F-16s for Ukraine: Why Kyiv would still face big hurdles in using the US-made fighter jets | CNN (2023)


Ukraine’s quest for US-made F-16 fighter jets received a big boost over the weekend when US President Joe Biden gave his backing for Kyiv’s pilots to be trained to fly them.

Biden’s comments at a summit with G7 leaders in Japan came days after Britain and the Netherlands said they were building an “international coalition” to help Ukraine procure F-16s as it seeks to improve its defenses against Russian air attacks.

The F-16s would be an upgrade to the largely Soviet-era aircraft currently in Ukraine’s fleet. President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed Biden’s decision, saying in a tweet, “this will greatly enhance our army in the sky.”

But analysts cautioned that the jets aren’t a cure-all and have vulnerabilities that Moscow would be well aware of and could exploit.

In fact, one active duty F-16 pilot told CNN that expectations may be way too high.

“To your question about the F-16 being a difference maker. It’s not,” said the pilot, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the subject.

Here’s what you need to know about the F-16.

F-16s for Ukraine: Why Kyiv would still face big hurdles in using the US-made fighter jets | CNN (1)

An F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft has its landing gear extended to land at the US military airfield at Spangdahlem, Germany.

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World’s most active fighter jet

F-16s are single-engine, multirole jet aircraft, meaning they can be used in air-to-air or ground-attack missions.

The US Air Force calls the F-16, which first flew in the 1970s, a “relatively low-cost, high-performance weapon system.”

Thousands of the jets have been built over the decades, and hundreds have been exported around the world.

According to Flight Global’s World Air Forces directory, almost 2,200 F-16s are active worldwide this year, making it the single most popular combat aircraft across the planet with 15% of the world’s fleet.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko (R) and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (C) arrive to attend the NATO-Russia Council at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, on January 12, 2022. Olivier Hoslet/Pool/AFP/Getty Images Russia warns West of 'enormous risks' if Ukraine is supplied with F-16 jets

F-16s for Ukraine are expected to be older versions that have been in the fleets of US allies, especially those in Western Europe.

Analysts say the F-16s Ukraine would receive are not the oldest ones out there, but aircraft that have undergone what are called “mid-life upgrades,” meaning they’ve gotten improvements to avionics and software.

Ukraine has said it needs about 200 F-16s, so the numbers would work out.

“There is a surplus of F-16s in Western nations, offering immediate availability and a well-established logistics trail,” said Robert Hopkins, a military aviation author and former US Air Force pilot.

“There are other aircraft more capable than the F-16, but they are fewer in number and are not available to transfer,” Hopkins added.

Those more-capable aircraft are probably ones that you commonly hear about, US-made F-35s and F/A-18s or French Rafales, for instance.

And there are others that are lesser known.

“The best aircraft technically would arguably be the Swedish Grippen because of its combat capabilities, ability to operate from austere bases and easier maintenance,” said Peter Layton, a fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute and former Royal Australian Air Force officer. “However, their annual production rate is low and there are none available off the shelf.”

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Layton gives the Netherlands as a prime example of how the F-16 might be the easiest answer for Ukraine.

“The Dutch (have) about 40 F-16s on hand. These Dutch aircraft have been progressively upgraded, have relatively modern radars and avionics, and are able to use advanced weapons,” Layton said.

Keeping F-16s in the sky

The analysts say the sheer numbers of F-16s active around the world means they have an established logistics trail and a good number of spare parts available – important components to keep the jets combat capable.

But they also note that for a modern fighter jet like the F-16, training maintenance personnel can take longer than training pilots.

“I think it’s possible to teach a Ukrainian pilot to fly an F-16 in three months,” Layton said.

But “training maintenance personnel can take months or years, depending on the desired level of proficiency,” according to a March report on the possible F-16 transfers from the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

Even after undergoing up to 133 days of schooling, a US Air Force maintainer gains a year of on-the-job experience to become fully qualified, the CRS report says.

And the report notes that there can be a numbers problem. F-16s need a lot of maintenance; 16 hours per hour of flying time, it says.

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As for pilot training, Layton and the active F-16 pilot who spoke to CNN both say three months of training is for the basics – getting the plane up in the air, keeping it there and landing it safely. Combat roles become much more complex, however.

F-16s are easy to learn how to fly, but employing them effectively in “a dynamic threat environment” could take years, according to the pilot.

“Learning to fly an F-16 is only one part of the battle. American pilots first learn to fly, then they learn how to lead two F-16s, then four F-16s. This is a multi-year process, and that’s just for the basic tactical unit of employment,” the F-16 pilot said.

