Recently, the Minister of Defense of Ukraine stated: “I am already negotiating for our pilots to go to training. Because the time will come when we will start to master at least A-10 called Thunderbolt, or F-15, F-16, or some Swedish-made Gripen, or some other aircraft. This time will definitely come.”
So what kind of plane do the Armed Forces of Ukraine need now?
And why did such a question arise at all, when the artillery “gods of war” are trending, and before that the most hype tool for destroying the enemy was the UAV Bayraktar TV2? The answer is known to all military experts – “who controls the air, controls the battlefield”!
And here nothing has changed since the Second World War, when the superiority of the Allies in the air (and not the heroism of the Soviet soldier and the number of tanks) was the key to victory on the battlefield. Similarly, the inability of enemy aircraft to create a complete advantage in the air, was the main reason for the failure of the “blitz special operation” of Russian troops. Why I think this happened is well explained in this video. Unfortunately, I did not find such an analysis in our media because most likely, there is no one who can do it.
So, although massive progress in the development of UAVs has had a significant impact on modern warfare, but drones can not yet perform the full range of work of manned aircraft. The main limitations of UAVs currently are the nomenclature of aircraft means of destruction, limited view of the battlefield and the need to transfer management information between the aircraft and the decision-making center. And if the first is only a matter of time, the second can be solved by improving the UAV sensors and the operator’s workplace, the third is a big problem because it is always easier to interfere with the communication channel than to ensure its operation, especially with increasing distance.
Without the use of manned aircraft, the defense loses the ability to react instantly to enemy breakthroughs that threaten the encirclement, and the liberation of the occupied territories can be prolonged and significantly increase personnel losses.
So, sooner or later the Armed Forces will face (and in fact have faced for almost 30 years) the issue of getting modern NATO aircraft, which should perform most of the functions of the current fleet, which consists of MiG-29 and Su-27 fighters, Su-25 attack plane and front-line Su-24 bomber. All of them have their advantages and disadvantages (and only disadvantages compared to NATO equipment), and although they could be repaired at Ukrainian enterprises, due to the lack of production and the inevitable losses during the war, they are history.
In Ukraine, it is not customary to take into account other people’s experience, but here there are no opportunities to find your own way, and decisions must be made. At one time, Poland was faced with a similar choice, and they preferred the modern modification of the F-16C, although at that time had not limited by the political situation choice among analogues.
Soviet planes were rejected immediately, because the Poles understood perfectly well what kind of technology it was, dealing with it for many years and being part of the democratic world, they did not have the corruption problems as the countries to which Russia was flogging its “handicraft”. Of course, there are still Eurofighters, Rafale, Grippen, but for the Air Force of a country that chooses the only major combat aircraft, its versatility is critical. And thanks to the massive range of aviation means of destruction produced by the United States, American military aircraft have a huge advantage.
Basic information about the F-16 can be read on Wikipedia, but I would like to draw attention to the means of destruction that can be used by this aircraft, and which, for the most part, determine the combat effectiveness of any aircraft.
Of course, a multi-role military aircraft must first and foremost be able to protect itself and friendly aircraft from enemy aircraft. The main air-to-air missile for the F-16 (as well as for all US aircraft) is the famous AIM-120 AMRAAM. This is exactly the case when the enemy has no analogues and is not expected to have it (please, do not tell me about the long-suffering R-77/RVV-AE, please, do not, I do not care what they drew in the TTX).
Information on AIM-120 is available, but its main benefits are active homing head, which is able to independently, without illumination from the carrier aircraft to be aimed at the target, to be transferred to the target in case of loss due to anti-missile means, to be aimed at an obstacle. Thanks to modern electronics, the control system has optimized algorithms of aiming to the target and its interception. In addition, the solid-propellant rocket engine uses low-smoke fuel that does not unmask the rocket in the early stages of flight. The missile itself is quite small for its outstanding characteristics and highly maneuverable. In short – this rocket is the worst nightmare of any pilot.
In addition, there is an AIM-9 with infrared GOS, the latest modifications of which surpass everything that the enemy has (P-73 is much inferior).
High-precision weapons of the air-surface class also meet the latest requirements. It is very important to be able to use anti-radar missiles such as AGM-88, which are able to attack any air defense without entering the area of their destruction. Perhaps the most effective guided weapon is the AGM-65 family of missiles, which are capable of hitting any target on the surface and have a huge number of modifications of GOS and warheads for each case.
Glider ammunition type AGM-154 with a range of over 100 km, GPS guidance and a variety of warheads. AGM-158 cruise missiles with a range of “to Moscow”, a comprehensive guidance system capable of overcoming any enemy air defenses and hitting a specific letter on the Mausoleum. Already known to many Harpoons AGM-84 with a huge number of modifications that can sink any ship (proven by Neptun).
You can write a book in several volumes about unguided and corrective bombs for the F-16. In short, it is a huge number of JDAM (GPS) bombs, GBU with mostly laser guidance (including the latest GBU-39 with various guidance methods), and cluster munitions of the CBU type, among which stand out CBU-97/105, which are the best means of destroying the accumulation of armored vehicles.
The versatility of the F-16 and its state-of-the-art weapons will allow you to perform several tasks at once in one flight to gain air superiority, suppress air defense and attack enemy ground targets. At the same time, only one type of aircraft can do this much more efficiently than all the types that currently exist in the service of the Armed Forces, with a much smaller number of aircraft.
What about other planes mentioned by the Minister? Well, any non-American aircraft will be limited in one way or another by the means of destruction available to them.
The F-15 is a typical pure fighter (as well as the MiG-29 and Su-27 of the Armed Forces), which is much more effective than the F-16 against air targets, but is not able to effectively strike ground targets, with a modification of the F-15E in fact, there is another model that is much more complex (in all senses of the word) than the F-16C.
The A-10 is, of course, the world’s most effective aircraft against ground targets (especially its latest modifications), but it is unable to effectively counter enemy fighters and intercept missiles attacking Ukrainian cities. That is, in the complex, F-15 plus A-10 will be much more efficient (and you can write a separate article) than only F-16, but it will significantly increase training time, complexity of maintenance and cost of delivery.