What Does the F-16 Mean For Ukraine? — opinion
F-16 (Photo:REUTERS/Ann Wang)
The F-16 fighters were needed yesterday. Until recently, the position of the United States to supply them, which has the right to make this decision, was categorically negative. What we have today is a highly significant achievement. Our partners have destroyed the last red line they drew for themselves regarding the range of support for long-range and high-tech weapons. I didn't notice anything new or any new levers involved in this particular decision regarding F-16s. The situation is similar to what we have observed since the decision to transfer Javelins to Ukraine (long before the war). We had the same story with heavy weapons at the beginning of the war, and then with tanks. They must realize that the risks of not providing these weapons are greater than the risks of providing them.
A particular series of steps have to be taken to provide these armaments - the search for funding, the search for where to transfer them, and then gradually the preparation of crews and transfer of this weapon.
What is unique about F-16?
It's not one of a kind, but it's part of a category of multi-purpose aircraft. The aircraft, which was created as a lightweight fighter, has gradually undergone modifications and is now considered one of the best multi-role aircraft available. Without losing its primary function of air combat, it is highly effective for working on ground targets and performing tasks unrelated to air combat or ground attacks. In addition, it involves tools for electronic warfare and reconnaissance functions. It's a versatile multi-role aircraft, and crucially, it is mass-produced. There are many of these aircraft in the world. This allows (unlike tanks, which have run out of Soviet-era ammunition of the caliber of Soviet weapons, and the shortage has long been evident) to acquire several hundred aircraft for Ukraine, ideally.
You can find experts analyzing the comparative characteristics of the F-16 and, for example, the Russian Su-35. But the least likely task for the F-16 will be an air battle with a Russian opponent. There have been cases where our pilots engaged in close air combat. In these cases, there are two key factors for success. These are the aircraft's tactical and technical characteristics and the pilot's training and skill. The technically better aircraft does not always win close air combat (when various acrobatic maneuvers are performed). The air battle is more often at long and medium distances – targeting modern aircraft and missiles allows launches at distances of over 100 km.
In this case, the advantage of the Su-35 is that it is twice the size, with more powerful sights, and missiles with a greater range. But these are laboratory attempts to compare the characteristics of these planes. In an actual situation, if it is a complex and professional use of planes against planes, or groups of planes against groups of planes, a significant addition will be whether there is proper support. For example, we are talking about Russian planes. In that case, these are the A-50, airborne command centers that transmit information to the crew about air targets at distances five times greater than its onboard equipment allows. The F-16 can be given information about targets outside the radar viewing range.
So it's more complex than a table with two columns listing all the characteristics. The same goes for weapons. Even if the rockets on the F-16 have a shorter range than those on the Su-35, it is not guaranteed that the Su-35 missile will travel faster. This is because everything happens situationally, including electronic warfare and corresponding tactics. Still, when it comes down to close combat, there is no doubt that the F-16 has a much better chance of winning and emerging from the battle unscathed. It should also be remembered that this aircraft is not intended for individual use, but for complex operations targeting enemy aircraft and ground-based defenses. This is why Ukraine has been striving for so long and persistently to provide and strengthen its aviation component; the F-16 can work in eastern Ukraine before breakfast and then fly to another top priority target in the south of Ukraine by lunch. The ability to quickly transfer to the most dangerous and top-priority areas is where the most outstanding value of the F-16 lies.
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