Warplanes: The Air War in Ukraine


July 10, 2024: The first of 85 American F16 fighters going to Ukraine became operational in Ukraine during May. Dozens of Ukrainian pilots have undergone training on how to operate the F-16. This training took place outside Ukraine at a U.S. Air Force base in Arizona. This is called transition training and more Ukrainian fighter pilots are undergoing it. One component of the training was the Ukrainian pilots learning to speak enough English to communicate with American pilots, ground crews and air traffic control operators. For international commercial aviation, English is required and is the common language of air traffic control worldwide. Transition training is now taking place in Denmark and Romania, which shares a border with Ukraine. The Netherlands and other NATO countries are training Ukrainian maintainers to keep the F-16s operational. Romania is spending billions of dollars to upgrade its military airbases and their support facilities. Romania believes that the Russian threat to nations bordering the Black Sea is long term.

The Ukrainian pilots already operated Russian-designed jet fighters Ukraine had been using since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. Using those Soviet era fighters, Ukrainian pilots have already destroyed over 350 Russian fighters. That has been costly for the Ukrainians, who currently have only 56 operational Russian designed jet fighters. Ukraine had several hundred of these fighters when the war began in early 2022. The air war with the Russians has been active and while Russian pilots are well trained, they are often misused by Russian commanders and counterproductive Russian operational doctrine.

During the last two years Ukrainian pilots have had to be resourceful to deal with Russian air defenses and interceptor aircraft. One tactic the Ukrainians developed was to fly very close to the ground and avoid detection by Russian aircraft radars. When the Ukrainian aircraft got close to where the Russian aircraft were operating in the air, the Ukrainian fighters flew up and ambushed Russian aircraft.

Ukrainian fighters also had to frequently change air bases they operated from. That was because the Russian aircraft would attack Ukrainian air bases. To deal with that, the Ukrainians used numerous air bases for combat operations. This meant the air controller and maintainer personnel, along with their equipment, had to frequently move to another base to receive Ukrainian warplanes that had switched bases. It was common for Ukrainian warplanes to take off from one base with instructions to land at another base. The Russians continued to attack abandoned Ukrainian air bases so air force officials decided to have local construction companies keep repairing runways damaged by these useless Russian attacks, and restore damaged buildings. That keeps the Russians guessing about which Ukrainian bases are operational.

The arrival of F-16s has forced Ukraine to upgrade their airstrips because the F-16 engine is closer to the ground and can ingest any debris lying on the airstrip. The U.S. Air Forces keeps its air strips spotless as a matter of course and now the Ukrainians will have to do the same. It has been traditional for Russian warplanes to be designed to operate from crude airstrips, even ones consisting of dirt instead of concrete.

Ukrainian pilots who have completed their F-16 training are eager to use the F-16s against the Russians because F-16s have a lot more modern electronics installed and that gives them capabilities Russian warplanes don’t have. Ukrainian F-16 pilots expect to increase the number of Russian warplanes they shoot down while also carrying out more precision ground attacks.




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