Layton said Ukraine’s current jet fighter pilots have proven adept, and could “learn on the job” in the F-16s if confining themselves to air defense, shooting down intruding Russian aircraft or missiles, in the short term.

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“My logic falls away if trying to teach them low altitude night/all-weather ground attack using infrared systems and laser guided bombs; this would take longer,” Layton said.

How do you hide F-16s?

Then there is the question of where Ukrainian F-16s would be based.

“F-16s do best on long, pristine runways. They could face difficulties on the rougher, former Soviet ones dispersed across Ukraine,” RAND Corp. analysts John Hoehn and William Courtney wrote in a blog post earlier this month.

“To bring in Western aircraft, Ukraine might need to repave and potentially extend a number of runways, a process which Russia would likely detect. If only a few airfields were suitable and in known locations, focused Russian attacks could impede Ukrainian F-16s from flying,” they wrote.

Ukrainian soldiers fire a cannon near Bakhmut, an eastern city where fierce battles against Russian forces have been taking place, in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Friday, May 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Libkos) Libkos/AP Accounting error frees $3 billion for Ukraine weapons assistance

Assuming Ukraine can overcome logistics and maintenance hurdles, and find secure runways from which to fly F-16s, they still need the right armaments to be effective against the key fighter jets Russia is using, like the Su-25 and MiG-31, analysts say.

“The advantages of transferring advanced western fighter jets in seeking air superiority are likely to be realized only if paired with large quantities of western-manufactured munitions,” the CRS report says.

Advanced western armaments for the F-16s would be expensive.

For instance, a single Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) costs about $1.2 million, CRS says, adding that it takes about two years to make one.

The US could provide AMRAAMs and other arms from its stockpile, but with the long manufacturing times, it runs the risk of its own inventories being depleted if needed in a conflict directly involving US forces, the CRS says.

The political war and the future

Despite all the possible drawbacks to F-16s, Hopkins said a political war is being fought, and victories are needed in that battlespace.

Getting F-16s to Ukraine would demonstrate “a powerful political and diplomatic collaboration across multiple Western (and especially NATO) countries,” he said.

Layton said Ukraine needs to take a long view, too.

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F-16s for Ukraine: Why Kyiv would still face big hurdles in using the US-made fighter jets | CNN (5)

Hear Biden official's response to admin's pivot on F-16s

01:47 - Source: CNN

Kyiv is not going to be able to get replacements for its current Soviet-era aircraft as they wear out or are lost in combat, he said

“Over time, there will be no combat-effective Ukrainian air force. They need new aircraft for future air defense tasks,” he said.

Transitioning to a Western-made fleet now makes sense, he said.

But the war in Ukraine shows no sign of ending soon, and the current F-16 pilot doesn’t see the planes hastening the end of it.

“Getting the Ukranians F-16s will be a morale boost and add some limited combat capability, that’s all,” the pilot said.

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“It might do a couple of strikes over the next year and have some wins, but no one airplane will change the course of the war.”


How many F-16 does Ukraine need? ›

Ukraine is likely to need up to 100 F-16s, but "certainly upwards of 60 to start with," former British Royal Air Force Senior Commander and Air Marshal Greg Bagwell told Newsweek. However, Kyiv's air force would need more aircraft than it can actively fly at one time, experts stress.

Are Ukrainian pilots training on F-16? ›

BRUSSELS — The European Union's foreign policy chief said Tuesday that the U.S. green light to allow Ukrainian pilots to get training to fly F-16s has created an inexorable momentum that will inevitably bring the fighter jets to the Ukrainian battlefield.

Which countries have F-16 fighter jet? ›

As the data in our chart shows, after the Americans, it is Turkey that has the most F-16s (243 aircraft). Following them are Israel (224), Egypt (218), South Korea (167), Greece (153) and Taiwan (136 and 66 on order). Together with the United States, these countries own three-quarters of the world's F-16 fleet.

How good is F-16 fighter jet? ›

It is highly maneuverable and has proven itself in air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack. It provides a relatively low-cost, high-performance weapon system for the United States and allied nations.

Is the F-16 better than MiG-29? ›

He added that while the MiG-29 has "superior nose-pointing capabilities" when flying at less than 200 knots, F-16s "excel" in such capabilities at speeds above 200 knots. "The turn rate on F-16 is significantly better," he said.

