A front view of an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft armed with an AIM-9L Sidewinder training missile on the wingtip and two Mark 84 2,000-pound live bombs.

More and more specialists are aligning with a study conducted by BulgarianMilitary.com earlier this year. The general agreement is that Ukraine’s airstrips are not designed to handle the landing and takeoff of “such sensitive aircraft” as the F-16.

Kelly Grieco, a notable scholar at the Stimson Center in Washington, USA, conveyed this in a recent article by Reuters. She elaborated that the American Viper necessitates a well-maintained runway for a successful launch. Grieco pointed out that the F-16’s substantial lower air intake could potentially draw in debris from the ground on poorly maintained runways, such as those frequently seen in Ukraine.

In contrast, Soviet designs like the MiG-29 have cleverly avoided the “F-16 problem”. For example, the MiG-29 has two air inlets located high on the sides of the body, effectively avoiding any potential ground debris and possible engine damage.

Previously, a comparable perspective was presented by another esteemed military research institution. This was based on the expert views of the Royal United Service Institute [RUSI] of Britain, as featured in a report by Business Insider.

The Russian Response

The importance of these analyses has grown in line with the current political environment. What was once dismissed as “pro-Russian” discourse or inaccurate critique is now central to the Russian Federation’s warning against NATO, underlining their growing significance.

Let’s look back at an event that occurred a few days ago. The Russian representative, Konstantin Gavrilov, who heads the Russian team in the Vienna talks on military security and arms control, issued a caution to NATO and its member states.

Gavrilov stated that Russia is ready to implement strict actions if NATO airfields are used as a launch site for fighter jets transferred to Kyiv. The diplomat stressed the distinction between facilitating aircraft transfers to Kyiv and permitting Ukraine’s military forces to utilize NATO countries’ air bases. He underscored that the latter could trigger “serious repercussions”.

To provide a military analysis perspective, one can draw a direct correlation between Gavrilov’s remarks and the potential hindrances that could impede the launch of Ukrainian F-16s from Ukraine, a topic we’ve previously touched upon.

Poles, Romanians, and Slovaks

The Russian news outlet, Vzglyad, published a statement from Diplomat Gavrilov, asserting that “NATO has taken heed” of his warning. Gavrilov conveyed that “our message was promptly relayed by Western diplomats to their respective capitals, primarily to the Poles, Romanians, and Slovaks.”

Gavrilov further commented, “This took them by surprise, and predictably, they were rendered speechless.”

The Counteraction

Currently, Ukrainian airports are not the primary targets of Russian forces in their campaign. The reasoning is straightforward; these airports do not play a significant role in the ongoing conflict. However, if Ukraine were to receive any Western fighter jets, the situation could shift, leading to the potential deployment of long-range air-to-surface missiles by Russian aviation.

In such a scenario, merely targeting the locations where Ukrainian F-16s are stationed could be enough to achieve their goal. The emphasis would not necessarily be on directly targeting the aircraft or the air traffic control structures, but rather the runways. By causing damage or contamination to the runway [such as fuel spillage], they could effectively neutralize any threat.

The implementation of this strategy could involve a Russian airstrike, led by a mix of Su-30/Su-35 and MiG-31 aircraft. The use of either half-ton or one-ton bombs, or air-to-surface missiles, could inflict sufficient cratering damage on the runway, rendering it inoperable. This would subsequently disrupt the Acurine road support for a considerable number of weeks.

F-16 Landing Gear

The problem of a dirty runway doesn’t only impact the F-16’s nose pod. Under these conditions, the F-16’s landing gear becomes less stable, as noted by Justin Bronk, an air warfare analyst at Britain’s Royal United Service Institute [RUSI]. Bronk highlighted that the American-designed fighter maintains a balanced thrust-to-weight ratio, keeping the aircraft as lightweight as possible. However, this design advantage also comes with its own set of challenges.

It’s important to remember that we’re discussing American or Western-style designs, which consistently differ from their Russian counterparts. Russian Mikoyan and Sukhoi aircraft are built to operate on basic runways, whereas American aircraft require a smoother surface, such as a floating runway. Bronk brings this comparison into focus, citing the F/A-18 as the standard for American fighter devices.