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The Telegraph
The Telegraph
24 Feb 2024
Connor James Ibbetson

The war in the air

In the two years since the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, the war on the ground has progressively slowed as each side seeks to outlast the other. The war for the air however, might be about to change, as the F-16s Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy worked hard to secure are about to arrive on the battlefield.

The first groups of Ukrainian pilots have almost finished their training on the American-built, multi role fighter jets, which are being donated by the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium and Norway.

The F-16 Fighting Falcon was developed after the Vietnam War highlighted a need for a new air superiority fighter. Its frame-less bubble canopy provides high visibility for its pilot to use its array of air-to-air armaments, or ground attack weapons in a support role. Single-engined, the Fighting Falcon was designed to be light, easy to maintain, and highly-manoeuvrable.

In its service, the F-16 has tallied up impressive 72 air-to-air kills across its service in several air forces, with no recorded losses to enemy aircraft.

A fair comparison to the Fighting Falcon would be the Soviet-era MiG-29, currently in service with the Ukrainian air force. In the skies however, the F-16 will be squaring up against the Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-35 of the Russian Aerospace forces.

The Su-35s, originally developed in the Soviet Union and modernised in 2003, is the Russian Aerospace forces primary air-superiority fighter. Twin-engined, it can outrun the F-16 in a straight race. 

The Su-35s however, with its 50-foot wingspan and 23,000kg weight is significantly larger and heavier than the F-16 with a 32 ft span and 8,500kgs - making it a big target in the sky. Indeed, several have already been lost to american-supplied patriot missile systems. 

In recent days, the Ukrainian military have claimed yet another two jets, one Su-35 and Su-35, destroyed

Russia’s latest jet, the Su-57 stealth fighter, could prove more of a challenge for the second-hand F-16s. It is believed that so far the Su-57s have only flown inside Russian territory, using long range weapons to strike targets inside Ukraine.

Beyond jets, advanced Western anti-air defences, including stinger missiles and the Gepard,  have already caused heavy losses among Russia’s helicopter fleet, downing nearly 50 Ka-52 attack helicopters.