In the pursuit of air superiority in the skies over Ukraine against the Russian invading forces, Kyiv has been asking for fourth generation Western fighters, specifically the US-made F-16, for nearly a year and a half.
After approval and general agreement within a “fighter coalition” that the Ukrainian Air Force will get these modern Western combat aircraft, the publicly available answers to basic timeline and implementation questions are “clear as mud.”
Here’s the latest F-16 news Kyiv Post tracked this week:
Denmark may earmark retiring F-16 “Fighting Falcons,” aka “Vipers,” for delivery to Ukraine in 2024.
According to an AP report this week, “Denmark’s government said Monday that the training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16 jets has started and the retirement of the Scandinavian country’s fleet of aging US fighters has been moved up two years.
This would potentially allow them to pass the fighters to the Ukrainian Air Force. Their F-16s will be replaced by F-35s in 2025 instead of waiting until the originally scheduled delivery in 2027. The schedule change frees up the F-16s currently fulfilling Copenhagen’s NATO air defense obligation.
Denmark’s 30 operational F-16s are older models but received significant modernization with the mid-life upgrade which redesignated them F-16 MLU. The modifications essentially made them F-16C/D (C is a single seat version; D is a two-seater) equivalent to current operational USAF F-16 “Vipers.”
Copenhagen’s acting Defense Minister Troels Lund Poulsen said that NATO-member Denmark “has taken the step of starting a training and further education effort for the Ukrainian pilots.”
The statement leaves some questions unanswered: What does “taken the step of starting” mean exactly? “Training and further education effort” in what?
Are there pilots in the classroom, simulator, or cockpit of F-16s? Are they in advanced trainers preparing to adjust to the highly computerized, “glass cockpit” aircraft? Are they in English language classes? Are they in-country or have they just been told to pack their suitcases?
Ukrainian military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov in a June 29 interview with The War Zone
“What else can the US provide Ukraine to help?” The War Zone asked in a Thursday interview.
“It’s nothing new. We’re looking forward to intensification and enlargement and scale of arms provision to Ukraine,” Budanov said.
“When do you anticipate pilot training in F-16s will begin?” the interviewer asked.
Ukraine’s HUR intelligence chief said: “Look, the F-16 question is a long-term question.
“What I’m asking about is stuff that is needed here. And now. It’s armored combat vehicles, tanks, long-range artillery, long-range missile systems. There’s nothing new in that list.”
The interviewer then pressed him for answers: “And do you know when the pilot training might start? Do you have any sense of that?”
Budanov responded: “Excuse me, I just don’t have that information. They might have already started.
“I’m not the unit operating F-16s; I have no F-16s, so I don’t know.”
Budanov does think that Washington is fully supportive in providing military aid to Kyiv: “The US is a reliable partner of Ukraine, and likewise Ukraine is a reliable partner of the United States of America,” he said.
Four-star General Zaluzhny appreciates Western support but needs modern fighter aircraft
Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny voiced his frustration in an interview that appeared in the Washington Post on Friday over the fact that Ukraine, despite having significant Western support, has not received modern fighter aircraft it has been calling for, and yet, it is expected to swiftly reclaim occupied territory from the Russians.
He stressed the criticality of air superiority for launching offensives, a requirement his Western allies acknowledge. However, the expected American-made F-16s are unlikely to arrive earlier than the fall, even in the best-case scenario.
If Denmark provides F-16s to the Ukrainian Air Force, when will it happen?
Denmark’s Defense Minister mentioned a timeline for possible F-16s from Copenhagen: “We will also consider whether we should make a concrete donation to Ukraine of the Danish F-16 fighters, and how many there should be,” Lund Poulsen said.
“Ukrainian pilots must spend six to eight months of training before a possible donation of Danish F-16 aircraft can become a reality,” according to him.
“This does not mean that you can’t make a decision beforehand. But [Denmark’s F-16s] will be in Denmark until 2024.”
Zelensky knows the importance of air superiority – and fighter pilots.
On Friday, June 30, President Volodymyr Zelensky posted this message:
“Heroic Ukrainian pilots. I am grateful to each and every one of them! Although the enemy still has a significant technical advantage in aviation, our pilots have had a clear advantage in morale and skill since the first day of the full-scale war!
“They are saving Ukrainians from Russian terror with bombs, missiles and killer drones. With Ukrainian pilots flying F-16s, freedom will become unstoppable, and the terrorist state will not have a chance in our skies,” the President wrote on Telegram.
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