Could F-16 fighter jets soon howl over Kharkiv or break the sound barrier as they soar through the skies over Zaporizhzhia?
It once seemed impossible, but now? Maybe not.
Like the western world looks to Germany for decision on Leopard 2 tanksit was from the Netherlands that a perhaps more radical idea was launched: to send Western-made fighter jets to Kyiv for Ukrainian pilots.
The Dutch cabinet said it would consider supplying F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine if requested by the Kyiv government, media in the country reported.
In a parliamentary debate last week, Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said the cabinet would consider such a request with an “open mind”.
So what are the F-16s and what could they be used for? And what other weapons could be given to Ukraine in the coming months?
F-16 Fighting Falcon
A highly maneuverable fighter, the F-16 is versatile and can reach speeds of over 1,200 mph.
It can locate targets in all weather conditions and detect low-flying aircraft in ground-based radar clutter, according to the United States.
In an air-to-ground role, the F-16 can fly more than 500 miles, deliver its payload with high precision, defend against enemy aircraft, and return to its starting point.
The Netherlands – a member of NATO – is one of many countries in the world to use F-16s as part of their air force.
“I think it’s likely that we’ll start to see more western military aircraft donated to Ukraine – the Ukrainians need them,” former intelligence officer Philip Ingram told Sky News.
He said the difficulty is that pilots cannot simply switch from piloting one aircraft to another – especially at the intensity of live combat operations.
“But what we’re seeing across the board with the Ukrainians coming in and learning how to take over and operate the western equipment is that they’re doing in weeks what it takes months for western pilots. to do,” Mr. Ingram added.
Asked about the impact of a squadron of F-16s flown by Ukrainians, he replied that it would have a psychological effect on the Russian forces.
“They are up against a system that they know can outrun them at any time,” he said, saying it would push Russian air operations further back.
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The Soviet-designed MiG-29 is already in service with the Ukrainian Air Force and serves as a multipurpose fighter aircraft.
The collapse and break-up of the Soviet Union meant that a number of European countries had stocks of MiG-29s, including Poland.
In March last year, just weeks after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Poland has offered to supply its entire fleet of MiG-29s to Kyiv in exchange for F-16s from the United States.
At the time the The Pentagon said the offer was not ‘sustainable’ and “raises serious concerns for the NATO alliance”.
However, in the months that followed, Ukraine staged extremely successful counterattacks, and many heavy weapons that were once perhaps considered irrelevant – HIMARS and tanks, for example – were donated to Kyiv.
According to Mr Ingram, a potential problem for the Polish MiG-29s is that they have been upgraded to run NATO communication systems which would potentially have to be removed to prevent them from falling into Russian hands. .
Asked about a possible timetable for F-16s, MiG-29s or other fixed-wing aircraft for Ukraine, Mr. Ingram referred to the next meeting at Ramstein Air Base in mid-February which is expected to be focus on aviation.
ATACMS long-range missiles
Ukraine has long called for more and longer-range missile systems as they continue to hit targets deep behind Russian lines.
The arrival of the HIMARS rocket system was arguably one of the most significant developments of the war and undoubtedly played a huge role in supporting Ukraine’s counter-offensives.
With a range of around 190 miles, the Army’s Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) would be a step up from the HIMARS used in Ukraine, which has a range of around 50 miles.
During a visit to Kyiv last week with two other US senators, Richard Blumenthal urged the Biden administration to provide Ukraine with tanks, artillery and ATACMS missile systems, as well as aircraft.
“We shouldn’t send American troops to Ukraine, but we should provide Ukraine with everything we would give our troops if they were fighting on the ground,” Blumenthal said.