Why the F-16s can’t come soon enough to Ukraine

Dnipro, Ukraine

The depth and frequency of digging across the front-line city of Orekhev is a striking example of why Ukraine needed it F-16 fighter jets Urgently.

Ukrainian forces massed around the city have the unenviable task of pushing through minefields toward an enemy whose advance has long been anticipated.

But their biggest drawback is that they rarely hear until it is too late. Russian planes launch half-metric-ton bombs that glide from afar—outside the range of Ukrainian air defenses—and then destroy Ukrainian positions at will. Sometimes up to 20 minutes are fired into Orekeev.

Ukrainian radar systems provide some warning, along with the short, ominous roar of an incoming missile. But the ultimate goal is often obliterated without warning.

So when Ukraine says it desperately needs the F-16s, it is because Ukrainian forces are dying daily due to Russian air superiority. Despite Western promises, even training has not yet begun. Ukraine on Friday welcomed the news that the United States agreed to transfer F-16s upon completion of the training. But it remains the case that Ukraine is unlikely to receive planes until next year.

The chair’s critics of the slow pace of the Ukrainian counter-attack seem to have invoked a miraculous Ukraine, capable of overturning any basic military principles, based on the collapse of Russian positions in Kiev’s lightning advance on Kharkiv and Kherson last year. They now expect that an army that was nearly written off 18 months ago will now be able to accomplish a feat that no NATO army has ever attempted.

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NATO armies would not consider dealing with the minefields and defenses along the southern Zaporizhia front without advanced armor, anti-mining equipment, air superiority, and a well-trained force. But the West has somehow afforded itself the luxury of impatience with Ukraine’s inability to commandeer an army of often mustered young men, train them quickly in new equipment, and overrun Russian-held territory by fall.

Ukrainian forces know very well the impact that F-16s can have on Russian forces and combat, as they are experiencing the same thing from Russian planes now.

A Ukrainian marine on the southern front told CNN: “I fully understand what aviation is with its equipment and firepower. It’s very scary.” He said the Russians would feel the same effects they feel from the F-16s. “It will make things a lot easier because they will not feel safe in their rear positions. Not everyone will be psychologically ready to go back to the trenches after an air strike.”

In stricken Ukrainian cities, where air raid sirens are so constant that locals barely stray from their path when they sound, F-16s allow some Russian planes firing missiles to be intercepted or intercepted from a distance. It would disrupt the given terror that Moscow wields over civilian areas every night. When you lie in the Dnipro, sounding sirens and waiting for explosions, any discussion of whether Ukraine needs more air defenses seems silly.

Portuguese military F-16 fighter jets take part in the NATO Baltic Air Police mission in Lithuanian airspace near Šiauliai, on May 23.

The task of getting high-quality aircraft to Ukraine quickly has always been ambitious.

Providing the F-16s, with the extensive amount of training and service they require, would have always brought NATO closer to the fighter. The planes need the Ukrainians to become masters of their maintenance overnight, and there was always the risk that NATO personnel would be called in to fill in the gaps, or help repair planes within NATO territory. And so the pace slowed.

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Whether there are enough Ukrainians suitable for training, or whatever the other bureaucratic hurdles are, it is clear that the will is not yet there among NATO countries to make it happen. They learned they could do things quickly if they wanted to – they did it with Leopard tanks.

Calculations may have been made that the risk of NATO being drawn into the war was too great to justify moving faster with the F-16s. It is easier instead to gamble on whether Ukraine will succeed in its counterattack, with one hand tied behind its back.

In the basements of Orivkhiv, where Ukrainian forces sit and wait to see if incoming missiles will strike close by, it’s a gamble that seems cruel and detached.

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