Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Why can’t F-16 jets come to Ukraine sooner?

Dnipro, Ukraine

The depth and frequency of potholes in the leading city of Orihiv is a stark example of why Ukraine needs them. F-16 fighter jets Urgently.

Ukrainian troops massed around the city have the unenviable task of pushing through minefields towards an enemy that has long anticipated their advance.

But their biggest drawback is that they rarely listen until it’s too late. Russian jets fire a half-metric ton of bombs, which from a distance — well outside Ukraine’s air defenses — then destroy Ukrainian positions at will. Sometimes up to 20 origivils are launched in several minutes.

Ukrainian radar systems provide few warnings with the brief and menacing roar of an incoming missile. But eventually the target is often destroyed without warning.

So while Ukraine says it urgently needs F-16s, Ukrainian troops are dying daily because of Russian air superiority. Despite Western promises, training has yet to begin. Ukraine on Friday welcomed news that the US had approved the replacement of the F-16s after the exercise. But it is true that Ukraine is unlikely to receive the jets until next year.

Critics of the slow pace of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, based on the collapse of Russian positions in Kiev’s lightning advances on Kharkiv and Kherson last year, seem to imagine a dehumanized Ukraine capable of overturning any basic military rules. They expect an army that was written about 18 months ago to now be able to achieve a feat no NATO army has ever attempted.

NATO forces would not consider tackling mines and defenses on the southern Saporigia front without high-quality armour, anti-mine clearance equipment, air superiority and a well-trained force. But somehow the West has the luxury of impatience with Ukraine, which has often mobilized young men, hastily trained new equipment, and failed to capture Russian-controlled areas in the fall.

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Ukrainian troops are well aware of the impact F-16s can have on Russian forces and combat, as they are now vulnerable to Russian jets.

A Ukrainian marine stationed in the south told CNN: “I understand very well what the aircraft is, with its equipment and firepower. It is very scary. He said the Russians would feel the same effects from the F-16s. “It would make things a lot easier because they wouldn’t feel safe in their back positions. Not everyone would be psychologically ready to go into the trenches after an air raid.

In Ukraine’s harry cities, locals rarely stray from their path as air raid sirens continue to blare, allowing F-16s to intercept or challenge some Russian jets firing missiles from a distance. It would disrupt the terror that Moscow inflicts on civilian areas every night. Debating whether Ukraine needs more air defense while you’re lying on the Dnipro, listening to sirens and waiting for the bombardment, is ridiculous.

Portuguese Air Force F-16 military fighter jets take part in NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission in Lithuanian airspace near Sialiai on May 23.

Speeding up high-end jets to Ukraine was always ambitious.

A supply of F-16s, along with the intensive training and service they require, would have brought NATO closer to being a combatant than it has ever been. The jets require Ukrainians to become masters of their maintenance overnight, and there is always the risk that NATO personnel will have to fill gaps or help repair aircraft within NATO territory. So it slowed down.

Whether enough Ukrainians are being trained, or whether there are other bureaucratic hurdles, the will to make it happen remains unclear among NATO nations. They learned that they could do it quickly if they wanted to – and they did it with Leopard Tanks.

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The risk of NATO being drawn into war may have been calculated to be too great to justify moving too fast with F-16s. Instead it’s easier to gamble on whether Ukraine can succeed on its counterattack, with one hand tied behind its back.

As Ukrainian troops sit in the basement of Orihiv, waiting to see if incoming missiles hit near them, it seems like a gamble.

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