Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russia began two months ago, but the country’s forces have been preparing for it for years by adopting tactics similar to those used by NATO militaries. However, the Biden administration waited over a year before allowing NATO countries to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. This delay means that by the time pilots are trained on the advanced aircraft, it may be too late to assist and protect ground forces in the ongoing fighting. Without significant air power, can Ukraine’s counteroffensive succeed?
According to current and former officials in Ukraine, the United States, and Europe, as well as Western defense analysts, the answer is yes. The counteroffensive is making progress despite the lack of jets, with ongoing artillery fire and drone strikes. However, it is predicted that it will be more difficult without the air power provided by the F-16s.
Philip M. Breedlove, a retired US Air Force general and former NATO commander, believes that Ukraine can continue the fight without the F-16s. He states that there is great benefit in Ukraine’s forces learning and deploying combined arms tactics, which are crucial in modern ground warfare. However, he also notes that if Ukraine is expected to fight like NATO forces, they need to be provided with the necessary tools.
The absence of air power has put Ukraine at a disadvantage against Russian attack helicopters. These helicopters have targeted Ukrainian tanks and armored vehicles, and some are equipped with anti-tank missiles that are difficult to intercept. Experts argue that with more warplanes, Ukraine would be better able to defend its ground troops.
Since the war began in 2022, neither Ukraine nor Russia has achieved air superiority. Both sides have relied on artillery, drones, and long-range missiles for attacks due to the formidable air defenses in place. Ukrainian pilots currently flying their Soviet-era fighter jets take precautions to avoid becoming targets themselves. They fly close enough to their targets to fire missiles before retreating.
Despite the limitations of air power, a Biden administration official believes it is unclear whether Ukraine’s forces would even be able to provide support to ground troops if they had the F-16s. The official suggests that the issue of air power has become a sore point for Ukrainians.
The counteroffensive has faced challenges beyond the absence of air power. Experts note that it takes years for armed forces to effectively adopt combined arms tactics. Ukraine’s military is already well-equipped and battle-tested, but obtaining Western warplanes will require a lengthy training period.
Ultimately, the addition of F-16s would make a difference in the conflict if Ukraine had multiple properly trained and equipped squadrons. Air power is crucial for a Western-style combined-arms offensive. While the counteroffensive is progressing without the F-16s, their presence would have a greater impact.
In conclusion, Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russia is ongoing, but the absence of significant air power in the form of F-16s poses challenges. Nevertheless, experts believe that Ukraine can continue the fight with its current tactics, although it will be more difficult. The addition of F-16s would provide a significant boost, but Ukraine’s forces are already well-equipped and battle-tested. The outcome of the conflict remains uncertain, but Ukraine’s determination and resourcefulness may ultimately prevail.