After a year of determined diplomacy, Ukraine is finally set to receive a significant addition to its air force with Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters, thanks to the generosity of several countries.
Recently, Norway joined The Netherlands and Denmark in announcing its plan to donate surplus F-16s to Ukraine. These F-16s are being replaced in the donor countries by newer Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters.
If all three of these countries contribute their surplus F-16A/B Mid-Life Update jets, Ukraine could potentially acquire over 60 F-16s. This quantity aligns well with the transformation of the Ukrainian Air Force, as highlighted by Ukrainian Air Force Brigadier General Serhii Golubtsov.
Brigadier General Golubtsov mentioned that for a comprehensive operation, a squadron of 12 to 16 planes would be a good starting point. However, to have a substantial impact on the aerial balance in a specific area of the Ukraine front, several squadrons would be required. Golubtsov estimated that three to four squadrons could establish air superiority and discourage enemy strikes in certain defense lanes.
The F-16A/B MLUs from Europe, originally built in the 1980s but extensively upgraded in the early 2000s, are particularly suitable for Ukraine. These aircraft are compatible with various precision-guided munitions, some of which Ukraine already possesses or plans to acquire. Unlike many surplus U.S. Air Force F-16s, these European jets have been in active service and are in relatively good condition for transfer.
The primary donors of the F-16s are Denmark, The Netherlands, and Norway. The Netherlands, with 24 active F-16s and 18 in flyable storage, is transitioning to the F-35 with a new batch of 18 planes. Similarly, Norway, which has already shifted to the F-35, has a dozen older F-16s. Denmark, with around three dozen F-16s and an additional two dozen in reserve, is also awaiting its F-35s.
The F-16 donations are feasible as all three donor countries are gradually replacing their F-16s with F-35s. This transition will not significantly affect their fighter capabilities as more F-35s are being manufactured.
With these contributions, Brigadier General Golubtsov’s vision of having four squadrons appears achievable. This force would be sufficient to either replace half of Ukraine’s existing Soviet-era jets or significantly increase the air force’s strength.
Ukraine is actively preparing for this influx of F-16s. The country has secured training agreements with Denmark, The Netherlands, and the United States to train numerous pilots until early 2024. This concerted effort reflects Ukraine’s commitment to strengthening its air force capabilities.