Russia Will Be ‘Nervous’ Over F-16s for Two Reasons: Retired Air Marshal


An F-16C Fighting Falcon flies by during a U.S. Air Force firepower demonstration at the Nevada Test and Training Range on September 14, 2007, near Indian Springs, Nevada. On Saturday, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that as the training takes place “in the coming months, we will work with our allies to determine when planes will be delivered, who will be delivering them, and how many.”ETHAN MILLER/GETTY IMAGES

Russia will “already be nervous” about Kyiv’s new long-range capabilities, which could be one of the two key benefits of Ukraine having F-16 fighter jets, according to a former U.K. Air Marshal.

Ukraine has long called for Western-made fighter jets from its international backers, with President Volodymyr Zelensky renewing his pleas for what he termed a “coalition of fighter jets” during a whistlestop tour of Europe earlier this month. The provision of F-16 jets also came front and center in a slew of meetings at the Hiroshima G7 summit at the weekend.

Western-made fighter jets would provide a significant upgrade to Ukraine’s air capabilities. Kyiv’s military currently operates aircraft such as the MiG-29 twin-engine fighter, and it has already received deliveries of this Soviet-era jet from countries such as Poland and Slovakia. Furnishing Ukraine’s air force with Western-made faster jets, however, was previously considered off the table.

But President Joe Biden said during the summit in Japan that the U.S. was “launching some new joint efforts with our partners to train Ukrainian pilots on a fourth-generation fighter aircraft like the F-16.” Countries such as the U.K. had already pledged to train Ukraine’s military personnel on the advanced Western fighter jets.

On Saturday, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that as the training takes place “in the coming months, we will work with our allies to determine when planes will be delivered, who will be delivering them, and how many.”

“When our pilots know the F-16 and when these aircraft appear in our skies, it will matter not only for Ukraine,” Zelensky said in a speech in Hiroshima. “This will be a historic moment for the entire security architecture in Europe and the world.”

The benefit of F-16s for Ukraine is twofold, according to former British Royal Air Force Senior Commander and Air Marshal Greg Bagwell. There is the “tactical benefit” of the more modern aircraft, kitted out with superior avionics, he told Newsweek, but they may also come with enhanced weapons systems.

“Assuming that they’re given alongside the aircraft, it also brings a whole suite of new weapons systems that they can integrate and employ, many of which are both more sophisticated and longer-range than the ones they already have,” Bagwell argued.

On May 11, the U.K. defense ministry confirmed it had sent an unspecified number of Storm Shadow long-range cruise missiles to Ukraine, equipping Kyiv’s military with its longest-range missiles so far. Referencing these new capabilities, the longer reach of Ukraine’s armed forces “will already be changing the way Russia can posture and fight within Ukraine.”

The F-16s Ukraine will likely receive will be able to carry a variety of air-to-ground weapons, according to David Jordan, co-director of the Freeman Air and Space Institute at King’s College London, U.K. They may end up equipped with AIM-120s, medium-range air-to-air missiles, or extended-range Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs), as well as AGM-88 HARM air-to-surface anti-radiation missiles, he told Newsweek.

But the single-engine multirole fighters, for all their advantages, also present problems for Ukraine’s air force. Training on the F-16s for all personnel involved takes time, and face a host of logistical and maintenance considerations. In a statement posted to Telegram on Monday morning by Russia’s U.S. embassy, Moscow’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, said “there is no infrastructure for the use of F-16s in Ukraine, and the required number of pilots and maintenance personnel is not there either.”

Yet experts argue that despite this consideration, the provision of F-16s to Ukraine is a necessary long-term commitment for safeguarding the country in the future.

Despite the reams of hurdles, “in the long run, it will be worth it,” Bagwell said. “Russia will already be nervous about the changes that are happening and what it means to the way they can fight.”

It will also see Ukraine using Western military doctrine designed to combat Russia, he added.

Providing F-16s isn’t an automatic guarantee of Ukraine winning the war, Bagwell said. Yet Russia will no longer be able to operate as it has been, forcing Moscow to change its calculus and end up “on the backfoot,” Bagwell continued.

Newsweek has reached out to the Russian defense ministry for comment via email.

Update 5/22/23, 11:40 a.m. ET: This article was updated with additional comment from David Jordan.


  1. “Training on the F-16s for all personnel involved takes time, and face a host of logistical and maintenance considerations.”

    I greatly appreciate this development. However, why always so damned late? We have fifteen months of war behind us, and it’ll take another four or so months before the first planes get into action. It’s so frustrating…

  2. Always with the whining about Logistics!
    It is a planing issue.
    It is an operational concideration.
    It is an obstical to be delt with.
    It is NOT a show stopper!
    The US has the best logictics in the world bar none.
    We have never lost a war because of logistics.
    We lost them because of other reason but not that.Mainly because our parnets lacked real fighting sprite. We spent 88 billion trying to the Afghan National Army into a fighting force. it disappeared in a month. We spent an equal amount on the pre ISIS Iraqi army. 30k Iraqis RAN from 800 terrorists in pick up trucks.
    Now we have a partner with real fighting sprite.
    Quit gripping and let the US Logisticians do what they do best: adapt, improvise and overcome, So they can give Ukraine the tools to end Putinism just like we did Nazism.

    • Indeed, the difference of fighting ability between the Ukrainians and the rag heads is colossal.

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