Ukraine has been urging its Western partners to supply F-16 jet fighters for months, amid concerns of increased conflict. However, an agreement for their delivery might be imminent, raising questions about the impact these fighters could have.
The exact decision is still pending but appears to be taking form. Ukraine’s longstanding request for F-16 fighters from its Western allies may soon be granted. On May 16, the UK committed to forming an “international coalition” to aid Kyiv in acquiring these jets. Simultaneously, the Netherlands openly expressed willingness to provide them, and France discussed pilot training. This leads Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to be hopeful. “I foresee important decisions being made soon, but we need to work a bit more on it,” said Zelensky during his recent trip to London. Nevertheless, US approval is essential as the F-16 fighter-bombers Ukraine seeks are American-made and chosen due to their accessibility.
The F-16 is the most extensively deployed aircraft worldwide. Approximately 4,500 units have been produced, and about 2,300 remain in service, comprising 16% of the global combat fleet. 25 countries use them. Beyond its broad availability, the F-16 is incredibly versatile. Primarily designed for air combat, it can also function as a tactical bomber, ground attack aircraft, electronic warfare aircraft, and for airspace defense. While it’s not a cure-all, it excels in these roles. For these reasons, Ukraine prefers the F-16 over the French Mirage and Rafale, similar to its preference for the German-made Leopard tank over the French Leclerc.