Ukraine Needs 100+ F-16 Fighting Falcons To Have Parity With Russian Air Force — Volodymyr Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP) that Kyiv would need 120 to 130 F-16 fighters or other advanced warplanes to battle Russia.

According to Zelensky, Kyiv needs this number of F-16s “in order to have parity” with Moscow.

Moscow had repeatedly stated that flooding Ukraine with weapons would neither affect Russian resolve nor change the course of its special military operation. It has also threatened to annihilate F-16 fighters and called them no match to Su-35 fighters.

Despite Russian assertion, Kyiv has been aggressively requesting for F-16 fighting falcons and believes they could be game changers in the ongoing War.

What Makes The F-16 Special?

The F-16 Fighting Falcon, a symbol of aerial prowess and versatility, has been a cornerstone of numerous air forces around the world since its introduction in the 1970s. Developed by General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin) for the United States Air Force, the F-16 is a multi-role fighter known for its agility, advanced avionics, and adaptability to a variety of combat scenarios.

Despite the emergence of fifth-generation fighters like the F-35, the F-16 continues to be an integral part of global air power. Ongoing upgrades and the production of new variants ensure that the F-16 will remain operational for decades to come, providing a cost-effective solution for air forces needing a versatile and proven combat aircraft.

According to the US Air Force, “In an air combat role, the F-16’s maneuverability and combat radius exceeds that of all potential threat fighter aircraft. It can locate targets in all weather conditions and detect low-flying aircraft in radar ground clutter.”

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 accurately during non-visual bombing conditions.”

These capabilities are expected to bolster Ukraine’s might at a time when its military is stretched to the limit.

The F-16 has an outstanding combat record, has operated with a high degree of success, and has often also tilted the balance in favor of its users in 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.

Several other countries have used the F-16 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.

F-16 Fighting Falcon

F-16s In Lebanon War

Israel began acquiring its first F-16s from the US in the 1980s. The Israeli Air Force (IAF) shot down two Syrian Mil Mi-8 helicopters over Lebanon in April 1981, marking the first combat kills for the F-16.

The 1982 Lebanon War, aka Operation Peace for Galilee, began when Israel invaded southern Lebanon on June 6. Although Israel has a different narrative on the war, it is remembered as an invasion by Lebanon.

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 surface-to-air missile targeted an IAF F-16I, shooting it down in northern Israel.

Israeli Air Force F-16 – Wikimedia Commons

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 an IAF investigation conducted on February 27, 2018, the loss was attributed to pilot error because the aircrew did not adequately defend themselves.

Barring this one loss, the warplane has proved to be a force multiplier for the IAF despite their purchase of the F-35s. Experts have cautioned that the F-16s might have a challenging time when Ukraine deploys them against Russia despite their successful combat record.