THE US has given the go-ahead for allies to send Ukraine the long-awaited F-16 war planes to fight Russia in the skies.
Zelensky hailed the decision to hand over the fighter jets known as the “Swiss Army nife” of the US Air Force as a “historic” move that will help to secure their victory over Putin.
The frighteningly fast Fighting Falcon F-16s travel at twice the speed of sound and are second most advanced generation of jets in the NATO arsenal.
Soon they could be screaming their way over Ukraine’s battlefields as Washington has paved the way for potentially dozens of the jets to be sent to Ukraine.
A Ukrainian fighter pilot that defended Kyiv on the first days of the invasion as part of the iconic “Ghosts of Kyiv” unit knows first-hand what this decision means.
The pilot, whose call sign is Justice, said: “The main disadvantage of our jets against Russian fighters is that we have old radar with limited range of target detection and outdated missiles.
“Russian jets have powerful modern radars with a much greater detection range and advanced missiles.
“So, therefore I need to fly toward the enemy to launch my missile when his missile is already approaching me like a kamikaze.
“Of course, I don’t do it as it is too risky. That’s why we cannot resist them at all. We are able only to defend against their fighter jets,” he told ITV News.
The F-16s could change all of that with their sophisticated systems, allowing the brave jet pilots to “see the whole picture from above”.
Throughout the the gruelling 15 month-long war, F-16s have sat at the top of Ukraine’s wish-list as officials have claimed they are essential to vanquishing the enemy from its skies.
The Fighting Falcon’s are referred to by experts as a ‘Lego Kit’ due to their versatility and ability to be upgraded and serviced cheaply – ideal in times of war.
So too is their “game-changing” ability to travel at 1,350mph and carry 17,000lbs worth of missiles and bombs.
The Ukrainian Air Force is currently reliant on ageing Soviet-era jets that have struggled against Moscow’s more modern air force and air defences.
Until now President Biden had effectively vetoed the transfer of F-16s, with US officials citing long pilot training times and the risk of escalating the conflict with Russia.
But this new plan opens the door for several nations to supply the fourth-generation aircraft and for the US to help train the pilots.
Ukrainian pilots using simulators have already slashed the Pentagon’s estimates that training would take 18 months to only four to six months.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated the U-turn decision was based on the “exigencies of the conflict”.
“We’ve reached a moment where it’s time to look down the road and to say ‘What is Ukraine going to need… to be able to deter and defend against Russian aggression?’
“F-16s, fourth-generation fighter aircraft, are part of that mix,” he said, adding that Ukraine had committed to not use US military equipment to hit targets inside Russia.
“We are going to do everything we can to support Ukraine in its defence of its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we are also going to proceed in a way that avoids World War III,” he added.
Ukrainian aces will turn Top Gun fiction into reality.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister
With the US veto lifted, Sunak quickly announced that Britain would “work together with the USA and the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark to get Ukraine the combat air capability it needs”.
The UK does not have any F-16s in its air force fleet.
As Ukraine has improved its air defences with a host of Western-supplied anti-aircraft systems and prepares to launch a counteroffensive against Russia, Kyiv believe the jets are essential to the country’s long-term security.
The officials say they need up to 200 jets to take on Russia’s air power, which is said to be five or six times greater than Ukraine’s.
Currently in the battle for the skies, a Ukrainian pilot described the bleak situation they face against Putin’s flying fleet.
“In the opened field, there’s a fighter with a sniper rifle and on the opposite side soldier with a gun, and let the battle begin; your guess, who will win?” he told ITV News.
However, the F-16s are highly manoeuvrable fight jets that are Kyiv said will be capable of supporting Ukraine’s ground troops and defending civilians from Russia’s crippling missile attacks, including drones.
However, there are still some concerns over the practicalities, including the lack of infrastructure in the war-ravaged country to safely operate these beasts.
Writing in Foreign Policy, Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba laid out the five essential reasons his country needs the war planes.
Firstly, “Ukraine requires modern jets to strengthen our air and missile defenses, save lives, and protect civilians,” he warned, adding that it will allow them to shoot down missiles long before they kill someone.
Secondly, he says: “F-16s will allow us to control our skies, protect our troops, reduce their losses, and increase the chances of our pilots surviving dogfights.”
The next is ensuring the security of the Black Sea corridor so all future grain exports can move freely.
He also believes that the use F-16s in active combat will help to educate the US Air Force on their plane’s capabilities “without putting any American lives in danger.
“Ukrainian aces will turn Top Gun fiction into reality.”
And lastly, he insists that the planes will secure the victory of Ukraine and terrify Putin.
“F-16s in the hands of Ukrainian pilots will serve as a strong deterrent to any future Russian attempts to redraw borders in Europe”.
The former US Ambassador to NATO stated that the arrival of F-16s to Ukraine could change the tides of the war.
Lt. General Douglas Lute told PBS: “The Ukrainians have been suffering from an imbalance in manned aircraft, where the Russians have a distinct advantage.
“So this decision now to provide aircraft and provide the training required really addresses that imbalance.”
“I think it’s one of the last remaining imbalances, frankly, in the favor of the Russians.”