What F-16s will do for Ukraine (and what they won’t)

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Ukraine is finally getting F-16s to help in its efforts against the ongoing Russian invasion. While this is a massive advantage for Ukraine, it’s important to understand what these highly capable jets can (and can’t do) and how this will change the fight for Ukraine’s independence. 


Regardless of the type, F-16s will be a marked improvement on Ukraine’s existing fighter fleets which are made up of Soviet-era MiG 29s and Su 27s which often carry older avionics and other equipment limiting their performance. 

Will it Help Win the War?

Although the F-16 is an incredible airplane, it’s still up to Ukraine to use it in a way that helps them win the war. As for Russia, pilot shortages and sanctions stifling aircraft production have left them pretty conservative in their use of air power to date. 

Engaging Enemy Fighters

Last December, a Ukrainian pilot identified only by his callsign Juice was interviewed, and he broke down the way Russian fighters have been trying to engage Ukrainian fighters using the R3 37m long-range radar air-to-air missile. 

Juice describes Russian MiG 31 BMS flying high-altitude defensive patrols near the Ukraine border each carrying a single R37M.

Russian Missiles

On a heavy day, Russia might launch as many as a half dozen missiles into Ukraine’s airspace. 

These weapons could measure around 14 feet long and weigh around 1,320 lbs. They can achieve hypersonic speeds when closing with long-range targets. They also offer a claim of nearly 4,000 km or a bit shy of 250 miles. 


It’s almost certain that F-16s will be lost in the war if they manage to see extensive service. So once these jets actually start flying in Ukraine it’s important that we temper our expectations. 

While F-16s are an incredibly capable aircraft this war is going to take more than fighter jets to win it.