As Russia Warns “20 Day” Shootdown Of Fighting Falcons, Ukraine Plans To ‘Hide’ Its F-16s In NATO Countries

As Ukraine gears to welcome the first of its F-16 Fighting Falcons, the Air Force Command will likely keep some of these fighters away from Ukraine — at air bases in NATO states — to guard them against a potential Russian attack.

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Serhii Holubtsov, a senior official at the Air Force Command, recently stated that some F-16 fighter jets that Western allies supplied to Ukraine would be stationed at foreign air bases to shield them from a potential Russian attack. He was speaking in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

Without mentioning a number, Holubtsov said, “There is a certain number of aircraft that will be stored at secure air bases outside of Ukraine so that they are not targeted here. And this will be our reserve, if necessary, to replace faulty aircraft during routine maintenance.”

Holubtsov claimed that Ukraine was prepared for the F-16s it would receive from allies this year and the following year. According to him, the number of qualified pilots will eventually determine the number of aircraft based in Ukraine.

“The calculations have been made so that we know how many pilots we will have, how many engineers we will have, how many airfield maintenance personnel we will have,” the officer added.

Several NATO members, including Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Norway, have promised to donate dozens of F-16 fighter aircraft built in the United States. Ukraine is expected to receive the first shipment of Danish F-16s this summer. Some Western aircraft will stay in training facilities outside of Ukraine for Ukrainian pilots and aviation staff.

Holubtsov reportedly said that the reserve aircraft stationed at the overseas bases would replace damaged aircraft sent for repairs and used for training more pilots abroad. A recent study by the Institute for Study of War (ISW) pointed out bottlenecks in training Ukrainian fighter pilots.

According to the ISW report published on June 6, limitations in Western pilot training facilities are posing a significant challenge. Facilities in the US, Denmark, and Romania designated for training F-16 pilots have constraints that restrict the number of Ukrainian pilots they can train.

The threat of a Russian attack on the F-16s operating out of Ukraine has intensified with frequent warnings from Moscow. For instance, Director General Sergey Shmotyev of a Russian company named Fores said he would award 15 million rubles, or $168,000, for the first F-16 fighter jet that was shot down in Ukraine.

“We have announced a prize for destroying an F-16 fighter jet if such jets are provided to Kyiv,” Shmotyev said. The business had earlier offered financial rewards for destroying tanks supplied by the West in Ukraine, and Shmotyev confirmed that multiple payments had been made.

Russia’s Warnings To NATO & Ukraine

Russia continues to assert that the delivery of F-16s to Ukraine would not be a game-changer for the country. It is banking on the fact that most of its long-range missiles have put almost all of the Ukrainian airfields in the firing line.

F-16 Vipers
File Image: F-16

It has also gone so far as to warn that if these jets launch from a neighboring NATO country, Moscow would retaliate.

Former Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu, quoting statistics, said late last year that Russian air defense systems would likely shoot down all F-16 fighter jets promised to Ukraine in a matter of 20 days.

Several Moscow-based military bloggers have also warned that the aircraft would be destroyed like the Western tanks that were received and deployed by Ukraine with the same fanfare and optimism.

However, tensions peaked when Russian President Vladimir Putin said in March this year that the F-16 fighter jets supplied to Ukraine would be a legitimate target for Russia if they were used against Russian troops from airfields in third countries, TASS reported.

When asked whether Russia would strike Ukrainian F-16 jets on NATO airfields if they were used from these countries, Putin said, “Naturally, if they are used from airfields of third countries, they will be a legitimate target for us, no matter where they might be.”

This has triggered concerns about the escalation of relations between Moscow and NATO. He said Russia did not intend to attack any NATO member state, including Poland, the Baltic states, or the Czech Republic; however, should the West provide F-16 fighter aircraft to Ukraine, Russian forces would shoot them down.

“We have no aggressive intentions towards these states,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin transcript. “The idea that we will attack some other country — Poland, the Baltic States, and the Czechs are also scared — is complete nonsense. It’s just drivel.”

In that same interaction, Putin said that the F-16s would not dramatically change the situation on the battlefield. “If they supply F-16s, and they are talking about this and are apparently training pilots, this will not change the situation on the battlefield,” Putin said.

He further added, “And we will destroy the aircraft just as we destroy today’s tanks, armored vehicles, and other equipment, including multiple rocket launchers.”

Even if the claims about F-16s being stored overseas stand authenticated, Holubtsov did not say anything about these aircraft attacking Russia while taking off from NATO states.