be able to counter the Su-57 but is expected to intercept air raids by the low-flying Russian Su-25 attack aircraft. However, this will apply in full force to the helicopters that Russia uses in low-flying assault raids, among which are the Mi-28, Ka-52, and Mi-8 machines. It would not be surprising if the number of Ka-52s starts to decrease at a faster rate than now.
Perhaps most affected by the upcoming F-16s in Ukraine will be the Russian Aerospace Forces [VKS] Su-34 fighter-bombers. These aircraft can also deliver long-range missiles and can generally operate outside of Ukraine. The problem is that they are currently the main carriers of the so-called aerial bombs which have been the biggest enemy of the Ukrainian air defense systems for at least half a year now.
These bombs have a range of 40-50-60 km depending on the model, charge, and capabilities of the integrated set to them. I.e. The Su-34 must penetrate deep into Ukraine for these bombs to have an effect, as they do to this day. But the F-16 will sharply reduce precisely these flights, because the Su-34 would hardly counter the F-16, regardless of the model of the American fighter.
In such a situation, we can already witness a real aerial battle between the F-16 and one of the two Russian fighters – Su-30 or Su-35. Both are used as escort patrol paired between them and Su-35/MiG-31 bombers. I.e. The Su-30 and Su-35 engage both enemy air defenses and enemy aircraft.
This will be another goal of the Ukrainian F-16s. They would have a hard time dealing with a patrol pair, but their air presence, which could this time be easily supported by Ukrainian air defense in the Kyiv area, would most likely push the Russian airborne pair back from the battlefront.
Once pushed further from central and northern Ukraine, the F-16 can fire the AIM-120D medium-range air-to-air guided missile. This missile is a real threat to any Russian aircraft within its range. Exactly what the missile’s range is is classified information, but sources say the range is 100 miles [160 km].
The AIM-120D is an upgraded version of the AMRAAM with improvements in almost all areas, including a 50% greater range and better targeting throughout its flight range, resulting in an improved probability of kill [Pk].
Objectively, if we take fighter pilots out of the equation, the F-16 is less powerful than the MiG-29 and Su-27. But still, the F-16 is supposed to be better equipped, especially when it comes to the radar capabilities of the launcher. This means that low-flying Su-27s can quickly and easily become prey for F-16s.
But the task that the F-16 pilot will have to solve is how not to fall into the sight of the Su-57. Because then the F-16 will be faced with much more advanced technology that is designed not to engage in combat, but to strike from afar without being detected. But whatever is analyzed or claimed in the coming months until the F-16s arrive in Ukraine, this action is defined as very escalating.
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