Ukraine War, F16 | It will probably be noticed in Moscow

Ukraine War, F16 |  It will probably be noticed in Moscow

Enter the discussion Expresses the opinion of the writer.

Nettavisen recently published a chronicle by the leader of the Norwegian Friends Ukrainian Association, Jørn Sund Henriksen, with the headline: F16 will definitely be a ‘game changer’ for Ukraine. But is delivering the F16 really the wiser use of resources now?

Read the commentary here: F16 will definitely be a ‘game changer’ for Ukraine

Sund-Henriksen’s chronicle was marked by commitment. We both cheer for Ukraine. However, I allow myself to dissemble parts of his historiography because it is misleading in part. In some places it is completely wrong and I think the public debate on this issue needs more analysis and less emotion.

A survey conducted by Norstat showed that 81 percent of respondents fully or partially agree that Norway should contribute F16 fighter jets to Ukraine.

Direct error

Sund-Henriksen has a long string of claims in his dating that I think the professional military air community would describe as “eccentric.”

Sund-Henriksen writes: “Norway is of particular interest in this work because we have the right amount of F-16s to donate to Ukraine (…) The F-16AM is still a very capable and modern fighter aircraft, even if the fuselage is 40 years old.” It’s an outlandish claim compared to the threat they intend to deal with in Ukraine.

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That “NATO’s entire doctrine on warfare is based on victory through air power. The F-16 is a key component of that doctrine,” is flatly wrong.

Hence his historical record has even more outlandish claims such as “Another significant effect of the F16 is that the aircraft is the most mobile air defense system in the world.”

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As I said, I support Ukraine and I have no fundamental problems with Ukraine supplying F16s. However, I think we should think about it a bit, lower our expectations significantly and instead ask the question: Is the F16 the wiser thing we should spend significant resources on now, or are there other military tools that are less expensive and can produce more impact?

We must have great humility

Norway has decided to purchase 52 F-35 Lightning II aircraft, mainly to be able to operate within the range of modern and highly capable Russian air defense in our immediate areas. Such systems require handling, and so have long been a major concern for NATO.

Russia has a large number of air defense systems that are among the best in the world. These systems were among the few Russian military systems that have also proven to work well in Ukraine.

In recent years, Norway has emphasized close cooperation with allies, especially American bombers, to train and practice complex air operations in order to neutralize Russian air defense systems.

We must be very modest about the amount of specialized equipment, training, planning and coordination that such operations require.

In other words, the inability of the F16 to deal with modern Russian air defense systems was one of the main arguments for acquiring the F35.

Despite the fact that the Air Force had a large number of well-trained pilots with 10-20 years of experience operating this fighter in large formations – we considered it incapable of dealing with the Russian threat.

Now it is said that the transport of the old F16 which is flown by Ukrainian pilots without any experience with this combat aircraft should be able to deal with the Russian air defense systems in such a way as to give a significant operational effect.

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Europe is struggling with its defenses

There is a tendency to focus too much on the platform itself. Like all combat aircraft, the F16 relies on a large system to function optimally. Establishing well-functioning maintenance and logistics systems, as well as training technical personnel on a new combat aircraft system, takes a long time.

Pilot training takes time to solve complex air operations. One of the main reasons Russia cannot establish air superiority over Ukraine is that it has not trained and developed the competence to operate in large complex formations conducting complex air operations.

Also read: “We know what it means to be a neighbor to Russia”

The Ukrainian Air Force faces the same professional and cultural challenge. They have experienced pilots who are highly motivated, but they don’t have any experience with this kind of large complex air operation.

Some leading researchers at the think tanks at the Royal United Services Institute and the Center for Naval Analytics (CNA) consider it inappropriate to donate the F16. It would be very expensive to create all the components needed to get the F16 into the air, and there is a great deal of uncertainty as to whether it provides particularly significant operational value.

A number of analysts worry that support for Ukraine can be maintained over time. America’s approach to this is critical, and support for Ukraine among (especially) Republican voters appears to be waning, which means the 2024 election could be very significant.

Europe is already struggling to prioritize sufficient resources to strengthen its national defences.

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“Silver Bullet” in Ukraine

The question is whether the enormous sums that need to be put in place to establish the F16 as a system in Ukraine can or should be spent on other systems that are cheaper and can provide greater operational value.

We have already seen, for example, how effective medium and long-range air defenses can be.

Ukraine has shown great creativity in this war and will likely create some impact if the F16s become mature. Mature F16s are much better than nothing. Perhaps the most important military value of the F16 donation is that, in the long run, it will help create a Ukrainian air defense that is more aligned with Western air power actors.

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Perhaps the biggest gain from the F16’s transmission is political anyway. The West has gone from debating whether we can send in helmets and small hand-held anti-aircraft systems — to sending in long-range air defenses and artillery.

The final “box” is now opened: Fighter Jets. It suggests that there are no longer defined limits to the conventional military means the West is willing to use to support Ukraine. It will probably be noticed in Moscow.

However, I think we should have a moderate outlook in the short and medium term.

This is not a “silver bullet” that will decide a lot either this year or in 2024. Perhaps the “silver bullet” for Ukraine is rather political: the offer of NATO membership in the long term.

Jabori Obasanjo

Jabori Obasanjo

"Coffee trailblazer. Certified pop culture lover. Infuriatingly humble gamer."

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