Ukraine’s F-16s May Come Too Late to Stop Russian Onslaught

The expected delivery of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine may come too late to have a significant impact on Russia’s ongoing offensive in Kharkiv, experts have told Newsweek.

Russia has captured up to 47 square miles of Ukrainian territory in only two days, representing “the most significant border incursion since the full-scale invasion began,” according to the Associated Press.

Ukrainian pilots, who for most of the more than two-year war have flown Soviet-era MiG aircraft, have recently been finishing up training on the U.S.-made jets in anticipation of receiving deliveries from Western allies including Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Belgium.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on Monday that Ukraine could expect to receive the first batch of F-16s from Denmark “within the next month,” before revising her comment on Tuesday to say the jets would be expected in the “next few months.”

However, experts suggested in comments to Newsweek on Tuesday that relying on the F-16s to counter Russian forces from the air may have been a strategic blunder, as Kyiv’s military would have been better off focusing on receiving more familiar aircraft in a shorter timeframe.

Ukraine F-16 Jets Russia War Air Force
Netherlands’ Air Force F-16 fighter jets are pictured flying in a NATO Air Policing mission on July 4, 2023. Ukraine is expected to receive F-16s from Western allies soon, but experts told Newsweek on Tuesday…


William Reno, professor and chair of the political science department at Northwestern University, said that delivery of the jets was unlikely to come at the “optimal time,” drawing a parallel with Ukraine receiving Western tanks after its fall 2022 counteroffensive.

“There’s a tendency for weapon systems to arrive after the point at which they would have been most effective,” said Reno. “There was an optimal time for tanks… They were put to use when they arrived in 2023, but by then began to encounter drone attacks that exploited vulnerabilities in their armor and thus limited their utility.”

“F-16s encounter a similar situation,” he added. “The length of the decision, training and delivery process have given Russian forces time to adapt air defenses, particularly as both sides settled into defensive positions.”

Reno went on to suggest that Ukraine should “consider making an offer to Taliban for all that Soviet-era equipment we provided to Afghanistan’s military,” arguing that quickly receiving older and cheaper aircraft might achieve “better battlefield results.”

Guy McCardle, managing editor of military news outlet SOFREP, had similar remarks, telling Newsweek that Ukraine boosting its “ongoing operations and defensive measures” with MiG aircraft would have been a better strategy as “the best weapon you have to get the job done is the one you currently have on hand.”

“A MiG in the sky is worth two F-16s on their way, for Ukrainians,” McCardle said. “The F-16 is a fine aircraft, and may benefit the Ukrainian effort in the long run, but if I were a Ukrainian general, I’d prefer MiGs on hand ASAP. Why? MiGs can be deployed immediately, providing an urgent boost to Ukraine’s air capabilities.”

“Ukrainian pilots are already familiar with MiG aircraft, reducing the need for extensive retraining,” he continued. “MiGs would allow for easier integration with Ukraine’s existing fleet of aircraft and logistics systems, which are already set up for the Soviet-era aircraft. The Ukrainians need immediate air support.”

Newsweek reached out for comment to the Ukrainian military via email on Tuesday.

Ukrainian military officials have said that thousands of people have been evacuated from the northeastern region of Kharkiv in recent days due to the ongoing Russian offensive, which has seen Moscow take control of a series of border villages.

Meanwhile, Moscow has promised to treat the F-16s as a “nuclear-capable” threat whenever they are received by Ukraine, with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs warning last week that the aircraft would be considered a “purposeful provocation.”