F-16s May Suffer Same Fate As Su-27s; Ukraine Fears “Falcons Could Become Sitting Ducks” For Russia

In the wake of recent devastating losses of the Ukrainian Air Force, a Ukrainian lawmaker has voiced serious concerns about the future of the planned transfer of F-16 fighter jets from Western countries to Ukraine, fearing they could meet the same fate as the Su-27 jets destroyed on the Mirgorod airfield.

Russia’s Su-57 Back In Reckoning For Indian Air Force; Modi, Putin Likely To Discuss Stealth Fighters For IAF

On July 1, a Russian drone identified six Ukrainian Air Force Sukhoi Su-27 fighters parked openly on the tarmac at Mirgorod air base, home of the 831st Tactical Aviation Brigade, located about 150 kilometers southwest of the border in central Ukraine.

Seizing the opportunity, a Russian Iskander ballistic missile was launched, resulting in the destruction of two of the valuable supersonic fighters and damaging the other four.

This incident may rank as one of the costliest days for Ukraine’s air force since Russia expanded its military operations in February 2022. Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Col. Yuri Ignat confirmed the attack, which was widely reported by Russian and Ukrainian Telegram channels.

The Russian Rybar Telegram channel reported that the attack resulted in the destruction of two aircraft and damage to four others due to the cluster munitions used.

Rybar celebrated the attack, stating, “As a result, in one raid, the Russian Armed Forces disabled six combat aircraft of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which is the best result since the beginning of the Northern Military District.”

“Most likely, the Ukrainian formations also suffered losses in flight and engineering personnel – reports of enemy resources indirectly indicate this,” the channel added.

The very next day, on July 2, a Russian drone conducted surveillance over the Ukrainian air base in Poltava, located just east of Mirgorod and 100 miles from the border. After hours of monitoring by the drone, an Iskander missile struck, damaging a Ukrainian army Mil Mi-24 gunship helicopter.

Russian Raids Expose Vulnerabilities

Since last fall, Russian raids on Ukrainian bases have intensified, resulting in significant losses for the Ukrainian Air Force. These attacks have so far destroyed two Su-27 fighters, two MiG-29 fighters, a Su-25 attack jet, and possibly a Mi-24 chopper.

The increasing frequency and success of these raids highlight a critical issue: the shortage of effective air defenses, leaving Ukrainian bases vulnerable to Russian drone and missile attacks.

According to the Ukrainian accounts, a Russian drone loitered for nearly three hours at the Mirgorod air base, gathering intelligence before guiding an Iskander missile strike. The Ukrainian Sofa Assault Brigade Telegram channel expressed outrage and dismay over the drone’s prolonged presence.

Danish Air Force Decommissioned Its Entire F-16 Fighting Falcon Fleet To ‘Checkmate’ Russia & China

The channel reported that an Orlan-10 drone hovered over the city at about five kilometers (approximately three miles), directing the following missile strikes.

Although the Sofa Assault Brigade contested the number of aircraft damaged as claimed by the Russians, it acknowledged the troubling fact that the drone operated over Mirgorod for an extended period, targeting and recording the aftermath of the attack.

On the other hand, Defense analyst Vijainder K Thakur, who closely monitors the Russia-Ukraine conflict, speculated that the drone involved was likely the flying-wing Albatros M5.

Thakur noted that Mirgorod is 150 kilometers from the line of control, and video footage appeared to have been captured by a UAV positioned northeast of the base with the camera lens tilted towards Ukrainian-controlled territory.

He added, “Assuming an operating height of 30,000 ft, the camera was looking around 35 km into adversary-controlled territory. That would place the UAV around 115 km inside adversary airspace.”

Thakur raised a critical question: Why didn’t Ukrainian air defenses engage the drone on both days? Thakur suggested that the Russian UAV might possess advanced radio frequency and visual and audio stealth characteristics, making it difficult to detect and target.

The Albatros M5, equipped with electro-optical sensors, can transmit data and video imagery in real time to direct aircraft and artillery at ground targets.

Further, the Albatros can exploit its sensors to detect enemy air defenses, effectively serving as bait to draw enemy fire. Any attempt by Ukrainian air defenses to down the UAV could result in immediate retaliatory strikes.

The Albatros M5 reconnaissance drone, with a wingspan of 3.3 meters, can operate for 4.5 hours, cruising at a maximum altitude of five kilometers and with a range of 300 kilometers. It can be transported in a car or carried by one person, with flight preparations taking no more than 10 minutes.

However, Thakur pointed out a significant limitation: the Albatros’s electro-optical sensors are ineffective in cloudy weather. However, the weather was clear over Mirgorod on July 1 and 2 during the Russian strikes.

Could F-16s Meet The Same Fate?

The recent attacks on Ukrainian airfields over two consecutive days have prompted Ukrainian lawmakers to express serious concerns about the safety of incoming F-16 fighter jets.

Mariana Bezuhla, Deputy of the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament of Ukraine), addressed these worries on her Telegram channel, specifically targeting the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Alexander Syrsky. Bezuhla criticized the lack of aircraft shelters at Ukrainian airfields and the overall state of air defense.

“You have not corrected the situation with the safety of our aircraft, with air defense,” Bezuhla stated, emphasizing the urgency of addressing these vulnerabilities.

She argued that introducing F-16s would not necessarily change the situation. Instead, they could become another target for Russian strikes. Bezuhla questioned whether the necessary infrastructure for these Western fighters had been adequately prepared.

These concerns are grounded in the harsh reality of the conflict. The destruction of two Su-27s at Mirgorod following Iskander missile strikes highlights the severe losses Ukraine has sustained.

Iskander Ballistic missile
File Image: Iskander Ballistic missile

In the last nine months, Russian forces have destroyed at least five Ukrainian warplanes on the ground. Ukraine, already stretched thin, cannot afford such losses at this critical juncture.

When the war began in February 2022, the Ukrainian Air Force possessed around 125 jets, including Su-27s, Su-25s, and MiG-29s. However, as confirmed by analysts at Oryx, 28 months of intense fighting have resulted in the loss of approximately 90 jets.

To compensate for these losses, Ukraine has sourced replacement MiGs and Sukhois from allies and long-term storage, maintaining its air force’s operational capability until the expected arrival of Western-supplied fighters: 85 Lockheed Martin F-16s and possibly a dozen Dassault Mirage 2000s.

India Keen On Mirage-2000, A Fighter Aircraft That ‘Shot Down’ Turkish F-16 & ‘Stunned’ Taiwan’s ‘Latest’ Vipers

The primary concern, however, remains the vulnerability of these new fighters to Russian drone and missile attacks if left exposed in the open.

Ukraine has acknowledged this risk and is reportedly taking measures to prepare for the arrival of F-16s by constructing underground storage and bunkers at its bases. Additionally, there are plans to store some of these jets at bases abroad for security reasons.

The effectiveness of these preparations remains to be seen in the coming weeks or months. The outcome of these efforts will impact Ukraine’s ability to withstand ongoing and future assaults from Russian forces.