Washington Stresses F-16s Will Aid Ukraine in the ‘Long-Term’

by | Sep 12, 2023

Washington Stresses F-16s Will Aid Ukraine in the ‘Long-Term’

by | Sep 12, 2023

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Several US officials have explained that advanced American warplanes are unlikely to impact the war in Ukraine until years in the future. However, Ukraine is hoping to deploy the weapons this winter. 

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin told Congress, “As with our Air Force, we’re only effective if we’re part of a joint force. The value of the F-16s will be in the longer term when it’s better integrated with a larger Ukrainian military.”

He added, “What we understand through our successes in air power and air superiority is it’s not only the platform, but it’s the training. And that training is not just on the platform, but it’s the integration with the command-and-control elements, the integration with the joint force.”

Last month, Gen. James Hecker explained that Ukraine’s inexperienced pilots will have to go through several phases of training. “They’re young pilots that barely have any hours at all. So they’re not currently fighting the war. And then they’re going to get a little bit more training on propellers, and then go down to France and fly in the [Dornier Alpha Jets] for a little bit; that all is going to take time,” he said. “And that’s probably not going to happen before the end of the year. So that takes a while to make that happen. So that’s why it’s going to be at least until next year until you see F-16s in Ukraine.”

While Hecker believes F-16s could see the battlefield next year, he stressed it will take years for the aircraft to have an impact. “You can get proficient on some weapons systems fairly quickly. It takes a while to build a couple of squadrons of F-16s and to get their readiness high enough and their proficiency high enough. This could be four or five years down the road,” he explained. 

The general added that once the advanced warplane is operating at its potential, it will not be a war-altering weapon. “[The F-16s are] not going to be the silver bullet, that all of a sudden, they’re going to start taking down SA- 21s [NATO designation for the Russian long-range S-400] because they have an F-16.”

Still, Ukrainian officials appear to have a more optimistic timeline for the F-16. The Wall Street Journal reports that Ukrainian officials now say they could have pilots trained by February. “Ukrainian officials now believe that with American training expected to begin this month or next, a handful of Ukrainian fighter pilots could be ready to go as early as February,” the outlet reported. “The US could train experienced, English-proficient Ukrainian pilots in as little as five months, a group of likely fewer than ten pilots for now.”

The timeline for F-16 reaching Ukraine is still unclear. In the early months of the war, President Joe Biden insisted that sending the advanced warplanes to Ukraine was off the table. However, he relented to pressure earlier this year and agreed to allow American allies to pledge to send about 60 F-16s to Ukraine. 

Before the planes can hit the battlefield, Ukrainian pilots must be trained. The pilots will have to become proficient in English prior to flight training. The combined process is expected to take nearly a year, meaning American officials believe the first Ukrainian pilots will be trained for combat sometime next summer. The training program inside the US is expected to start sometime this month

Moscow views the F-16s as a significant escalation in support for Kiev by the West. F-16s are capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says the platform’s strategic capability will force the Kremlin to respond.

Kyle Anzalone

Kyle Anzalone

Kyle Anzalone is news editor of the Libertarian Institute, opinion editor of Antiwar.com and co-host of Conflicts of Interest with Will Porter and Connor Freeman.

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