The United States will train Ukrainian pilots to fly NATO F-16s: how this can affect the course of the war

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The House of Representatives of the US Congress approved funding for the training of Ukrainian pilots on American fighter jets, allocating $100 million for this. The BBC reported in more detail.

US will train Ukrainian pilots to fly NATO F-16s: how this can affect the course of the war

< p class="wp-caption-text">Photo: Shutterstock

The bill to amend the military budget must be approved by the Senate, and then signed by US President Joe Biden. If Ukraine receives both Western planes and pilots who know how to fight on them – how will this affect the war with Russia?

“This bill allows the United States to begin training Ukrainian pilots and aircrew members on the F-15 and F-16, as well as other platforms, while the administration continues to consider the transfer of this equipment, – Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, one of the sponsors of the bill, said in a statement. was extremely low. As, however, is the activity of Russian aviation, which is often limited to actions near the front line.

According to experts, Ukraine needs military aircraft so that the Armed Forces of Ukraine (APU) can attack – it will be difficult to do this without air support.

Plans to transfer fighters to Ukraine have not yet been officially announced. But the American military press and the expert community are discussing the possibility of supplying Ukraine with NATO F-16 fighters.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Alexei Reznikov said that Ukraine is considering the possibility of obtaining not only these aircraft.

“There will be planes. The question is, which ones. If someone thinks that F-16s are the solution, then they are deeply mistaken. Our airfields are not ready for the F-16, there are nuances. So perhaps we need other planes. Not only F-16s are good. There are other aircraft of the modern standard. For example, the Swedish-made Gripen”, – he said.

What planes does Ukraine have

How many planes are left in the Ukrainian Air Force (Air Force) , unknown.

Firstly, there is no exact information about how many vehicles were in flight condition by the time the war began. Secondly, aviation suffered losses during the hostilities. Thirdly, Ukraine received aircraft parts from abroad in order to restore its aircraft.

But, in any case, the aircraft that Ukrainian aviation has is clearly not enough.

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Spare parts were supplied from several countries that had the MiG-29 in service, for example, from Poland. At the same time, the supply tried not to advertise too much. Aircraft are being repaired at Ukrainian aircraft factories.

But, judging by the footage published by the Ukrainian command on the Internet, the country's air forces still have a certain number of serviceable combat fighters, bombers and attack aircraft.

Serviceability does not mean high combat capability. The Armed Forces of Ukraine are armed with old Soviet MiG-29s, some of which were upgraded in the 2000s and named MiG-29MU1. However, even modernized aircraft are inferior to Russian ones in terms of their characteristics.

Before the start of the war, according to the World Air Forces 2022 directory, Ukraine had 43 combat MiGs and eight combat trainers. The Military Balance directory reports 37 MIGs. How many of them were in combat readiness is unknown.

According to World Air Forces, Ukrainians were armed with 26 Su-27 fighters (and six training ones), Military Balance says 34 units. Some of these aircraft were also upgraded and were called Su-27-1M. How many aircraft are now in combat readiness is also unknown.

In addition, Ukraine had Su-25 attack aircraft (also partially upgraded), according to Flightglobal, there were 17 of them, according to Military Balance & # 8211; 31, and Su-24 bombers – 12 or 14, respectively.

Russia has a significant advantage in aviation, not only quantitatively, but also qualitatively. Ukrainian MiG-29 – front-line fighters, lighter than the multipurpose Su-27. They have fewer missile hardpoints, simpler avionics and a fire control system.

In addition, Russia uses Su-35 and Su-30SM fighters in the conflict with Ukraine. These are newer versions of the Su-27, which have significantly better performance.

Uneven battles

American edition of Air Force Magazine published the story of a Ukrainian pilot about the battles of his colleagues with the Russian Air Force.

Noted in the article under the pseudonym Nomad, he said that it is very difficult for Ukrainian MiG pilots to fight Russian fighters, since the Russians use longer-range missiles capable of flying more than 100 kilometers.

Nomad said that one of his pilot friends, during a recent sortie in the Donbass, turned off the radar to make it difficult to track him and tried to get closer to the area where there could be Russian aircraft in order to use short-range missiles.

More often in such sorties, Ukrainian pilots notice Russian Su-30s or Su-35s after they have launched their missiles.