Why does Ukraine want F-16s? ›

The F-16 would help Ukraine build back its air force with Western kit to contend with Russia's larger and more advanced air force. As a multi-role aircraft, it could provide air support for Ukrainian troops, attack ground targets, intercept Russian cruise missiles, and fend off attacks by Russian planes.

What's better f16 or f18? ›

The F-18 has some advantages in combat that the F-16 cannot match. It has the ability to take off from aircraft carriers, allowing a more tactical insert into the battle-space. In addition, the F-18 has a longer combat radius of 400 to 500 nautical miles, as opposed to the F-16's combat radius of 296 nautical miles.

How long does it take to train f16 pilot? ›

The internal Air Force assessment, dated March 22, concluded that at least some Ukrainian pilots could be trained to fly the F-16 in four to five months.

How hard is it to become an F-16 pilot? ›

It is very difficult to become an Air Force Pilot. You need not only a high-grade point average, but also you must be physically and mentally fit, complete several educational and training scenarios, and be between the ages of 22 and 28. In fact, for every 1,000 applicants who apply, only 3 become air force pilots.

Has a US F-16 ever been shot down? ›

May 2 – An F-16C Fighting Falcon (Serial Number 88-0550) was shot down by a Yugoslav SA-3 SAM. The aircraft crashed near Šabac, in a rural area of Serbia. The pilot, Lieutenant Colonel David L. Goldfein, future 4 Star General and Chief of Staff of the Air Force, survived and was subsequently rescued.

Has the F-16 ever lost? ›

F-16s have been used by the United States in Afghanistan since 2001. One USAF F-16 fighter was lost during the operations in Afghanistan: on 3 April 2013 a USAF F-16 crashed near Bagram Airfield in eastern Afghanistan's Parwan province killing its pilot.

What is the most powerful F-16? ›

The Lockheed Martin F-16V is the latest and most advanced F-16 on the market today. The F-16V configuration includes numerous enhancements designed to keep the F-16 at the forefront of international security, strengthening its position as the world's foremost combat-proven 4th Generation multi-role fighter aircraft.

What is the F-16 dogfight record? ›

The F-16 has an official name—Fighting Falcon—that nobody uses. To those who fly, arm, or maintain it, it is “the Viper.” It has been the most popular fighter of its time, with some 4,100 F-16s delivered to more than 20 countries. It has flown more than 200,000 combat sorties. Its air combat record: 71-to-zero.

What's faster an F-16 and F 35? ›

The F-35 has far greater speed and manoeuvrability capabilities compared to the F-16. Its advanced avionics system allows pilots to locate and identify threats, helping them act fast and precisely in combat situations.

Who would win in a dogfight an F-16 or an F-15? ›

The F-15 is considered to have a higher durability and stronger air-to-air combat capabilities than the F-16 due to its heavy armor and upgraded avionics systems.

What is the Russian equivalent of the F-16? ›

Like the F-16, the Sukhoi Su-35 is a multi-role fighter. A twin-engine, single-seat aircraft, it is described as "Russia's signature heavy fighter bomber" by the RAND Corporation think tank.

Is SU 57 better than F-35? ›

The Su-57 is literally thousands of times larger on radar than American jets like the F-35 and F-22. Any holes or gaps in the exterior shell of a stealth aircraft can dramatically increase its detectability.

What U.S. aircraft is comparable to MiG-29? ›

As a fourth-generation jet, entering service with the Soviet Union in the early 1980s, it was designed to be able to compete with the US F-16 and F-15 fighters of the same era.

Does the US Navy use F 16s? ›

The F-16N Viper is a US Navy version of the Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon. The Viper was built in small numbers specifically for the Navy to serve in the "Aggressor" role in combat training.

Does Ukraine have m16? ›

On 12 January, a unit of the Ukrainian Army's 47th Separate Mechanised Brigade (47 OMBr) was seen equipped with US M16A4s for the first time. The rifles were seen equipped with Trijicon ACOG optics and some, a considerable percentage, were seen with M203 40mm under-barrel grenade launchers, and of course rail covers.

How many G's can a F-35 pull? ›

Stealth also permits (and requires) internal fuel and weapons carriage. The Air Force F-35 variant, fully loaded for combat, can pull nine-G turns with a full load of fuel and missiles. This cannot be done by fighters lugging along external weapons and fuel tanks.

Is F-16 louder than f18? ›

But today the change in aircraft, and in city-encouraged growth around the base, it is in a different world. AirForce sponsored studies show that the F-35, F-18 and F-22 are all at least 30db louder then the A10 (sounds 8 times as loud), and at least 9-26db louder than current average F-16 flights (2-5 times as loud).

