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Part of F-16 will not be based in Ukraine: Reason explained

Part of F-16 will not be based in Ukraine: Reason explained Some of Ukraine's F-16s will be stored at airfields abroad for reserve and replacement (GettyImages)

The Ukrainian Air Force has announced that some of the F-16 fighter jets provided to Ukraine will be based abroad. These jets will remain in centers where they will be used to train Ukrainian pilots and aviation personnel.

Read below on why the Ukrainian command made this decision and how it will work.

So far, four countries have confirmed their readiness to transfer F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. However, these planes will be delivered gradually over the years. The exact number is unknown and not disclosed. Preliminary figures found in open sources suggest about 60 units, though this number is dynamic.

Other countries will likely express their intention to join this coalition over time. While it may seem that these fighters are being transferred slowly or in insufficient numbers, our military is mastering the F-16 faster than anyone before.

"There are certain limitations in the capacity to assimilate new aircraft. The ergonomics of operating Western planes are more complex than those of Soviet ones. However, we are still showing very good results in this area. For example, Romania purchased 30 F-16 aircraft from Norway for half a billion dollars back in November 2021 but only began receiving them this spring. This means Romanians paid for planes that were formally unnecessary and waited two years. And now they are just learning to fly them," said Ivan Kyrychevskyi, an expert at the Defense Express information and consulting agency, in an interview with RBC-Ukraine.

The Air Force says that some of the provided fighter jets will remain abroad. However, this does not mean they can be based, for example, in Poland or Romania and quickly fly out and perform combat missions near the front line when needed.

"Such assumptions and ideas come up against one important point: it would be too far from the front line. For example, the Rzeszów Airport – the main hub – is about a thousand kilometers from the front line. Thus, the fighter jet would burn all its fuel getting there. And the airfields from which F-16s could realistically take off in Poland or Romania are even further away," Kyrychevskyi explained.

Instead, the combat radius of the F-16 is about 500-600 kilometers. Therefore, conducting combat flights from neighboring countries' territories is technically impossible, the expert clarified.

"Based on what was stated by the head of aviation of the Air Force Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Serhii Holubtsov, these planes will be stored, firstly, as a reserve. Secondly, as replacements for other aircraft that will be sent for maintenance. Thirdly, in case of loss of aircraft. I think these are the true motives and reasons," Kyrychevskyi explained.

According to the interlocutor, the Pentagon announced in the winter of 2023 that all facilities used by them for F-16 maintenance at one of the aviation plants in Poland were handed over to Ukraine. Thus, most likely, these facilities will be used to repair our F-16s. As Kyrychevskyi explained, maintenance of these fighters needs to be conducted every 400 flight hours.

"This is ideally every six months. If ignored, we might find ourselves in a situation like Iraq. In 2021, when it had to fight ISIS, none of its 30 F-16s were flying. Moreover, the golden standard for F-16 maintenance is that at least 70% of the fleet is operational. Under our conditions, we will have to maintain this figure at 100%. Accordingly, keeping planes in reserve will be necessary," the expert added.

Another reason for storing part of the F-16s abroad could be Ukraine's shortage of air defense systems. The airfield where these fighters will be based theoretically needs to be covered by powerful air defense systems like the Patriot. To spread them across different airfields would require even more such systems, Kyrychevskyi agrees. That is why our command is considering the option for some planes to remain here and perform combat missions while others are stored abroad.

Notably, French President Emmanuel Macron recently announced the transfer of other fighter jets - the Mirage 2000 - to Ukraine. The media has named an estimated quantity.