“Our guys are fighting with might and main with Russian pilots who have modern airplanes”, – said a Ukrainian pilot.

According to Nomad, pilots in Ukraine dream of flying American F-16 fighter jets armed with more modern longer-range missiles.

Air Force Magazine also interviewed Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Colonel Yuriy Ignat, who said that the Ukrainian Air Force has at least 30 fighter pilots who speak English and are ready to go to the United States for retraining.

In addition, technicians who can learn how to service these machines can go to the USA.

“First stage – takeoff and landing training, flight from point A to point B – it will take several weeks, but the preparation for air combat, the use of missile weapons will last about six months”, & # 8211; he said.

Unlike Minister of Defense Reznikov, both the pilot and the Air Force representative said that Ukrainian pilots would like to receive the F-16.

The fact that Ukraine needs the F-16 is also said head of the Come Back Alive Foundation Taras Chmut, who was recently in the United States on a volunteer visit.

He also believes that it takes six months to train on these machines.

What kind of aircraft is the F-16

There is no talk about deliveries of American aircraft to Ukraine yet. However, as it became known in December, the United States is going to write off a large number of military aircraft, including 47 F-16 fighters of the C and D series, as well as 48 F-15 fighters of two series with the same indices.

Such a number of F-16s would make it possible to equip three or four Ukrainian squadrons.

In addition, the F-16 is in service in 25 countries, many will probably want to upgrade their air forces in the future. For example, in 2021, Norway sold all of its F-16s in connection with the transition to the F-35A.

More than four and a half thousand of these aircraft have been produced throughout history.

Production of the F-16 began in the late 1970s, and modern modifications – the single-seat F-16C and the two-seat F-16D – appeared in the mid-1980s. Since that time, these aircraft have been repeatedly upgraded.

This is one of the most successful fourth generation fighters. In all branches of the US military, as of September 2021, there were 1017 aircraft of the C and D series. The last mass modernization of the Block 50-52 level began in 1994.

The aircraft was originally created for air combat – the conquest of air supremacy. In this it is similar to the Soviet MiG-29. He had good weight and good maneuverability.

In American aviation, he plays the role of a “workhorse” – in air missions that do not require the more powerful and heavy F-15s or the modern (and very expensive) F-22s and F-35s.

The Air Force asked for comment from Russian pilot Alexander Garnaev, who in the 1980s worked as a tester and tested various modifications of the MiG-29. The pilot shared his impressions about flying Soviet and American fighters (he flew the F-16).

“Technically, the difference between the MiG-29 and F-16 – it's like the difference between “Zaporozhets” and “Audi”. F-16 – aircraft with side controls, reclined seat… But the convenience of piloting – only a small part of its benefits – the main thing is the equipment and weapons that it stands on”, & # 8211; said the Russian pilot.

The F-16 can carry 7.7 tons of various weapons on 11 suspensions (two anti-aircraft missiles on the wing limbs, six pylons under the wings and three under the fuselage).

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Combat load of the MiG-29 is three tons. Armament can be placed on six hardpoints and one more pylon – for hanging tank.

Another advantage of the F-16 over the MiG-29 is one engine. This increases the weight return, that is, the ratio of the payload weight to the maximum takeoff. The F-16 is lighter than the MiG by about a ton – and this despite the fact that it can carry significantly more weapons.

Alternative to the F-16

< class="p1">The Swedish JAS-39 Gripen fighter that Aleksey Reznikov mentioned is much newer. Its production began in the 1990s. Although it was designed as a multi-role aircraft, it is, in essence, a light single-engine fighter of the same class as the F-16.

With good flight characteristics, Gripen can carry less combat load, than F-16 – a total of 5.3 tons of weapons on 10 suspensions.

Gripen is a more modern fighter, and its design uses technologies to reduce radar visibility.

One of the important advantages of Gripen is cheap maintenance. This aircraft, on the one hand, is adapted for flights from airfields with poor conditions.

On the other hand, according to experts, it has the best economic efficiency. The cost of a flight hour for the Gripen, according to Jane’s defense in 2012, was only $4.7 thousand, for the F-16 – $7 thousand.

For comparison – in the same rating, the cost of a Eurofighter flight hour was $18,000, and the F-35 was $31,000. This amount includes not only fuel, but also preparation for the flight, repair and maintenance of the aircraft.

