In responding to Ukraine’s demands for F-16 fighters, the Biden administration has said, “No,” and that “There’s no need,” a decision that has forced his subordinates to offer ill-founded rationale.  The fact remains there is no operational justification for not sending Ukraine F-16s.

Sherlock Holmes said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” So what is the truth in this instance?

Training Will Take Too Long 

Dr. Colin Kahl, one of the Pentagon's top policy officials, told the House Armed Services Committee at the end of February that the training and delivery of F16s could take “up to 18 months.”  Conversely, on 13 February, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, General Charles Q. Brown Jr said training would take between two to six months.   As one of these two commentators is a qualified F-16 instructor with over 3,000 flying hours and perhaps we should consider his a more realistic answer.

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Importantly the disparity demonstrates how answers are often skewed to shape or reinforce political narratives.  This week, we’ve learned that two Ukrainian pilots are being assessed for training in the U.S. which will, again, prove one of the two correct.  Looking back, training challenges were also used as an excuse when the U.S. government opposed the provision of Patriot missiles and Abrams tanks; now, the U.S. is sending both.  It is also worth noting, that Ukrainians being trained on these two weapons are crushing both programs, with completion estimates ahead of schedule. 

Tbilisi Places Georgians Fighting for Ukraine on Wanted List
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Tbilisi Places Georgians Fighting for Ukraine on Wanted List

The Georgian Legion in Ukraine said around 300 of its fighters in Ukraine are wanted by Tbilisi, with some likely from other units already questioned over coup d'état and terrorism charges.

Ukraine Hasn’t Requested Aircraft.

While Ukraine might not have made a formal request to every nation, President Zelensky and other Ukrainian representatives have made the strong desire (and need) for fighter aircraft abundantly clear.  During his surprise visit to London, the President provided a somewhat cheeky comment, thanking the British government in advance for the fighter aircraft they’ll send soon

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Ukraine Does Not Need or Require F-16s. 

Since WWII, U.S. military doctrine and that of other nations has preached the importance of air superiority in modern warfare.  To somehow ignore the significance of this after operations such as Desert Storm and Allied Force, as outlined here, surely shows how false and ludicrous is this argument. 

The U.S. General Christopher Cavoli, the current Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR), quietly told American lawmakers that Ukraine needs F-16s, as well as long-range.  Of course, having the luxury of ‘two hats’ as both SACEUR and EUCOM commander he’s able to make such statements without fear of retribution, much to the envy of the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The fact that Air Force One has flown into Afghanistan, Iraq and other combat zones, while President Biden rode a train for 10 hours and then suggested F-16s aren’t needed is surely hypocritical.  If President Biden believes fighter aircraft aren’t warranted in Ukraine, he had an excellent opportunity to prove his point by flying Air Force One into Kyiv.  He chose against it.

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There Are No F-16s Available. 

Just three months ago, a dozen F-16s were returned to the Netherlands from the unexecuted Draken purchase and, according to Lt Gen (Ret.) Deptula, the U.S. AF just retired 47 F-16 C/D models and sent them “to the boneyard.  Both the Alabama and Wisconsin Air National Guard units are transitioning from F-16s to F-35s, offering additional options, with the right level of prioritization. There are aircraft available if the White House, DoD, DoS choose to make them available.  F-16 aircraft aren’t lacking, but rather political will is. 

Pilots are Not the Only Personnel Requiring Training.   

This is true, and there are far more ground support personnel in a fighter squadron than pilots, but solutions also are available, such as this Contractor Logistic Support (CLS) option. For years, the U.S. Air Force has CLS contracts for with numerous contractors to support down range on military installations.  A CLS construct will not only expedite getting F-16s into theater but also facilitate rapid ‘on-the-job’ training for Ukrainian Air Force ground maintainers.  With a bit of willingness to assume risk and innovate, training is not a showstopper.

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The Russian Anti- Air Threat is Too Advanced. 

There is no doubt the S300 & S400 (SA-10/12/20) Surface to Air Missile Systems (SAMS) are capable, but they are far from impervious.  A year into the war, Ukrainian 4th Generation fighters such as the Su-27 and Mig-29 are still flying … not to mention the 3rd Generation Su-24 Fencers and the Su-25 Frogfoots.  Russia has successfully shot down some Ukrainian aircraft, but it is clear Ukraine has developed tactics to effectively fly and fight.  To suggest they could not do the same with F-16s is close-minded.

Ukrainian Airbase Infrastructure Cannot Support F-16 Operations

This statement is patently false.  In 2011, during a U.S. National Guard exercise called Safe Skies, F-16s flew out of the Mirgorod, Ukraine airbase.  Ukraine’s airfields may not be at U.S. standards, but they are likely on par with Polish and Slovak airfields, two nations which the U.S. approved to sell F-16s. 

Arguably, all these reasons are merely an effort to cloak the Biden administration’s actual political and diplomatic reasons. For President Biden, sending fighter aircraft to Ukraine may be too costly, too escalatory, threaten the NATO alliance coalition, instigate Russian nuclear employment or something else.  As an aviator, it’s frustrating that he hides behind false operational limitations.  Whatever the actual reason, American’s deserve that answer.  As Tom Cruise argued in the film, A Few Good Men, Americans can not only ‘Handle the truth,’ they deserve it. 

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U.S. Air Force Colonel (Retired) Jeffrey H. Fischer (@JeffFisch) is the award-winning fiction thriller author of "Live Range" and "Balkan Reprisal," as well as a contributing analyst to Newsweek, The Hill, The Kyiv Post, Breaking Defense among others.  In his military career, he served seven combat tours, as well as assignments in the Pentagon, U.S. Embassies and NATO Special Operations Headquarters. He resides in Austria with his wife and son. His books are available globally on Amazon.

The views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the department of defense, the U.S. government, or The Kyiv Post. The public release clearance of this publication by the department of defense does not imply department of defense endorsement or factual accuracy of the material.

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