Ukraine recently heaved a sigh of relief as it finally secured the approval from the United States for a third-partner country transfer of the F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets to fight Russia.
On August 21, a statement published by the US Department of Defense (DoD) stated that “Last week, in a letter from Secretary of State Antony Blinken to counterparts in Europe, the US signaled its willingness to approve the third-party transfer of US-made F-16 aircraft to Ukraine.”
The decision came after the Netherlands and Denmark publicly expressed willingness to transfer the jet to Ukraine, which had lobbied for it for months. Additionally, work has been steadily progressing on arming Ukraine with F-16s. Earlier this month, it was notified that the Ukrainian fighter pilots had started training on Danish F-16s.
On August 24, a Norwegian channel, TV2, announced that Norway had decided to donate F-16 combat aircraft to Ukraine for its war efforts against Russia. However, it stopped short of specifying the number of F-16s that Norway would likely pledge for Ukraine.
Norway will become the third country to transfer its F-16s after the Netherlands and Denmark.
On its part, Denmark is slated to deliver 19 F-16s to Ukraine, with delivery due to start around New Year. In contrast, the Netherlands has a 42-strong fleet of F-16s but has yet to decide whether to donate a few or all of them to Kyiv.
Norway already retired its F-16s, some of which were sold to Romania. The remaining fighters, 12 precisely, may be directed to Ukraine.
Even though these announcements are dismissed as “too little, too late” by some skeptics, they have become a massive relief for Ukraine, which has been relentlessly pursuing NATO to provide it with F-16 fighter jets.
Although a decision on the Western-grade fighters remained elusive for long, some Soviet-era jets were transferred by European states in the interim.
The F-16 has been hailed as a game-changer for Ukraine in its battle against Russia. The prevalent view is that the aircraft is a force to reckon with even after decades of production. Russian officials, some Western military commentators, and US officials have contested and challenged that notion.
The F-16 is one of the most combat-hardened fighter jets. Elated at the news, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called it a “breakthrough agreement,” noting that it would help Kyiv strengthen its air defenses and assist its counteroffensive against Moscow.
Ukraine has long wanted F-16s due to their destructive capabilities and accessibility worldwide. The aircraft has a 20mm cannon and can carry missiles, rockets, and bombs that can easily obliterate the enemy. It is the world’s most widely operated fourth-generation aircraft and has seen extensive combat in both the 20th and 21st centuries.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement that arming Ukraine with F-16 jets and Mi-24B helicopters increases the involvement of Europe in the conflict.
“The Czech army plans to send its Russian-made Mi-24B helicopters to Kyiv after it receives US-made combat helicopters. Last week, news came following Zelensky’s ‘begging tour’ of European countries, including the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, that their countries intend to provide Kyiv with F-16 fighter jets. All these steps confirm the Westerners’ hostile attitude towards Russia and their increasing involvement in the conflict around Ukraine,” the Russian Foreign Ministry statement reads.
The West is actively promoting Zelensky’s “peace formula,” which has nothing to do with peace and only includes ultimatums that Moscow cannot accept,” Zakharova said.
What Makes The F-16 Special?
The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a compact, multi-role fighter aircraft. It has demonstrated its effectiveness in air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attacks and is quite maneuverable.
According to the US Air Force, “In an air combat role, the F-16’s maneuverability and combat radius (distance it can fly to enter air combat, stay, fight and return) exceed that of all potential threat fighter aircraft. It can locate targets in all weather conditions and detect low-flying aircraft in radar ground clutter.”
As for the air-to-surface role, the USAF says that “the F-16 can fly more than 500 miles (860 kilometers), deliver its weapons with superior accuracy, defend itself against enemy aircraft, and return to its starting point. An all-weather capability allows it to deliver ordnance during non-visual bombing conditions accurately.”
