Ukraine's F-16 Fighting Falcons: A Game Changer Against Russia?

January 3, 2024 Topic: military Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: F-16F-16 Fighting FalconUkraineWar In Ukraine

Ukraine's F-16 Fighting Falcons: A Game Changer Against Russia?

Ukraine receiving F-16 fighter jets means modern U.S. aircraft will be pitched against Russian aviation for the first time. But how much a of a difference will it make against Moscow? 


F-16 for Ukraine: How Much Will They Help Against Russia? Ever since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, Kyiv transmitted urgent signals for help to anyone who would listen. Ukraine needed anything it could get, including main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, air defense systems, armored personnel carriers, drones, artillery guns, mortars, anti-tank weapons, bullets, guns, helmets, bulletproof vests, and even boots. 

Since then, the United States has led an international coalition of more than 40 countries that has provided tens of billions of dollars of security aid to Ukraine.


But what the Ukrainian leadership has repeatedly asked for is fighter jets—specifically F-16 Fighting Falcons. 

For months, Kyiv’s requests fell on deaf ears.

But things changed over the summer. The Ukrainian Air Force is now on track to receive several F-16 fighter jets from the Netherlands and Denmark.

The U.S., the country of origin of the F-16, has given the green light for the aircraft to be exported to Ukraine, while other countries, including the United Kingdom and Norway, contribute to the training of Ukrainian pilots.

But how much will these older fighter jets help in the war to stop Russia's aggression? 

The F-16 Fighting Falcon Over Ukraine 

The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a multi-role fighter jet equally capable in air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.

The aircraft can reach speeds of over 1,500 miles per hour and has an operational ceiling of 50,000 feet.

In an air-to-air role, the F-16 relies on agility, maneuverability, and combat radius, exceeding any pear threat aircraft, including Russian fighter jets.

Moreover, the F-16 has robust sensors that can locate and engage targets, including low-flying aircraft, in all weather conditions. 

In an air-to-ground role, the F-16 can deliver a wide array of munitions, including conventional bombs, laser-guided munitions, GPS-guided bombs, and stand-off munitions with accuracy in all weather conditions, even with no visual of the target.

Moreover, the fighter jet has an operational range of over 500 miles, which can prove particularly helpful if Ukraine plans long-range strikes deep within Russia. 

The Ukrainian Air Force will likely use its small fleet of F-16s cautiously. Equipped with the right air-to-air munitions, the F-16 can make Russian aircraft think twice before approaching the battlefield.

But where the aircraft can shine is in the suppression or destruction of Russian air defense systems, a mission set known as SEAD/DEAD. With the proper munitions, including the AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) already in the Ukrainian arsenal, Kyiv’s F-16 fighter jets can suppress Russian air defenses and open the way for other Ukrainian aircraft to conduct operations. 


Both sides have considerable air defense systems over the battlefield, restricting fighter jets and helicopters to either risky nap-of-the-earth flights or stand-off munitions fired from very long ranges. Indeed, since the war began (with some brief exceptions), no side has achieved air superiority over the battlefield, and that is one of the reasons for the lack of progress on the ground. 


Ukraine receiving F-16 fighter jets also means that modern U.S. aircraft will be pitched against Russian aviation for the first time.

But there is an essential caveat to the imminent operations of Ukrainian F-16s—it will take time for them to reach a level of proficiency as that of American and other Western pilots who have been flying the aircraft for decades.

About the Author

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations and a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ). He holds a BA from Johns Hopkins University and an MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.

All images are Shutterstock.