Has the F 18 ever seen combat? ›

Combat operations. The F/A-18 first saw combat action in April 1986, when VFA-131, VFA-132, VMFA-314, and VMFA-323 Hornets from USS Coral Sea flew Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) missions against Libyan air defenses during Operation Prairie Fire and an attack on Benghazi as part of Operation El Dorado Canyon.

Do fighter jet pilots age faster? ›

Planes travel at high enough altitudes that the weak gravitational field speeds up the tick rate of a clock on board more than the high speeds slow it down. The difference is so small, however, that even the most tireless jet setters don't have to worry about extra wrinkles.

How much does an F-16 pilot make in the Air Force? ›

How does the salary as a F-16 Fighter Pilot at US Air Force compare with the base salary range for this job? The average salary for a F-16 Fighter Pilot is $70,695 per year in United States, which is 37% lower than the average US Air Force salary of $113,165 per year for this job.

How much does it cost to train an F-16 pilot? ›

Here's how much the U.S. Air Force spends training its pilots:
Aircraft2018 Dollars2023 Dollars
11 more rows
Apr 3, 2023

What is the hardest license to get as a pilot? ›

The airline transport pilot (ATP) is the most advanced pilot certificate one can obtain, and it's necessary for those who want to fly commercial airliners for a living.

At what age do you stop being a fighter pilot? ›

Applicants in the Air Force must meet a selection board before age 28 1/2, and they must enter Undergraduate Flying Training (UPT) before age 30. Age waivers up to the age of 35 are considered.

What is the average age of an Air Force pilot? ›

-40 years

Who ruined the F-16? ›

The F-16 modifications were a breaking point for Boyd and the Fighter Mafia. During the late 1970s, Boyd frequently gathered with his acolytes, complaining that the Air Force's 'goldplating' was destroying the 'pure' fighter he had designed.

Which fighter jet has the most kills? ›

F6F Hellcat

Hellcats were credited with 5,223 kills, more than any other Allied naval aircraft.

Why did the U.S. lose so many planes in Vietnam? ›

Among the first USAF losses were more Firebees. By mid-1965, several manned aircraft were lost due to ground fire, lack of fuel, mishaps, and other causes, and many aircrews were already prisoners of war. The increasing pace of flights provided a target-rich environment for North Vietnam.

Has an F-16 ever landed on an aircraft carrier? ›

No, the F-16 cannot "carrier land", even with the tail hook. The Air Force jets (aside from any that are shared with the Navy) have tail hooks only for emergency purposes during landing, or securing the aircraft during engine run-up testing.

What fighter jets have never been shot down? ›

The F-15 Eagle is a fighter jet that originally made by McDonnell-Douglas (later Boeing). It is known around the world for its toughness and undefeated record, meaning that it has never been shot down by an enemy plane.

Can F-15 beat F-16? ›

Overall, the F-16 appears less advantageous than the F-15 due to its lower maximum speed, service ceiling, and slower rate of climb. However, though the F-16 is less powerful than the F-15, it is more maneuverable as a single-engine fighter aircraft.

Can an F-16 beat an F-35 in a dogfight? ›

With that said, if the 2 aircraft were ever to match up in a real-world dogfight, the results would be obvious… The F-35 would beat an F-16 10 out of 10 times, bar none, because of its vastly superior stealth capabilities.

Can F-16 fight with F-35? ›

Finally, the F-35 office said simulated combat scenarios have shown that four F-35s have won encounters when pitted against a four-ship of F-16s. "The F-35s won each of those encounters because of its sensors, weapons, and stealth technology," the statement said.

Can the F-16 hit Mach 2? ›

Highly agile, the F-16 was the first fighter aircraft purpose-built to pull 9-g maneuvers and can reach a maximum speed of over Mach 2.

What pilot has the most dogfight kills? ›

Erich Hartmann, with 352 official kills the highest scoring fighter pilot of all time.

What is the best dogfight jet in the world? ›

The Top 10 Fighter Jets in the World
  • Battle for First: F-35 vs. F-22.
  • #1: F-35 Lightning II.
  • #2: The F-22 Raptor.
  • China and Russia Lead the Remaining Top Five.
  • #3: Chengdu J-20 “Mighty Dragon”
  • #4: Sukhoi Su-57.
  • #5: F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
  • Speed and Weaponry Define the Runner-Ups.
Mar 15, 2023

Has the F-16 ever lost a dog fight? ›

The one air-to-air loss (actually two F-16s colliding) was during the Aegean dispute: One of the routine interception maneuvers led to a fatal accident on 23 May 2006.