Both these capabilities are expected to bolster the Ukrainian Air Force’s air power at a time when its fighter jets are pushed to the wall, flying several sorties in a day while trying hard not to be shot down by the advanced Russian air defense systems manning the frontlines.
Even though the F-16 has been built on the experience of the F-15 Eagle, it has had its share of loss, unlike the F-15, which has 100 kills but zero losses.
However, the F-16 has an excellent combat record, has been operated and deployed with a high degree of battlefield success, and has often also tilted the balance in favor of its users in high-end air-to-air battles.
The F-16s, developed by the United States, have taken part in the most significant battles the US military fought by its global military interventions. The F-16 was used in battle during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and the Balkans later that decade.
Not just that, years later and at the onset of the 21st century, when warfare was changing, the F-16s served from 2001 to 2003 in both the War in Afghanistan and the War in Iraq, patrolling the no-fly zones in Iraq during Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch. F-16s also participated in the Libyan operation in 2011, which changed the face of the region.
The F-16 has been used by several other countries in conflicts globally. Countries like Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark have all used their F-16 Fighting Falcons in active conflicts. Back in the Kosovo War in the late 1990s, a Dutch F-16 AM shot down a Yugoslavian MiG-29 aircraft of Soviet origin. You can read a detailed EurAsian Times article on the incident here.
There’s a special US ally, Israel, that also operates the F-16 and the one that pressed it into duty and achieved what is still remembered as one of the greatest air battles of modern times. Let’s go back to the Lebanon war, circa 1982.
How Israeli F-16s Stunned The World In Lebanon War
Israel began receiving its first F-16s from the US in the 1980s. The Israeli Air Force shot down two Syrian Mil Mi-8 helicopters over Lebanon in April 1981, marking the first combat kills for the F-16. Then, almost a year later, came the Lebanon War.
The 1982 Lebanon War, dubbed Operation Peace for Galilee, began when Israel invaded southern Lebanon on June 6. Although Israel has a different narrative on the war, it was and is remembered as an invasion by the Lebanese people.
The invasion came after a series of assaults and retaliations between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) operating in southern Lebanon. This was a period of active military fighting between the two sides, with the Palestinians operating from the neighboring Arab territories.
At the outset of that war, the IDF launched a special operation called ‘Operation Mole Cricket 19’ to conduct suppression of enemy defenses (SEAD) missions against Syrian targets. The battle eventually became one of the biggest battles after WW2 and certainly the biggest after the Korean War of the 50s.
Israeli F-16s are credited with 44 air-to-air kills (mostly of MiG-21s and MiG-23s) in the Lebanon war of 1982 with zero losses. During the fighting, one aircraft is said to have shot down four Syrian fighters in a single sortie.
The F-16 has since continued to perform crucial duties for the IAF. F-16I Sufas comprised most of the aircraft that attacked the group’s underground tunnel network and other weapons dumps during a 2021 Israel-Hamas flare-up in Gaza. Iranian soldiers and militias that support Iran have also been targeted by IAF F-16s in Syria.
On February 10, 2018, a Syrian Air Defense Force S-200 (NATO name SA-5 Gammon) surface-to-air missile targeted an Israeli Air Force F-16I, shooting it down in northern Israel.
The pilot and navigator safely ejected onto Israeli soil. After an Iranian drone violated Israeli airspace and was shot down, the F-16I took part in a bombing mission against Syrian and Iranian targets near Damascus.
According to a February 27, 2018, Israel Air Force investigation, the loss was attributed to pilot error because the aircrew did not sufficiently protect themselves.
Barring this one loss, the aircraft has proved to be a force multiplier for the Israelis despite acquiring the F-35 stealth fighter jets. Experts have warned that the F-16s might have a hard time with Russia when Ukraine fields them despite the successful combat record and stunning victories.
This is why, some experts believe, the Russian rhetoric is focused on obliterating these jets while they are sitting on the Ukrainian airfields so they don’t get the opportunity to face off against the Russian Air Force.
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