F-16’s For Ukraine Can’t Carry Storm Shadows: Experts Say Mishap ‘More of Same’ From NATO
According to reports in US media, the plan to supply Ukraine with US-made F-16 Falcon fighter jets has hit a snag, since the aircraft are not presently compatible with the British-made Storm Shadow cruise missiles previously given to Ukraine to enhance its long-range aerial strike capability.
That has raised a new question among politicos: should the US send compatible cruise missiles to Kiev alongside the F-16, such as the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) with its 575-mile range?
Alexander Mikhailov, head of the Bureau of Military-Political Analysis, told Sputnik on Tuesday that the situation exposes the unplanned and haphazard way in which NATO is scrambling to send Kiev any weapons they can find, but especially older ones.
“It seems to me that both the British and aviation armaments [industries] will find a technical opportunity to place their missiles on the F-16,” he said. “I think the issue here is quite technically solvable. It seems to me that, in general, we need to wait for the delivery of aircraft.”
“We are again dealing with promises to assist in the supply of weapons, promises to establish training for pilots. But we don't see specific products,” he said.
“This story is very similar to the story of American tanks, which started in November of last year, when the Americans first promised their Abrams tanks and simultaneously dragged European partners into these promises, then they themselves stalled the supply of tanks, citing a lack of a structural base, a lack of a repair base, a shortage of all this in Poland or on the territory of Ukraine,” Mikhailov noted. “And at this time, the German Leopard tanks were already burning and the image of the German defense industry was burning and a lot of other troubles that Europe received which, as it were, followed the lead of the Americans with their eternal divorce.”
© AP Photo / Lewis JolyThe Storm Shadow cruise missile is on display during the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, north of Paris, France, Monday, June 19, 2023. France will deliver deep-strike missiles to Ukraine as part of increased efforts to help with the Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russian forces, President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday July 11, 2023 at the NATO summit in Vilnius. France has been weighing whether to send Scalp missiles, the equivalent of the British Storm Shadow missiles, to Ukraine.
The Storm Shadow cruise missile is on display during the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, north of Paris, France, Monday, June 19, 2023. France will deliver deep-strike missiles to Ukraine as part of increased efforts to help with the Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russian forces, President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday July 11, 2023 at the NATO summit in Vilnius. France has been weighing whether to send Scalp missiles, the equivalent of the British Storm Shadow missiles, to Ukraine.
© AP Photo / Lewis Joly
“Now it's a very similar story. The Americans would very much like European planes to fly to Ukraine. Moreover, the same Germans have third-generation Tornado aircraft, Europeans have Typhoons, Mirages, Rafales, and Gripens. And in principle, there is plenty to choose from, especially if the Europeans are more loyal. But the Europeans are no longer fooled by these American promises. Because after the story with the Abrams, when even the Challenger tanks arrived in Ukraine and several Leopards were sent to Ukraine and even participated in the hostilities, the Abrams did not appear in Ukraine.”
Dmitry Kornev, founder of the MilitaryRussia.ru portal, told Sputnik that the Ukrainians would likely solve the technical problems themselves if given enough time, but warned that the F-16 “is no miracle weapon,” regardless of which weapons it brings to the battlefield.
“The bombs and missiles that the F-16 can carry are likely to be received by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Here, you need to understand that if the Armed Forces of Ukraine receive the F-16 - and this is a difficult issue that has been resolved for a very long time, and has not yet been finally resolved - then all the weapons of the F-16 are already trifles,” he said.
However, he highlighted a sharp disconnect between not just the vast equipment demands being made by Kiev on NATO, but also a likely incongruence between NATO’s promises and what will actually be shipped to Ukraine. For example, while Amsterdam has said it will send Kiev all 42 F-16s in its arsenal, he predicted they will actually send no more than 12 - a single squadron. Meanwhile, Kiev has demanded 128 aircraft. He did not discount the possibility that Washington could send more, though.
“You need to understand that if they get 128 F-16s, then this will probably not even happen in 2024, but 2025 or 2026. If deliveries of the F-16 begin, then no one will bother the Armed Forces of Ukraine with the issue of obtaining other third or fourth-generation aircraft, which have been decommissioned by European countries that received the F-35. For example, German, Italian, and British Tornado aircraft. These planes can definitely carry any European missiles,” he noted.
“If European missiles can be hung on the Su-24, I think that they will also be able to hang on the F-16. Well, this is a fairly simple and technologically advanced aircraft. It will take two or three or four months. So far, these months are there. Today, one of the leaders of Ukraine named a figure: six-to-eight months separate today from receiving the F-16. But we are talking about the fact that pilot training will last from six to eight months, which has supposedly already started. This is quite a long time to adapt the aircraft to anything. Unlike Western corporations, which could not solve the issues of such integration and adaptation for their own interests, I’m afraid the Armed Forces of Ukraine are doing very well when it comes to motivation. They will solve this issue, because technically it can be solved,” he predicted.
“All delays in the delivery of the F-16 rest on the need to train Ukrainian pilots. If there are pilots in the world who are ready to act on the side of the Armed Forces of Ukraine as a mercenary, then this solves the problem. But the question here is probably that the appearance of a certain number of F-16s is unlikely to radically change the situation on the battlefield. There is no such thing as a miracle weapon,” he said, noting that if they trickle into Ukraine in small numbers, then “there is a high probability that we will not even notice it.”
“This will certainly increase the burden on our air defense and on our aerospace forces, but most likely we will fight this and will adapt and compensate for the appearance of these aircraft. When their number begins to increase and becomes palpable it will have to be dozens or even more than 100 units. Then it will be unpleasant, but it will not happen instantly.”
Kornev noted that if the West does try to compensate for the pilot training issue by sending so-called “mercenary” pilots, they would be treated as “full-fledged combatants” by Russian forces.
“Russia will, of course, have a negative attitude towards this. And Russia will, I hope, highlight such situations in every possible way and try to influence them, including through diplomatic means,” he said, adding that the situation would be “about the same as how we now sometimes say that these planes or these missiles will be legitimate targets for the Russian Armed Forces. As soon as they cross the border of Ukraine, they become legitimate targets. In any case, any pilots of any country who sit at the helm are a legitimate target for any of our actions.”