Last month, The Netherlands and Denmark pledged to donate F-16 fighter aircraft to Ukraine, following U.S. approval, according to Reuters. Norway has made a similar pledge, notes AP News.
Why Does Ukraine Need F-16s?
Ukraine has asked exhaustively for some form of aircraft from NATO members. The aircraft would better protect Ukrainian cities from Russian bombs and would also provide Ukrainian ground forces with air support.
A lack of air support last winter allowed Russian forces occupying portions of Ukraine to fortify their positions and employ vast minefields that are now slowing the Ukrainian counteroffensive. The F-16s are not meant to be a panacea capable of filling all the gaps in Ukrainian forces, but they will certainly provide increased flexibility for many military operations.
However, it is also important to note that these F-16s will not be immediately available. While Ukrainian pilots are receiving flight training for these aircraft, they will likely need many more hours in the cockpit.
Additionally, aircraft – especially military aircraft – are complex machines requiring maintenance, parts and fuel. They will require a functioning logistics chain to ensure that the F-16s remain combat-ready. The F-16s will not play a role in the current Ukrainian counteroffensive, but they will eventually provide a desperately needed military capability.
Reuters also notes that Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere recently met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv and announced several donations, both military and humanitarian. These donations include more anti-aircraft missiles and several F-16 aircraft. The exact number of aircraft that will make its way to the Ukrainian military was not mentioned, but it’s likely to be between 10 to 15 F-16s.
Other Nations Are Likely to Donate Their F-16s to Ukraine as Well
As NATO members involved in the F-35 program continue to have the new, fifth-generation aircraft delivered from the U.S., these member-states will look to remove the aging F-16 from active use to cut maintenance costs. With the U.S. now allowing NATO members to sell their F-16s, it is only a matter of time before other nations make similar announcements of future donations.
The process employed earlier in the year to provide newer, advanced tanks to Ukraine followed a similar pattern. Decommissioning and mothballing aircraft is an expensive endeavor, and it makes financial sense to donate aircraft that are still capable of operating on a modern battlefield.
Munition Donations Will Follow
Now that Ukraine is getting the F-16s, the next step is munitions. Several NATO nations – notably the U.S., the UK and France – have provided advanced munitions for Ukraine’s older, Soviet-made aircraft.
With the F-16s, some of the compatibility issues between the Soviet aircraft and NATO munitions will be resolved. But for the F-16s to truly have an impact, they will need longer-range munitions.
Though Ukraine has requested longer-range munitions capable of striking Russian targets deeper in occupied territory, they haven’t received them. One reason is due to the lack of platform, and a second reason is the fear in the West that the weapons would be used against targets within Russia, which would spark a bigger war.
More Aid Will Likely Come to Ukraine in the Future
Ukraine has employed small drones against targets in Moscow, according to the BBC. While these drone attacks have yet to cause any sort of escalation between Russia and NATO, it’s possible that NATO may take the chance and provide longer-range weapons based upon that lack of response.
With Russia so involved in Ukraine, it would make sense for NATO to push out better capabilities. As we get closer to the end of the year and the ensuing winter, we should expect further announcements of increasingly sophisticated and lethal aid to Ukraine.