Ukraine aims to receive 100 F-16 fighter jets from Western countries

A pair of F-16AM (MLU) Fighting Falcons (serials J-005 and J-008) from the RNLAF's No 312 Squadron fly from Volkel Air Base - where the unit is headquartered - to the north of the Netherlands during a routine training sortie All images Frank Crebas

Ukraine needs around 100 Western fighter jets, Kyiv’s defense minister has said, as a host of Western Leopard tanks arrives in Ukraine.

Most of the 100 advanced aircraft should be F-16s, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told French daily Ouest-France and Germany’s Funke Media Group in a joint interview. Experts have said the U.S. F-16 is the best choice for Ukraine, although other planes, such as the Eurofighter and the Swedish Gripen, have cropped up in discussions around equipping Ukraine’s air force.

“My dream would be to have them for the end of the year,” Reznikov added, also confirming that 60 of the promised German-made Leopard main battle tanks from Ukraine’s Western allies have arrived in Ukraine.

Ukraine has long requested Western-made fighter jets from its international backers to replace its ageing Soviet-era air force. Several countries, including the U.S., have agreed to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s, although no nation has yet pledged to supply the advanced aircraft. The jets are a deeper commitment to the long-term support of Ukraine’s armed forces than tanks, which many Western countries said they would donate back in January.

In January, Kyiv said it would need around 200 Western fighter jets to bolster its air capabilities against Russia. Experts previously told Newsweek that “any F-16s will make a difference,” but Kyiv’s air force would need somewhere between dozens and 100 competently-operated F-16s to make a significant difference.

Earlier this month, the British government said it would work in an “international coalition” to “provide Ukraine with combat air capabilities, supporting with everything from training to procuring F-16 jets”. U.S. National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, then said that as training takes place “in the coming months, we will work with our allies to determine when planes will be delivered, who will be delivering them, and how many.”

On Friday, the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, said the country was “seriously considering” sending F-16s to Ukraine.

The move towards providing F-16s, which had previously been off the table for Kyiv’s Western allies, has been repeatedly condemned by Russia. On Sunday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the prospect of sending Western jets was an “unacceptable escalation.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko previously said a decision to send the aircraft would carry “enormous risks” for the Western countries involved.

Experts say that providing the jets comes with several considerations, including putting in key infrastructure, extensive training and F-16 bases becoming key targets. The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, warned on May 25 that the jets would not be “magic weapons” for Ukraine.

Providing the aircraft is a far bigger and more expensive commitment for Western countries than providing tanks, such as the Leopards. Just 10 F-16 jets have a billion-dollar price tag, Milley said during a press conference with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, adding the costs of keeping the aircraft running amount to a further billion dollars.

“So, you’re talking about $2 billion for 10 aircraft,” Milley said.

“The Russians have thousands of fourth- and fifth-generation fighters,” the general added. “So, if you’re going to contest Russia in the air, you’re going to need a substantial amount of fourth- and fifth-generation fighters.”

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