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F-16s for Ukraine: How these fighter jets could aid in war with Russia

F-16s for Ukraine: How these fighter jets could aid in war with Russia Ukraine will receive its first F-16 fighter jets this year (photo: GettyImages)

This year, Ukraine will receive its first Western F-16 fighter jets. Their effectiveness on the battlefield will depend on what weapons Ukrainian partners will provide to these aircraft.

Read RBC-Ukraine's article to find out what missiles the Ukrainian Armed Forces can receive with the Western aircraft.

Last year, the F-16 coalition gathered to support Ukraine. Several Western countries agreed to provide the Ukrainian Armed Forces with these aircraft. It is expected that the first fighters may arrive in the first half of this year.

The first aid package of the recently allocated amount from the United States includes several items related to the Air Force, including airfield support equipment and precision aviation munitions. This indicates that the arrival of the F-16 in Ukraine is a matter of time.

However, it is still a mystery what kind of weapons will come with these aircraft: air defense missiles, missiles to hit targets on the ground, etc.

F-16s will replace MiGs and Su

Based only on open sources, there is currently no understanding of what weapons we will receive with these F-16s, says Ivan Kyrychevskyi, an expert at the Defense Express information and consulting agency.

“If it will be only air-to-air missiles, what kind of modifications? Because even among the AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles many variations differ in range. The longest-range and newest version is the AIM-120 C-8 AMRAAM-ER, which can hit air targets at a range of 150-160 kilometers. For us, such missiles would be suitable for shooting down Russian Su-34 and Su-35 carriers of guided aerial bombs,” he says.

In addition, Ukraine has already received American JDAM guided bombs. They will be used not only from MiG-29s. Given that Soviet MiGs are not designed to use these bombs, their range does not correspond to the stated range of up to 28 kilometers. F-16s can be used with them in the normal mode.

F-16s for Ukraine: How these fighter jets could aid in war with RussiaUkrainian pilots are already training on F-16s in several countries (photo: X UK Ministry of Defense)

“Therefore, we should not rule out that at the beginning there will be no special format for using F-16s. They will be used in the same way as our MiG-29, Su-27, and other Soviet-style aircraft. Only with the adjustment that the F-16 is newer and more advanced,” the expert explains.

Back in April 2023, the Ukrainian Air Force said that Ukraine primarily needed F-16s because our existing Soviet aircraft would not last forever. The Ukrainian army's existing fighters are quite old, with the youngest Su-27s dating back to 1991.

According to Kyrychevskyi, Ukrainian expectations for the F-16 have reached the maximalist level, but we must, first of all, proceed from the minimum expectations. And they look like this: we will have fighters that can serve for at least another 10 years, unlike the Su-27 and Su-29.

Air defense functions

As previously reported by the Ukrainian Air Force, Soviet fighters in our arsenal managed to shoot down missiles. But these are isolated cases rather than the rule. Although no fighter jet in the world has a weapon capable of shooting down ballistic missiles, stationary anti-missile systems are designed for this purpose. However, F-16s can work effectively against Russian cruise missiles.

“As for cruise missiles, our pilots will be the first to shoot down such missiles from F-16s, so to speak, on a massive scale. If we compare the F-16 and the MiG-29, it is clear that the F-16 will be able to perform this task much better because the Soviet equipment is not so sensitive to operate at long distances - to detect and shoot down a missile at a distance of several tens of kilometers,” Kyrychevskyi says.

Weapons for ground strikes

When it comes to air-to-ground weapons for the F-16, there are many options, the source says. Given how difficult it was for us to finally get the ATACMS missiles, this may mean that we may not get the American counterpart of Storm Shadow with the same range, the AGM-158 JASSM, the expert believes.

“We can already filter out and reject weapons at 300 kilometers and above. After all, there are versions of AGM-158 that can fire up to 900 kilometers. For example, Poland has 70 such missiles for its F-16s. As an option, we can consider the transfer of Harpoon anti-ship missiles for F-16s, there is a version of the same missile adapted for striking ground targets. They have a range of up to 300 kilometers. It is a debatable question whether we will be given such weapons,” Kyrychevskyi says.

F-16s for Ukraine: How these fighter jets could aid in war with RussiaThe Harpoon missile on the F-16 (photo: Wikipedia)

Another option, he adds, is the AGM-154, a kind of bomb missile. Unlike the GLSDB, which failed to meet expectations, the AGM-154 is considered a truly effective weapon. The range of the AGM-154 is 110 kilometers. And the least powerful option we can get is JDAM-ER, which has a range of 70 kilometers.

But all of this, Kyrychevskyi explains, is the list of standard weapons for the F-16. At the same time, some companies are already considering the integration of other weapons, such as F-16s with Taurus or Hammer bombs. The British have hinted that they will give us Paveway IV guided bombs, although they are designed for Eurofighter Typhoon fighters.

“To summarize, if we get a set of weapons from the F-16 that will have a range of at least 70 kilometers - along the Russian frontline zone - it will be good. Anything further will be a very big bonus,” the expert believes.

Even a dozen F-16s at the beginning will be good

How many F-16s we can get this year is also an open question. Even the operational development of the Soviet MiG-29 and Su-27 took two years.

“Our troops are mastering these fighters as fast as anyone before. The Romanians will only start training on F-16s purchased in 2021, along with our pilots. Therefore, even if we receive at least a dozen of these aircraft this year, it will still be very good, as no one has switched to another type of fighter jet as quickly as Ukraine,” Kyrychevskyi summarizes.

Earlier, the Belgian government also announced that it would provide Ukraine with F-16s this year.