The self-professed French aviation “expert,” commentator and former airline pilot, Cyril de Lattre, expressed the view to the Russian news site RIA Novosti that the F-16 fighter aircraft, which Kyiv is expecting to receive from the West, will not bring the significant results that Kyiv is hoping for.

He said that the shortcomings revolved around a combination of the quality of the combat aircraft being provided, the anti-aircraft assets Russia possessed and most importantly the quality of Ukraine’s pilots.

He claimed that most of the aircraft being offered by the 11-nation F-16 coalition led by Denmark and the Netherlands were not the latest versions, that many were being brought out of mothballs and required extensive refurbishment before they could be used. His opinion was the F-16 was “fragile” compared with its Russian equivalents and as it was unable to use unprepared runways, such as highways, this increased its vulnerability.

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Counter to that, Serhiy Holubtsov a senior Ukrainian Air Force commander said on national TV in April 2023 that the F-16 would be “four or five times” more effective than Ukraine’s Soviet-era aircraft, saying “The F-16 is a fighter that has become a multirole aircraft which can fulfill the entire spectrum of airborne tasks [that Ukraine needs].”

Additionally, De Lattre failed to acknowledge that the Netherlands and Denmark-provided aircraft have all undergone the Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) that brings them up to modern specifications, nor did he say that all F-16s in European air forces are equipped with additional equipment, such as drag chutes, specifically to allow them to operate from highways.

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So far Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and Belgium have committed to sending about 45 of the jets to Ukraine, enough for three small squadrons, with the first few aircraft expected to arrive in early summer 2024.

De Lattre further claimed that Russia controls the airspace over Ukraine making the airfields in which the F-16s will be based, even if they are in Western Ukraine, will be vulnerable to attack by Moscow’s missiles and kamikaze drones.

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The only other option Ukraine has is to operate from air bases in neighboring NATO countries, which is most unlikely as that would make them participants in the conflict and a legitimate target for Russian attack with the potential to suck NATO into the war.

He said that wherever the aircraft were based, the air superiority he believes is enjoyed by Russia was such that as soon they take off on a mission they would be “caught by Russian radars... [and] shot down on the first flight, or they will be destroyed with full ammunition while still on the ground.”

Ukraine has been working under these limitations and threats since the war began and while it has lost some aircraft it is still able to mount air operations. As for enjoying air superiority, Russia has been unable to capitalize on its numbers advantage and has suffered major losses whenever its aircraft enter or even approach Ukrainian airspace. Western experts consider that in air-to-air engagements, the F-16 armed with Western weaponry, such as the AIM-120D, will easily outmatch Russian aircraft.

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According to de Lattre, however, the biggest disadvantage will lay in the quality of Kyiv’s pilots. He says there have been many problems with their training because, among other weaknesses, they do not speak English well enough to absorb the training. He said that most of them could barely fly an F-16 between bases in Europe let alone fly them in combat.

Without any corroborating evidence, de Lattre claimed that the situation was so acute that Ukraine was considering contracting pilots from the US Draken International and Canadian Top Aces aviation companies to fly combat missions on behalf of Kyiv.

The two companies are contracted by their respective governments to provide dissimilar adversarial support for their own nation’s military and other NATO countries.

In addition, Draken pilots fly as adversaries in US Air Force exercises, as does every qualified line-level F-16 pilot in the USAF. Both companies own older F-16s but neither their personnel nor their aircraft are ever likely to deploy on operations in Ukraine or anywhere.

These companies do not provide military pilots training other than acting as enemy aircraft in training scenarios. They do not train F-16 pilots in the use of the aircraft in its role as a Western fighter aircraft with its updated avionics and weapons, for which the companies’ pilots are not themselves trained to utilize.

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The Russian independent investigative news site Insider casts doubt on de Lattre’s expertise in this area. It says he was once the owner of Wild Geese Aviation, which trained pilots on civilian commercial aircraft but is now defunct. It says he now lives in Moscow, where he claims to be a security expert and frequently appears on Russian television as a “geopolitical analyst.”

Additionally, de Lattre’s LinkedIn page shows that his aviation experience is limited to civilian commercial passenger-carrying flights in Airbus and Boeing airliners. He has no military aviation experience and has never flown a fighter, attack, or bomber aircraft.

In contrast to the so-called expert’s opinion, Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson said the USAF instructors pilots and maintenance instructors at Morris Air National Guard Base, Arizona, have assessed both the Ukrainian pilots and maintenance crews as being “well on track.” His view seems to be shared by those conducting training in the UK, Romania, and Denmark where training has moved on from the basics to more advanced instruction in NATO-specific operational flying fundamentals.

The UK assessment is that F-16s would have an immediate and enduring impact on Russia’s operational use of air assets in Ukraine, disrupting Russia’s use of fighter and attack aircraft on the battlefront and further complicating its ability to provide air support to its future ground operations.

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The F-16 may not be a panacea, but it will greatly improve Ukrainian Air Force capabilities. Contrary to what de Lattre said, neither Ukraine nor its sponsors will use the F-16s on operations until they are certain the aircraft is ready, the pilots are up to the job, and the maintenance support is in place to adequately support operations.

This “expert” giving interviews to various Russian government-sponsored or controlled media is not qualified in this area of aviation or indeed on any military matters.

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