Ukraine has finally agreed with its Western allies to create a coalition of fighter jets to fight Russian war aggression. This means that modern NATO fighter jets will soon be defending Ukrainian skies.
The creation of the “fighter jet coalition”, which has already included the United States and other allies of Ukraine, will be one of the most critical stages in the war against Russia.
How does the fighter jet coalition work for Ukraine?
On 1 June 2023, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, arrived in Chisinau for a meeting of the European Political Community, where he met with the leaders of the EU and the UK. It was there that the concept of creating a Coalition of Combat Aircraft for Ukraine was finally agreed upon.
The political decision was approved in early May 2023 at the G7 leaders’ summit in Hiroshima. However, there was a vacuum for several weeks, and Ukraine’s allies did not have a consolidated position. The meeting in Moldova effectively eliminated this problem. The details and structure of the coalition were later announced by the Deputy Head of the Presidential Office, Ihor Zhovkva.
It would be a global initiative involving not only EU countries but also, at the very least, the United States. Washington later clarified this. During his speech in Colorado, US President Joe Biden confirmed that the United States would begin training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s.
In Chisinau, Zelenskyy spoke with the European leaders, and the parties agreed to accelerate the training of Ukrainian pilots and technicians for fourth-generation fighters, including but not limited to the F-16.
Why is a fighter jet coalition linked to air defence strengthening?
The issue of allying combat aircraft is directly related to strengthening air and missile defence because until Ukraine receives NATO aircraft, it must defend its skies in other ways.
For this purpose, the so-called “Patriot Coalition” was formed (from the name of the PATRIOT air defence system provided by allies to Ukraine). These systems have proven themselves in Ukraine and have already managed to destroy the myth of the Russian “supersonic” Kinzhal missiles and ballistic Iskanders.
In addition to PATRIOT, Ukraine is also counting on new systems such as NASAMS, IRIS-T, SAMP/T, etc. They have already proved to be excellent and have turned Ukraine’s air defence system into one of the most effective in the world.
The delivery of Western aircraft will further strengthen Ukraine’s air defence and fulfil the long-held Ukrainian dream of a “closed sky”.
Who has already joined Ukraine’s fighter jet coalition?
So far, 8 European countries have officially joined the fighter jet coalition.
- The United Kingdom,
- the Netherlands,
This number of countries is expected to increase shortly.
The United States is also officially part of the coalition. Canada may soon join the alliance. These countries have announced the start of training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 aircraft.
At the same time, the German government may reconsider its position on the supply of Western fighter jets to Ukraine. The final decision will be made within two weeks. German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius stated this.
What Western aircraft can Ukraine get?
The question of what kind of aircraft Ukraine will receive has yet to be settled. However, everything points to the fact that it will be American fourth-generation F-16 fighters.
These are excellent machines that are better than the Russians currently have, even for the so-called fifth-generation Su-57 fighters, which exist only as prototypes and are 99% unlikely to appear in the theatre of operations, at least in the area covered by Ukrainian air defence.
There are also talks about British and European aircraft, but the issue of transferring conditional Swedish Gripen, French Mirage 2000 or British Eurofighter Typhoon is also open.
Each project has its advantages, but the F-16 is the consensus leader. On the other hand, the F-16 could be just the first swallow, followed by the Eurofighter and Gripen.
In addition, Australia is negotiating with the United States and Ukraine on transferring 41 American-made McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet fighters. They were retired by the Australian army and are in storage. The Financial Review newspaper reported this. In April, The Drive reported on possible negotiations.
The F-16 provision is a quick and effective solution. However, Kyiv also has an essential task for the future – after the expected victory over Russia, the need for a powerful air force will remain. Ukraine will have to choose in favour of specific models.
What are the advantages of the F-16?
- There are a lot of F16 jets (more than 4,600 in service with the armies of three dozen countries).
- Pilots from different countries (including the UK, although the UK does not have these aircraft in service) are familiar with them, and unified logistics will not be a problem, unlike if Ukraine were to receive different aircraft at once, which would turn it all into a logistical hell.
- Another important argument is that many NATO countries are re-equipping their air forces and switching from F-16s to newer models (F-35s). In this case, it will be possible to combine business with pleasure – to transfer a skilful and still technologically advanced second-hand aircraft to Ukraine and, in return, receive exclusive 5th-generation fighters at a significant discount from the United States. This is precisely what the Netherlands and Poland are counting on.
The F-16s are not new aircraft, but even in used condition, they are better than the entire fleet of Ukraine and Russia.
The F-16 is a large family of aircraft with more than 10 modifications. The first F-16s were put on combat duty in 1978.
Why does Ukraine need Western fighter jets?
There are only simple answers here. The number and service life of the aircraft available to the Ukrainian Air Force, which is a Soviet inheritance, is running out. There is nowhere to wait for a replacement for analogues, and there is no need to because they are inferior in all respects to Western models.
The advantage of Western aircraft is their modern systems and sensors, which give them a significant advantage in the sky. Yes, it is much more complicated. However, it is essential to understand that Ukraine is on a course to join NATO, so obtaining NATO weapons is part of the process of Euro-Atlantic integration.
The range of tasks that Western aircraft will perform in Ukraine is also quite wide:
- First, it will strengthen Ukraine’s air defence. After all, Western principles of defending the skies are based on the work of aviation, and a fighter jet is an ideal hunter for the Shahed war drones.
- Secondly, the wide range of weapons of the universal F-16 platform or equally excellent analogues opens up incredible opportunities for the Ukrainian Air Force to destroy armed Russians, their equipment and logistics.
- The war is far from over, and the counter-offensive that everyone expects may not be the last. In this case, in the autumn of 2023, the renewed Ukrainian Air Force may unpleasantly surprise the enemy, as Russia’s potential air superiority is currently hanging over the Ukrainian Armed Forces like a sword of Damocles.
We should remember, that Russian frontline aviation became a decisive factor during the fighting in the South in the summer and autumn of 2022. Thanks to this, the Russians could avoid their forces’ destruction in the Kherson area and save a significant part of their resources. With the arrival of the F-16, the Russians will no longer have this advantage.
In addition, the F-16 is not just an aircraft in itself but a platform for Western weapons. Today, Ukrainian specialists have to make great efforts to adapt HARM or Storm Shadow missiles and, in the future, German Taurus missiles to their aircraft.
The arrival of Western aircraft in the Ukrainian Air Force solves this problem. It opens the way for us to use the full potential of a wide range of weapons – anti-radar missiles, long-range air-to-ground missiles, guided bombs, GPS-guided bombs, laser-guided bombs, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, etc.
How does the fighter jet coalition work?
Currently, Ukrainian pilots are starting training, most sources say, on F-16 simulators. At the same time, the member countries of the coalition are deciding how many aircraft to provide to Ukraine and what weapons they will have (a wide range of missiles and exciting models, not just the AIM-120 AMRAAM, which is already well-known to the Ukrainian Air Force), and agreeing on logistics and repair issues.
In January 2023, the spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, Yuriy Ihnat, said that Ukraine needed 200 F-16s to protect its airspace fully. This is the benchmark to be aimed at. However, the reality is that Ukraine will initially receive no more than 40-50 aircraft (this is the number of aircraft the Ministry of Defence says it will receive). This will allow us to form several squadrons.
According to recent reports, EU countries (the Netherlands and Sweden) will provide most of the aircraft to Ukraine.
This means the first Ukrainian pilots may be ready for combat operations on F-16s as early as autumn.