Is the F-16 more maneuverable than the F-15? ›

The F-15 is a twin-engine fighter jet capable of extremely high speeds and altitudes, while the F-16 is a less powerful but more maneuverable single-engine fighter aircraft.

How many f16s does the US have? ›

One of the most versatile aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory, the F-16 Fighting Falcon has been the mainstay of the Air Force aerial combat fleet. With over 1,000 F-16s in service, the platform has been adapted to complete a number of missions, including air-to-air fighting, ground attack and electronic warfare.

Does the F-35 have any air to air kills? ›

With its first aerial kills under its belt, the F-35 continues its fight to prove itself on the modern battlefield.

Has any F-15 ever been shot down? ›

25 July 1980: F-15A, 76-0013, of the 525th TFS, 36th TFW, USAF, crashed near Spangdahlem, West Germany. 21 January 1981: F-15B, 77-0164, of the 57th FWW, USAF, destroyed in a mid-air collision with an F-5E. Both crew killed as well as F-5E crew.

What is the combat radius of the F-16? ›

The F-16 Fighting Falcon's combat radius is 550 km (340 mi) on a hi-lo-hi mission with six 450 kg (1,000 lb) bombs. The F/A-18 Hornet has a combat radius of 537 km (330 mi) on a hi-lo-lo-hi mission.

What is the most maneuverable fighter jet in the US? ›

The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a compact, multi-role fighter aircraft. It is highly maneuverable and has proven itself in air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack.

How many F-16 does the US have in reserve? ›

Air Force Reserve Command

AFRC currently operates Block 25, 30, and 32 aircraft.

How many F-16 are there in the world? ›

Thousands of the jets have been built over the decades, and hundreds have been exported around the world. According to Flight Global's World Air Forces directory, almost 2,200 F-16s are active worldwide this year, making it the single most popular combat aircraft across the planet with 15% of the world's fleet.

How many F-16 are there in total? ›

Over 4,600 aircraft have been built since production was approved in 1976.

How many F-16 fighter jets are there? ›

The "Fighting Falcon" designation was given in 1980. The F-16 Viper is the latest iteration of the aircraft. F-16s were used in the Persian Gulf War and in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 3,000 are operating now in 25 countries, according to Lockheed Martin.

How long does it take a fighter jet to fly from California to New York? ›

Supersonic jets can fly from New York to L.A. in 2.5 hours (or less)

Which country has the best fighter jet in the world? ›

For starters, the United States is often considered supreme in terms of producing highly sophisticated aircraft, like fighter jets. The F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-18 Super Hornet, and F-22 Raptor are just a few examples of top fighters.

How many HARMs can an F-16 carry? ›

The F-16 can carry as many as four HARMs. An avionics launcher interface computer allows the F-16 to launch the HARM missile.

How many F-16 have crashed? ›

Since 1975, the F-16 has had a total of 383 Class A mishaps -- the classification the military uses for its most deadly and most expensive crashes. In nearly 50 years, 88 pilots have died in the fighter jet, according to data from the Air Force Safety Center.

How many F-16 does Turkey have? ›

Turkey was removed from the F-35 program after buying Russia's S-400s, but is still requesting some 80 modernization kits for its F-16s. It has more than 200 F-16s, including the F-16C and D models.

How much is the F-16 worth? ›

Twelve F-16s, a lightweight multirole fighter class that first entered service in 1978, are being acquired for $4.21 billion - meaning each airframe and its associated weaponry, spare parts and maintenance equipment will set the Jordanian defence budget back a little over $350 million.

Is the F-18 faster than the F-16? ›

The F-16 Fighting Falcon (AKA 'Viper') can reach impressive top speeds just over Mach 1.7, which is just over 1,300 MPH! The average cruising speed is 577 MPH. That said, the F-18 Hornet can reach a top speed of Mach 1.8, which translates to 1,381 MPH.

Which is better F-15 or F-16? ›

Overall, the F-16 appears less advantageous than the F-15 due to its lower maximum speed, service ceiling, and slower rate of climb. However, though the F-16 is less powerful than the F-15, it is more maneuverable as a single-engine fighter aircraft.

Is the F-16 a Delta Wing fighter? ›

The General Dynamics F-16XL is a derivative of the F-16 Fighting Falcon with a cranked-arrow delta wing. It entered the United States Air Force's (USAF) Enhanced Tactical Fighter (ETF) competition in 1981 but lost to the F-15E Strike Eagle.


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