The new Gripen, however, is several times more expensive than the F-16, which, according to the US Air Force website, costs $18.8 million for the F-16C/D. There is no exact data on the cost of the Gripen online.

Why Ukraine needs the F-16

Ukrainian pilots said that the main reason why they would like to get the F-16 is the ability of the aircraft to perform missions to suppress enemy air defenses (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses – SEAD).

The Americans have been practicing the technique of suppressing the enemy's layered air defense since the days of the Vietnam War. For this purpose, special aircraft, special equipment and weapons were developed.

The F-16 line includes CJ and DJ series aircraft equipped for such missions. They use special weapon control systems containing AGM-88 HARM missiles, which are brought to the radar source.

Ukrainians might need such aircraft to carry out SEAD missions.

The problem of layered air defense in the war in Ukraine is relevant for both sides. The Russian Aerospace Forces were unable to suppress Ukrainian anti-aircraft weapons, destroy the system, despite the fact that it is based on outdated air defense systems.

One ​​of the reasons for this is that Russian pilots were not assigned such tasks, and a breakthrough layered air defense system was not worked out.

The Russian air defense system forms a single circuit, to which more modern long-range, medium-range and short-range air defense systems are involved. Breaking through such a system is a very difficult task that would require not only the appropriate equipment of aircraft, but also special training for pilots.

The United States has experience and opportunities for such training, but several generations have worked out such tasks pilots.

Suppression of layered air defense would be needed by the Ukrainians if they are going to launch an offensive.

In a situation where Russia has an advantage in artillery, armored vehicles, aviation and other weapons, the Armed Forces of Ukraine would need attack aircraft – it is impossible to replace manned unmanned aircraft, primarily due to the low payload of drones.

The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in Washington held an online conference on July 13 to discuss the prospects for the development of the Ukrainian Air Force. Its participants agreed that Kyiv needs aviation in order to change the dynamics and go on the offensive.

“We must give Ukraine something that will change the situation, change the rules of the game. And military aviation – the only way to do that”, – said Mitchell Institute expert Heather Penny.

Another feature of the F-16 is the ability to quickly obtain operational information, target designation from external intelligence assets. NATO reconnaissance aircraft are on duty near the Ukrainian borders.

If the Ukrainian Air Force is replenished with American aircraft, it would become technically easier for them to receive information from NATO AWACS radars.

Air battles

Russia has already assembled a significant aviation group near the borders of Ukraine and Belarus, but aircraft can be easily relocated to airfields closer to the combat zone.

Russia is already using Su-fighters in the war 30 and Su-35. These are fourth-generation aircraft with fairly solid armament.

So, a two-seat Su-30SM can carry up to eight tons of missiles on 12 hardpoints. Among them is the R-77 with a launch range of 110 kilometers.

The even more advanced Su-35 can carry the R-37 long-range aviation anti-aircraft missile, which can be launched more than 200 kilometers from the target .

Fighters of the Su-27 generation (which includes the Su-30 and Su-35) are heavy multi-purpose vehicles, in contrast to the light front-line MiG-29 and F-16. They have a longer range, more payload, and can perform more diverse tasks than MiGs.

It's hard to say what the battles between the latest Russian aircraft and American F-16 fighters could be like there has never been such a thing in history.

In fact, the result of a battle may depend on a large number of factors – situational awareness, the initial position of forces, the experience of pilots, and much more.

Air combat, techniques and tactics are practiced in special centers in many countries. However, the actual combat situation may differ from the exercises.

According to the American military expert Pierre Spray, in an air battle where many aircraft will participate from two sides, short-range weapons will be used, and the main the qualities of the aircraft will be weight and maneuverability.

Spray believes that in large collisions, aircraft will fight with their radar turned off so that they will not be noticed.

“Due to anti-radar missiles, we cannot identify the enemy, unless, of course, he is stupid enough to turn on the radar, because then he can be shot down at a distance of 250 kilometers, you just have to want to. And if he is not such a fool, then you will have to come closer to him and see if he is yours or someone else's. And if you are that close, and we are talking about a distance of half a kilometer to one and a half, depending on weather conditions, you have already entered the battle, you will not be able to dodge”, – he said.

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