Very shortly after the announcement of the decision to supply Western tanks, the Ukrainian leadership came up with the idea that it now wants F-16 aircraft.
A fighter-bomber is a completely different category in every respect than the weapons promised and/or delivered so far.
Let’s start with the price. The F-16 costs between $13 million and $80 million, depending on the version, and its operating cost per hour flown is between $7,000 and $20,000. In light of the above, it can be seen that the air force is clearly the most expensive of the modern armed forces.
And this begs the question: What would be the purpose of these machines? Air superiority?
For a modern fighter aircraft flying twice the speed of sound, i.e., Mach 2, a runway 1.5-2 kilometers long is essential. A runway is a large and immovable target, just like the Russian supply bridges. Ukrainian air defenses, already struggling, would thus have to defend additional targets.
In addition, a significant and well-trained ground support staff is required for jet fighters because, like all Western technology, the F-16 has significant maintenance requirements. This begs yet another question: If they wanted modern fighters, why didn’t they ask for Swedish Gripen fighters, which can operate from improvised airfields, as opposed to F-16s?
According to an article in Business Insider in December, Russia has so far deployed over 770 modern fighter-bombers of the fourth generation or higher to Ukraine, out of the nearly 1,200 available. To succeed against this significant number, Ukraine would need hundreds more combat vehicles. Let’s face it, the chances of this are extremely slim.
And this raises a question to which we have no good and/or morally acceptable answer. What is NATO’s plan? More precisely: What is the plan of the current U.S. leadership, because Europe is irrelevant, militarily insignificant.
Getting away with defending Ukraine on the cheap? Not provoking the Russians too much? If Ukraine’s victory is so important, and some, like Denmark, are already acting at the expense of their own defense capabilities — why did they not hand over the assets constantly demanded for Ukraine’s defense earlier, say at the beginning of the conflict? As a reminder, the Danes donated all 19 of their French CAESAR self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine without reimbursement.
The prerequisite of any consistent military equipment support to Ukraine — whatever the numbers so far — should be to clearly define the strategic objective NATO (and more pertinently, the United States) has regarding the war and the two countries involved in it. We have yet to see that definition.