F-16s to Ukraine? Could we all accept that the F-16 will have no consequential effect on the war in Ukraine.
Article after article from experts over the past many months have explained that a 4th Gen fighter cannot change the course of this war. The F-16 is the sexiest fighter of all time, and the quintessential 4th Gen multi-role jet that can do many things well, but it cannot survive in the high threat theatre of Ukraine, nor would it be as lethal as needed to change the course of this war. The Viper is not a 5th Gen fighter and does not possess the characteristics of survivability of the F-22 or F-35. Further, as proud as Ukrainian fighter pilots may be, a newly converted, Eastern Bloc trained aviator will not master the skills needed to fly, fight and survive in the skies over Ukraine.
What do I know? I have 2000 hours in all models of F-16 from the F-16A Full-Scale Development phase through the F-16 E/F Block 60. While I know that we can teach pilots to safely fly the jet, we cannot quickly train pilots to be skilled killers in the Viper. How long does it take to make a 10 year fighter pilot?…10 years. Converting from MiG-29s and Su-27s to the F-16 is more than possible, however that does not ensure that the new F-16s pilots will be able to master the sensors and capabilities that are present on the jet.
I sense lots of misguided political pressure and what is likely to be a very costly investment in F-16s to first train, then deploy and likely lose those jets and pilots once they fly in the combat arena. The best fighter pilots in the western air forces, with years of experience in the F-16 would not want to fly in the Ukraine theatre. Why would anyone assume that cross-training Ukrainian Air Force pilots to fly the F-16 would change the equation of survivability, lethality and effectiveness of a 4th Gen platform in the most lethal surface-to-air threat environment to date?
Allowing F-16s to be transferred to the Ukrainian Air Force, standing up training for their pilots and eventually converting them to fly the F-16 will solve an emotional appeal. It just won’t change the course of the war.