The decision by Germany, the United States, and others to send main battle tanks to Ukraine has gone further than many thought realistic just months ago.
Western nations, showcasing unity and wanting to head off a renewed Russian offensive, have cast aside fears that more advanced weaponry risked provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin.
With tanks checked off the list, Ukrainian leaders have renewed their public appeals for Western fighter jets.
The Dutch case is instructive in understanding the Ukrainian appeals for the F-16, which can be understood at least in part as opportunism to get a hold of planes being phased out by European countries in favor of the newer F-35, before they’re sold to someone else.
For the Ukrainian military, Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for eastern separatists began an inexorable transition away from Soviet weapons and toward more modern Western equipment.
Like the many other Western weapons provided thus far, the F-16 is unlikely to be a magic bullet.
“By themselves, I wouldn’t say they’re game-changing,” Tim Sweijs, director of research at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, said. “Tanks, troops of course, longer-range systems such as HIMARS, with the ability to take out Russian radar systems – in combination with the F-16 – that combination could help Ukraine turn the tide.”
Even if Western nations decided to provide Ukraine with F-16s, donors would have to overcome significant logistical hurdles to get the planes operational.
“We are providing them what we think they are capable of operating, maintaining, and sustaining,” Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said last week. “The F-16 – this is a very complicated system.”
Ukrainian pilots would first need to be trained to fly the jet.
Yurii Ihnat, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Force Command, told that training could take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the pilot’s experience. The Pentagon press secretary, Brigadier General Pat Ryder, confirmed this week that he was “not aware of any Ukrainian pilots currently training in the United States.”
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