F-16s as the Ultimate Equalizer: Western Confidence Soars for Ukraine’s Victory

Ukraine's F-16 Force: A Tactical Advantage That Putin Deems a Red Line

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

Ukraine has been positioned as the likely victor based on NATO’s assessment, and the use of F-16 aircraft is expected to contribute to the escalation of the fight. It is worth mentioning that the Ukrainian Army does not suffer from the same personnel shortage as the Russian Army. Yet, they have only devoted around 30% of their counteroffensive capabilities. NATO intelligence indicates that Russia lacks the capability to mount a retaliatory offensive.

Putin has consistently expressed that Ukraine’s acquisition of F-16 aircraft would be comparable to pressing the nuclear war button. The political red line has been breached by NATO, as seen by the transformation of Zelensky from a perceived “clown actor” at the onset of the conflict to a prominent political figure in Europe. Conversely, Putin’s image has reversed, shifting from a political strongman to a figure of diminished significance.

In general, the F-16 basic training course lasts nine months and consists of 62 flights. In addition, the suppression of enemy air defence (SEAD) specialised mission course lasts one month. The training period lasts for a total of ten months. According to reports, the pilots of the Ukrainian Armed Forces have a remarkable capacity for acquiring new information, and their training period is estimated to be between six and seven months. Ukraine states that the active training has already begun. Ukraine has also begun constructing the necessary infrastructure and airbases to house the F-16s.

Why does Ukraine need F-16? 

Due to its superior performance, it serves in eleven NATO air forces, and the Western hemisphere believes it is far superior to Russian fighters in NATO and can defeat all non-NATO fighters. NATO experts believe that by providing Ukraine with 80-90 F16s, multi-functional missiles and spare parts, intensive training, and contemplating plans to upgrade and acquire new versions, Ukraine can maintain its air superiority over the Russian military.

Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Belgium are replacing 198 F-16 AM/BM from batch 20 MLU with F35A. And this batch of F-16 AM/BM is comparable to the F-16 C/D batch of 50/52.

Even if Ukraine can only obtain second-hand F-16s, compared to MiG-29, this significantly improves its air defence capabilities. In the future, the Ukrainian Armed Forces will be required to deploy Block 70/72 of the F16 V, the most potent variant of the F16 and the most technologically advanced fighter of the fourth generation in the world.

Additionally, there exists a defensive infrastructure in place to safeguard the airbase. If the Ukrainian Army successfully deploys F-16 aircraft to the air base, Russia will launch a counteroffensive using cruise and ballistic missiles. Hence, before deploying the F-16 aircraft to Ukraine, it is imperative to establish an anti-missile and air defence system at the F-16 air force base. The PAC-2 Guidance Enhanced Missile (GEM) is necessary for these systems to neutralise air threats effectively. The PAC-3 and PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhanced (MSE) are crucial for countering missile threats. Western countries can chip in with Air defence systems like NASAM, IRIS-T, and The Hawk and air defence guns like Gepard.

How complicated is it to use F16 in actual combat? 

As an example of the number of weapon systems a pilot must master, consider the mission of suppressing adversary air defence.

In a mission to suppress enemy air defence, the weapons to be loaded on two F16s include two AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, two AIM-120D Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM), two “HAM” anti-radiation missiles; a Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod, a Targeting System (HTS) for targeting the radar guidance system, A system that combines an electronic countermeasures pod with a Towed Decoy System. Two empty racks are available to install fuel tanks or other armaments, such as precision-guided bombs.

The two F-16 pilots will fly through the enemy’s air defence zone and provoke the enemy air defence base’s radar to target them. As soon as the targeting system detects an active enemy radar, the pilot will launch the Hamm missile, autonomously attacking and neutralising the enemy radar. “Ham” is immune to conventional forms of interference and can calculate the target’s position. Even if the radar detects the lock and rapidly shuts down, it will be too late as “Ham” will continue to hit the target. The pilot will then employ the electronic countermeasures pod to defend the aircraft against hostile missiles.

If a hostile fighter approaches, the F16 will fire an AIM-120D missile. They can also fly over adversary air defence bases to determine if the “Ham” strike was successful using the sniper advanced targeting pod.

Together, the sniper pod’s laser aiming and the F16’s GBU-39 small-diameter bomb can take out the rest of the opposing air defence base’s missile launchers and vehicles.

It takes F-16 pilots a month to acquire the essentials of suppressing enemy air defence missions, and the Ukrainian Pilots must perform this mission before bombing Russian positions with the F-16, making this type of training essential.

From a Western point of view, the United States’ decision to deploy F-16s is a turning point in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Because Ukraine’s international partners hesitate to offer new weapon systems each time, Putin becomes more emboldened. Western experts feel that Russia has grown more confident in defeating the Western systems. A firm commitment to supplying and maintaining a large fleet of F-16 fighter aircraft would go a long way towards repairing the West’s credibility and battlefield losses caused by previous delays.


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