Ukraine is hopeful of getting F-16 fighter jets. Here's why it matters

Reports suggest that Poland could supply Ukraine with F-16 jet fighters.
Ameya Paleja
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon.
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Wikimedia Commons 

Ukraine's plea for advanced fighting aircraft may finally be answered by Poland as it could hand over a few F-16 fighters, The Guardian reported. While Ukrainian top brass is buoyed by the "positive signals", Poland has maintained that all decisions will be taken in coordination with its NATO allies.

The Russian aggression in Ukraine has been ongoing for close to a year now. During this period, Ukraine has fiercely defended its borders and pushed back against the Russian offense. The fighting led to war-time legends such as the Ghost of Kyiv. However, after initial success, Ukraine lost some of its aircraft and has been requesting advanced jets from its Western supporters.

Throughout the period of the conflict, the U.S. has refrained from supplying advanced ammunition to Ukraine, fearing escalation of the conflict. However, in the recent past, the U.S. has relented and supplied Ukraine with one of its most advanced air defense systems and, more recently, the M1 Abrams tanks.

Why will F-16s be a game-changer?

The first flight of the F-16 fighter took place nearly 50 years ago. Yet, the single-engine supersonic aircraft is one of the most formidable fighters in the world. Built under an unusual agreement of a consortium between the U.S. and four NATO nations, the F-16 is available in single-seat and two-seat models.

The F-16s delivered after 1981 have multirole flexibility and can be used to perform precision strikes, night attacks, and beyond-visual-range interception missions, the U.S. Air Force states on its website.

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Powered by Pratt & Whitney or General Electric engines, the F-16 can generate up to 27,000 pounds of thrust and travel at speeds of 1,500 miles (2,414 km) an hour. The F-16 can be equipped with two 2,000-pound (907 kg) bombs for surface attacks and two AIM-9 and two AIM-120 for short and medium-range air-to-air combat, respectively. Additionally, the aircraft is armed with a 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan gun which can fire up to 500 rounds.

The F-16 is known for its negative stability, which offers more maneuverability to the pilot, and the aircraft does not try to return to straight and level flight on its own. The aircraft can tolerate up to nine G more than any other fighter in combat and offers fly-by-wire control allowing the pilot to use a side stick controller with pressure sensors to control the aircraft.

Facing off with the MiGs and Sukhoi

If the Ukrainian request is granted, one could see the F-16 face off with the Sukhois and MiGs of the Russian forces, the closest to reality Top Gun Maverick could get. The combat in the region so far has demonstrated the weaknesses of the Russian military, and the addition of the F-16 will add more firepower to Ukraine's response.

The supply of the F-16s is likely to be conditional, and it is not used inside Russian territory but only for defense purposes. Like the promise of the other armament, this too could be a long-drawn affair with actual deployment occurring closer to April, the Guardian said in its report.

Nevertheless, the approval of supply from Poland or any other NATO ally would be a major victory for Ukraine, which has been lobbying for aircraft since the conflict began. After a series of request denials, the U.S. appears to grant this as well, although not directly. President Biden is expected to travel to Poland soon.

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