The One Who Controls The Skies, Controls The War

As you may know, air superiority is a major strategic force to reckon with—an inherently critical factor in modern warfare that many powerful nations seek to achieve and maintain. It is often said that “the one who controls the skies controls the war,” as it can provide numerous offensive and defensive military advantages. This is why Russia targeted Ukrainian military bases, specifically airfields, to deprive the latter of using its air capabilities in the early days of the invasion.

After suffering substantial losses to its fleet, the Ukrainian Air Force found itself severely hindered in its offensive capabilities. Most of its remaining aircraft were either grounded or vulnerable to being shot down, significantly limiting their ability to engage in offensive operations. Moreover, without air superiority, Ukraine’s ground forces have also been vulnerable to Russian airstrikes, making it difficult for Kyiv to advance on Moscow’s claimed territories and position, resulting in heavy casualties among Ukrainian troops and civilians.

Moreover, to try and resolve this, many Western leaders have been making an effort in trying to get Ukraine the fighter aircraft it needs, including British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who recently pledged to spearhead the formation of an “international coalition” to provide fighter jets and training to Ukraine.

An Open Mind

Most NATO members likewise have kept an open mind regarding the possibility of sending the needed aircraft. But, at the end of the day, this decision on whether to allow the delivery of F-16s to Ukraine will still need to be approved and supported by the White House. And as early as January, the Biden administration has been firm on not doing so, citing military escalation concerns with Russia—not to mention the price tag of each aircraft and the extensive training the Ukrainian pilots need before they can effectively use the complex F-16s.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has since requested the United States for F-16 fighter jets that he said would not only help them “close the sky over Ukraine and save thousands of lives” but also send a clear message to Russia that “the West will not allow it to continue its aggression.”

Not a Simple Matter

However, unlike the rest of the approved and sent US military aid packages, such as anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, the approval of the F-16s was not as simple. Many feared these fighter aircraft could further escalate and complicate a nearly 15-month war. No doubt the significant edge the fourth-generation supersonic aircraft offers to Ukraine, but its participation would also risk drawing Western allies more actively into the fight.

The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a single-engine, multi-role fighter aircraft initially built by General Dynamics for the US Air Force in the 1970s. Today, it is one of the most revered all-weather jets equipped with state-of-the-art aviation technology. It has gained combat experience participating in several modern conflicts such as the Gulf War, Kosovo War, and the War in Afghanistan. It also maintained a good record, with dozens of downed enemy aircraft under its belt.

While the US Air Force is no longer procuring the F-16s, the aircraft remained popular among export customers for its impeccable qualities, including its highly maneuverable and advanced avionics, radar, and weapon systems. Furthermore, its versatility and sophistication are seen as more capable than the grounded Soviet-era jets by Ukraine, and having these fighter aircraft in its arsenal would significantly ramp up its limping air superiority and firmly deter Russia from further aggressively advancing in the country.

NATO countries with the F-16s in their arsenal, though they are considering providing the aircraft to Ukraine, are not as capable as the US, which can train the ins and outs of the platform.

The anticipation has already been high with the arrival of the American M1 Abrams and German Leopard main battle tanks at the battlefront in Ukraine. What more if the F-16 fighter jets will enter the picture?

Playing Defense, For Now

Ukraine, for now, mainly focuses its tactics on ground-based air defenses to counter Russian airstrikes. It combines Western-lend air defense systems, anti-aircraft missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and uses human intelligence and cyberwarfare to disrupt Moscow’s operations. Some neighboring countries also donated a substantial amount of aircraft, such as 28 MiG-29 fighter jets from Poland and 13 MiG-29 fighter jets from Slovakia, in the early days of the war. But most of these mainly play a defensive role, used by the Ukrainian Air Force to dispersedly protect its airspace, support ground forces, and conduct limited airstrikes against Russian targets.

Why Russia Cannot Obtain Air Superiority in Ukraine

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