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War in Ukraine: A more dangerous opponent

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  • Ukraine will soon receive its first F-16 fighter jets, donated by several NATO countries, including Norway.
  • This could reduce Russia's air superiority.
  • The aircraft will initially be used defensively due to Russian air defenses.
  • President Putin threatened to shoot down F-16s.

When the donated Norwegian F-16s enter the war, they could help reduce the range advantage that Russian fighter jets have in Ukraine today.

– How much will depend on what weapons the Ukrainians get. In the long run, the F-16, and perhaps especially knowledge of ongoing operations with Ukraine's partners, will be useful, Lars Peder Haga, assistant professor at the Norwegian Air Force School (LKSK), told Dagbladet.

Expert: Lars Peder Haga. Photo: Lexx.
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F-16s are being donated by a number of NATO countries, including Norway, and between 60 and 85 F-16 fighter jets are being delivered to Ukraine.

– It's a bit unclear exactly how many planes there will be, with some sources working with up to 85. Most donors keep cards close to their chests detailing how many and when they intend to deliver them, says Lars Peder Haga.

Depending on good equipment

Norway is likely to contribute 11 fighter jets that will be equipped with flares, small burning elements intended to deflect heat-seeking infrared missiles.

– What's interesting is whether it's equipped with other types of electronic warfare equipment, like the capsule underneath the plane. He says it has a radio receiver that detects if someone is shining a light on it with radar, and can send signals that jam that light.

In late May, President Emmanuel Macron promised that France would give Ukraine Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets, which would be paired with Russian-made F-16s, MiG-29s and Sukhois.

experimental: Ukraine has secretly received an experimental American weapons system that even the US military does not have in its arsenal. Video: AM General / Mandus Group. Reporter: Vegard Kruger / Dagbladet TV.
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Zelensky has worked hard.

For Ukraine, the delivery of Western fighter jets is a long-awaited victory after a long political effort by the country's President Volodymyr Zelensky.

When the full-scale Russian invasion began in February 2022, Ukraine had about 70 old, technologically outdated Soviet fighter aircraft of various types. About half of these aircraft were shot down by more modern and better-equipped Russian fighters.

“This could make it easier for the Ukrainians to master more sophisticated tactics when defending themselves against Putin’s soldiers. This is something that will make them a more dangerous opponent and something that the Russians should take into account,” Haga told Dagbladet.

During the first debate against Joe Biden, Donald Trump promised that he would resolve the conflict between Ukraine and Russia if he became president. CNN video, Dagbladet. Reporter: Marte Nielokken Helseth.
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The main problem is that Russian ground-based air defenses make it extremely dangerous for Ukrainian warplanes to fly at high altitudes almost anywhere in Ukraine — but especially within 100 miles of the front line, where they would be within range of Russia’s S-400 air-to-air missile batteries.

– Ukraine has already received some French air-to-ground missiles, rocket-assisted flying bombs. Haga says the aircraft have a longer range than even Russian bombers, which have only wings but no rocket engine.

– He will avoid direct combat.

He believes it will take some time before they achieve full operational capability, and he does not expect direct combat between F-16s and Russian fighters in Ukrainian airspace anytime soon.

“They’d rather avoid it. If you end up in such close combat, you’ve already screwed yourself. Nobody wants to try to fight that way. You want to try to keep as much distance from the opponent as possible while still allowing the weapons to work. It gives you the ability to survive against typical air-to-air weapons, and you can take countermeasures. If you’re too close to the enemy, it’s like a knife fight in a phone booth,” Haga says.

- Open to negotiations

– Open to negotiations

– The F-16 can be used for roughly three things, but a lot depends on the weapons package it is assigned.

Very quickly, they could protect Ukrainian airspace against cruise missiles and one-way attack drones as they have no long-range air defenses today.

– The other thing is that it could also have a positive effect against Russian fighter jets if they get modern air-to-air missiles. That would reduce the range advantage that the Russians have today. It's not certain that it would take it away completely, but it could push the Russians further away from the front and they wouldn't be able to take advantage of the glide bombs they have today, Haga says.

– It will reduce the risks.

The final element is that they can be used for air-to-ground attack against profitable ground targets such as ammunition depots and ground forces.

– He says it enables the Ukrainians to reduce risks and strengthen themselves militarily.

Several military experts told Dagbladet that they expected the F-16s to be gradually introduced into service and used defensively at first.

The reason is that Russian air defense systems can simply shoot down F-16s if they fly at too high altitudes.

– The planes can climb as high as western Ukraine, but if they are close to the front, they will quickly have to descend to a lower altitude because of Russian air defenses. Russian fighters also have radar range at least as good as the F-16 system, Haga says.

The alternative is to destroy Russian air defenses, but Haga describes that as a rather difficult operation.

– They managed to do that in Crimea, but it required them to attack quickly before the Russians had time to repair their air defenses.

- 99 percent hate it

– 99 percent hate it

Give Ukraine time

Therefore, it is likely that the Norwegian F-16s will be used mostly in defensive operations at the beginning of their service in Ukraine.

– The aircraft will likely be put into service gradually, and the first period will be used for training flights. Initially, I think they will use the aircraft to cover areas where they do not have ground-based air defense against cruise missiles and attack drones. They can do this in airspace where they are relatively safe, and then they will also get to know the aircraft and weapons systems better, Haga says.

Threats from Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said they will shoot down F-16s when Ukraine gets them, even if they take off from bases in other countries.

– It would be a hugely prestigious victory for the Russians if they managed to shoot down some F-16s, Lars Peder Haga tells Dagbladet.

– The ATACMS and other long-range weapons systems are well suited to attacking fixed targets, while the F-16s can attack moving targets. The need says it gives them a power they don't have as much today.

He still doesn't think they'll make a big difference overnight.

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