The main contender as the main combat aircraft for the Ukrainian Air Force is the F-16 fighter. However, according to experts, there are more promising options, including Gripen and F-18 aircraft.
The Ukrainian leadership has repeatedly stated on various international platforms that the Defense Forces need combat aviation in order to tip the scales in the fight against the Russian occupiers in their favor. The question was raised about the supply of Western-style multifunctional fighters F-16 Fighting Falcon to Ukraine, however, other aircraft are also in service with the NATO bloc, which could potentially end up in the sky over Ukraine. Which fighters will be more effective in combat with Russian troops and what are the arguments in favor of one or another combat aircraft, according to the Military Times.
Undoubtedly, the use of military aviation, capable of quickly covering a large area with a significant combat load, can play a decisive role in controlling the airspace of Ukraine, observers of US congressmen cite observers. In this regard, the question arises which fighters are best suited for these purposes.
US Deputy Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl noted that the F-16 aircraft are a priority in this matter, but some military experts object to this, pointing to the problems that the Ukrainian Air Force will face after receiving this combat vehicle.
Pros and cons of the F-16
Heather Penny, a senior scientist at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, believes that the F-16 fighters will allow the Armed Forces to suppress enemy air defenses. According to her, after that, Ukrainian aviation could carry out tasks for close air support and strike at Russian tank columns, artillery pieces, infantry and even ships. This would ease the pressure on the Ukrainian ground forces and free them up to conduct their own operations.
At the same time, Justin Bronk, a senior researcher at the British analytical center Royal United Services Institute, having visited Ukraine, came to the conclusion that the F-16 is not the best option.
“The F-16 is a fighter designed for good runways. Most Ukrainian runways are quite uneven. Therefore, the fighter must be able to handle it and not experience huge maintenance needs. And if such a need arises, the means maintenance should be able to handle this,” Bronk explained.
He noted that aircraft in Ukraine will become priority targets for the enemy, so it will be difficult to maintain many airbases for fighters (and they are necessary to disperse aircraft for security reasons), and to keep the runway coverage in perfect condition.
But in the chaos of war, it can be problematic to regularly clear foreign objects from runways, which can be devastating to the F-16 given its large and wide air intake under the fuselage, which can suck in debris.
In addition, F-16 ground support equipment tends to be bulky and difficult to disperse.
Wings of the West. Why it will be difficult for Ukrainian pilots to switch to the F-16
There is also the issue of training. While Western fighters are easier to fly than MiG and Su aircraft, Bronk said, their piloting systems and weapons technology are more complex. Experts believe that training Ukrainian pilots – especially experienced ones – to fly fourth-generation Western fighters should not be too difficult. It usually takes US Air Force pilots eight months to a year, but it is possible to develop an accelerated program that would last from two to two and a half months.
The Saab JAS 39 Gripen multirole fighter could be the best option for Ukraine, Bronk said, as its standard maintenance and logistics equipment can be loaded into standard 20-foot shipping containers and easily transported by truck.
Multipurpose fighter Saab JAS 39 Gripen
Another option is the F-18 fighter (F/A-18 Hornet) manufactured by Boeing, designed to fly in salty sea environments. It is more durable than the F-16, and its auxiliary equipment is compact enough for the needs of Ukraine, the expert believes.
Fighter F/A-18 Hornet
Recall that there are two Ukrainian pilots in the United States who are testing their skills at the US Air National Guard airbase in Arizona. They will be joined by 10 more Ukrainian soldiers to join their colleagues with the prospect of learning to fly American aircraft.
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