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Russia Losing Ukrainian Skies

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Photo: Denmark Prepares F-16s for Ukraine. F-16 Fighting Falcon of the Royal Danish Air Force. Photo taken at Karup Air Base in Denmark. Source: Wiki.
Photo: Denmark Prepares F-16s for Ukraine. F-16 Fighting Falcon of the Royal Danish Air Force. Photo taken at Karup Air Base in Denmark. Source: Wiki.

Ukraine eagerly awaits the delivery of the versatile F-16 military aircraft. Partner nations first promised the delivery in the spring of 2023, but only now is the process actually moving forward. The training of pilots and technicians, the delivery of servicing and repair equipment, and the receipt of spare parts and assemblies seem to be in full swing. Two questions remain: when exactly will these not-so-new but very powerful aircraft appear in Ukrainian skies, and what changes will they bring to the capabilities of the Ukrainian army?


It seems the countdown is now in weeks rather than months. On 2 July, it was announced that the Dutch government had given the necessary permissions to supply Ukraine with 24 F-16 aircrafts and seven engines for them. This was stated in a letter by the Dutch Defence Minister, Kajsa Ollongren, which was made public by the Dutch House of Representatives (the Dutch Parliament).

The document specified the number of aircraft and spare engines, but did not mention the models or delivery timelines. Previously, the Dutch Ministry of Defence had announced plans to deliver the first batch of F-16s to Ukraine by late summer, which means the next seven weeks if plans remain unchanged.

On 7th July, newly appointed members of the Netherlands government confirmed these intentions during their visit to Ukraine. The delegation included Foreign Minister Kaspar Veldkamp and Defence Minister Ruben Brekelmans. This was their first overseas visit following their appointments.


Photo: Sweden has transferred two very powerful and modern, but compact, ASC-890 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft to Ukraine. Source: Wiki.


What Ukraine is Waiting For

It's not just the Ukrainian military eagerly awaiting the F-16s; civilians in border cities are also anxiously awaiting them. The city of Kharkiv, with a population of 1.5 million and located less than 30 kilometres from the Russian border, suffers terribly from attacks by Russian aviation, which uses heavy gliding and guided bombs weighing from 250 to 3,000 kg to strike civilian targets. It is believed that the F-16, with its powerful air-to-air missiles, will be able to destroy Russian bombers launching guided bombs at Kharkiv and its suburbs from several dozen kilometres away.


Currently, it is impossible to use heavy air defence systems for this purpose, as they too could come under attack from Russian missiles and even multiple rocket launch systems, given Kharkiv's proximity to the border. F-16s are also capable of hunting modern cruise missiles like Kalibr and Iskander, as well as older but still very dangerous Kh-101 cruise missiles that Russia launches from strategic bombers like the Tu-95.


Almost everything is ready to receive the F-16s. For example, at the end of May 2024, Sweden transferred two very powerful and modern, but compact, ASC-890 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft to Ukraine. They were part of a large military aid package to Ukraine worth 13.3 billion Swedish kronor (£1.03 billion), presented on 29 May. Swedish Defence Minister Pål Jonson, at a press conference presenting this package, reminded that the ASC-890 has "the greatest impact on Ukrainian air defence" as it complements and strengthens the promised F-16 fighters. This delivery of Swedish AEW&C aircraft can be seen as a signal that the F-16s will definitely be delivered soon. The Swedish ASC-890 is integrated into NATO's Link 16 system, allowing easy exchange of operational information with both ground military systems and allied combat aircraft, including the F-16.


The pairing of the ASC-890 aircraft with the F-16 fighter, using AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles (with a range of up to 120 km), is expected to clear the airspace behind the front line up to 70-80 km into Russian-held territory.


Besides strengthening Ukrainian air defence, the F-16 is expected to significantly enhance the strike capabilities of the Ukrainian military, as a large number of precision-guided munitions are available for this aircraft, and stockpiles have grown enormously over its 46 years of service.


