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The F-16 Fighting Falcon Won’t Be Defending Ukraine’s Skies

F-16 Viper
An Air Force F-16 Viper taxis just a few hundred feet from the wall of fire at the Fort Worth Alliance Air Show, Oct. 28, 2017 at Fort Worth, Texas. (Courtesy photo by Air Force Viper Demo Team)

There are approximately 3,000 operational F-16 Fighting Falcons in service today in 25 countries, a testament to what is easily the world’s most successful, combat-proven multi-role jet fighter ever produced. Since entering service in 1979, this tried and true “warbird” has been battle-tested, engaging in more than 400,000 combat sorties and has a combined 19 million flight hours.

It has been adapted to complete a number of missions, including air-to-air fighting, ground attack, and electronic warfare. As a combat fighter, the F-16 has also proven to be highly maneuverable while its combat radius exceeds that of its potential threats.

It was developed to counter Soviet aircraft, yet it seems highly unlikely that any Fighting Falcons will be taking an active role against the Russians in Ukraine.

Aircraft Not on the Table

This week, in an editorial for The New York Times, President Joe Biden laid out what weapons the United States would be willing to send to help the government in Kyiv, and that even included the transfer of the advanced High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). However, the variants Ukraine will receive have limited ranges and will require that the Ukrainian government not fire at targets within Russia’s borders.

Other advanced weapons that were approved by the United States Congress last month included the Javelin anti-tank missiles, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, precision rocket systems, radar platforms, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, Mi-17 helicopters, and ammunition.

Not on the table were advanced fixed-wing aircraft. Even the proposed idea to transfer Soviet-made fighters such as the MiG-29 from Poland to the Ukrainian Air Force has been seen as a non-starter.

In an interview with Air Force Magazine this week, U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO Ambassador Julianne Smith was blunt about the transfer or even training for American aircraft such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon. When asked if there have been discussions on the issue, Smith reportedly stated, “No.”

Not a Proxy War

The Kremlin has repeatedly accused the United States and NATO of engaging in a “proxy war” with Russia by supplying Ukraine with advanced weapons. Moscow has maintained that its “special military operation” – how it describes its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine that began on February 24 – was to “denazify” the country and to stop a genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime.

The United States and its partners have continued to support Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, but have been careful that such efforts don’t lead to escalation.

“We want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign, and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression,” the President wrote in his op-ed for the paper of record.


A Belgian F-16 Fighting Falcon receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker, assigned to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, while flying over Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Feb. 25, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. William Greer)

“We have moved quickly to send Ukraine a significant amount of weaponry and ammunition so it can fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table,” Biden continued. “We do not want to prolong the war just to inflict pain on Russia.”

For such reasons, it is likely the F-16 and other advanced aircraft won’t be flying over Ukraine anytime soon.

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.



  1. Steven

    June 3, 2022 at 8:47 pm

    The “special military operation”/Russian invasion, can be expected to last for years, since it has already lasted years, the Russian invasion and occupation, followed by Russian incorporation of Crimea occurring in 2014.
    The Budapest Memorandum, signed Dec5, 1994, guaranteeing Ukraine territorial integrity in exchange for surrendering nuclear weapons, was signed by the US, UK and Russia.
    Russia has grossly violated the agreement, while the US and UK have been very hesitant to fulfill their obligation to guarantee Ukraine’s territorial integrity as stipulated in the agreement.
    There seems to be some action now to supply Ukraine actual weapons, while initially the Obama administration just supplied some surplus blankets and meals ready to eat.
    There seems to be a desire the the war will just go away, but that will almost certainly never happen.
    Rather the war will end when one side becomes exhausted and faces economic and military collapse, or one side attains command of the battlefield.
    Russia appears to be committed to winning, even if it has to pulverize the entirety of Ukraine to do so.
    Likely air power at some point will become dominant, either through manned aircraft/drones or missiles.I expect Russia to eventually completely mobilize or else resort to nuclear weapons.
    The Ukrainians will need aircraft such as the F16 in it’s most modern variants, or comparable aircraft, such as the F35, to defend itself against a potential nuclear strike.
    This is the main reason for widespread evacuation of the civilian population, otherwise there will be massive casualties if Russia uses bombs against cities.
    Not only Ukraine needs to be on high alert, but other countries supporting Ukraine, such as NATO countries, need to be on high alert to do what they can to protect against nuclear weapons, which Russia, through media, has threatened to use.
    Beyond that, Biden can’t permit Russia to lose because Russia is representing the US in the nuclear negotiations for a nuclear deal with Iran.
    If Russia loses in Ukraine, certainly it wouldn’t befriend the US by representing it with Iran in the nuclear deal negotiations in Vienna.
    This is a conflict of interest with respect to the outcome in Ukraine, so likely there won’t be a conclusion to the Ukraine war until Iran agrees to a nuclear dal or else goes ahead with a nuclear weapon regardless.

    • W

      June 5, 2022 at 6:18 am

      Biden wants Ukrainians to die, so he can have business with them, and use Russia as a buffer state against China. Biden is don’t care about Ukrainian lives.

  2. Daryl Welsh

    June 7, 2022 at 12:16 pm

    A fan of the F-16, but empirically speaking, one could argue the F-4, which had over 5000 jets in service across many host nations was the worlds most successful combat proven jet.

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