The Ukrainian military has been fighting for the third year under severe shortages of combat equipment, missiles, and ammunition. Both the Ukrainian and Russian armies inherited inefficient Soviet weapon systems. However, unlike Russia, Ukraine had much smaller stockpiles of ammunition and missiles. Additionally, entire classes of weapons were removed in the first half of the 1990s under the so-called Budapest Memorandum. For instance, under the memorandum, heavy bombers and the same Kh-22 and Kh-101 cruise missiles that Russia now uses to attack Ukraine were removed. According to the memorandum, the guarantor countries, including Russia, promised to uphold Ukraine's territorial integrity and inviolability, but this has led to the largest war in Europe in the last 79 years.


Russia's enormous stockpiles of conventional artillery shells and their supply from North Korea allow the Russians to expend ammunition at rates far greater than the Ukrainian army can afford. Resistance in such conditions is only possible through the use of precision weapons, which can destroy Russian guns and launchers from long distances and disrupt supply chains and ammunition depots away from the front line.

Thus, it is rightly believed in Ukraine that the arrival of the F-16 could be the game-changer that neutralises the numerical superiority of Russian forces.

Photo: President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky congratulates the Air Force on the beginning of their use of SCALP cruise missiles on August 2023. Source: president.gov.ua.



How Ukraine is Preparing

Ukrainian military personnel and engineers have demonstrated extraordinary creativity in the face of weapon shortages. For example, they have managed to integrate Western anti-radar missile AGM-88 HARMs into old Soviet Su-27 and MiG-29 aircraft, and have adapted the Su-24 to carry short-range cruise missiles such as Storm Shadow and SCALP. Firstly, it turned out that the technical personnel easily mastered the maintenance of modern Western equipment. Secondly, Ukrainian pilots have effectively used this equipment to destroy ships and ground targets of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. As a result, the Russian Black Sea Fleet has largely relocated to Novorossiysk to preserve its remaining fleet. These missiles have also been used in combination to attack important Russian targets deep behind the front lines.


The successful missions of the Ukrainian Air Force over the past 16 months since the beginning of missile deliveries from NATO countries indicate that Ukrainian military personnel will not face significant difficulties in maintaining and using the F-16 arsenal.


Training of Ukrainian pilots and aviation technicians, according to open sources, began in mid-2023 after the creation of a coalition to supply F-16s to Ukraine at the NATO Vilnius Summit. This coalition includes Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, making a total of eleven countries.

Photo: Pilots from one of the brigades of Ukrainian tactical aviation are already practising combat missions on an F-16 simulator provided to Ukraine by the Czech Republic. Source: FB Command of the Ukrainian Air Force.



Ukrainian leaders are actively negotiating to expedite deliveries and increase the number of aircraft. For example, on 15 June, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky met with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on the sidelines of the Peace Summit in Switzerland. "During the meeting, we had the opportunity to discuss the progress of preparations for the transfer of Danish F-16s, which will arrive in Ukraine soon," Zelensky wrote following the meeting.

Photo: "Near Kyiv I visited the large Trypilska power plant. It was completely destroyed by Russian missiles. This unacceptable aggression again shows the need for more air defence. That is why we will soon be providing Patriot parts and F16s", stated Netherlands Minister of Defense Ruben Breckelmans (in center) on July 7. He was appoined on July 2. Source: Ruben Brekelmans X (former Twitter)



It is expected that Denmark will supply Ukraine with 19 F-16s, while the Netherlands will supply 42. In total, it has been publicly announced that the coalition will provide at least 85 F-16 aircraft of various modifications. This is several times the current composition of the Ukrainian Air Force's fighter fleet. Overall, it is expected, according to unofficial information, that the announcement of the delivery of the first F-16s will be made during the NATO summit in Washington from 9 to 11 July. Ukraine is awaiting a game-changer.

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