08.07.2023 Author: Henry Kamens

CNN and US Government Pushing the Envelope – Obsolete F16s or F/A-18 Hornets won’t make an “Iota of Difference” in Ukraine!

Obsolete F16s or F/A-18 Hornets won’t make an “Iota of Difference” in Ukraine

“Only if” is the key phrase in what Ukraine is asking for next, in terms of planes, tanks, you name it – in spite of the cruel reality that they are far behind on the “technological treadmill” and technology transfer.

The latest hand me down, often obsolete military hardware will not make an “iota of difference” in the final outcome.  They all know this too, the West knows, Defense Contractors know, soldiers on the front know—and the pilots know best of all.

It is not only about planes but other military hardware, as we have seen in action in the latest stalled Ukrainian offensive. There are always more from where the hulls came from, so the Defense Contractors are ready to re-supply; however, that may take some time.

This was already well-demonstrated, Iraqi Freedom, with the much touted Bradley fighting vehicles, “the utilization of IEDs to penetrate the Bradley’s thin and vulnerable under-chassis armor.”

Even CNN reports on Ukrainian pilots describing the fear of being outgunned by Russia’s air force and implore the West to give them F-16 jet fighters during an interview—so to level the playing field with the Russian air force and to use the surface-to-air missiles that the US has provided.

However, it is a marriage of “getting-rid-of-what-needs-to-be-rid of” so it can be procured again, and again–and at sky-high replacement costs and giving record profits for the few. The business model is simple, it is like the rusty bomb scenario and many wars have 10-year intervals, as what you can do with a bomb that is beyond its useful self-life, other than drop it on some poor bastards.

At this stage of the game, with most of those bombs already dropped, to little avail, “hand me down and obsolete military equipment won’t make an “Iota of Difference” in Ukraine.”

Who are they trying to fool?

In terms of modern airplanes and jets, even with the latest technology, you would need years of training to go up against experienced Russian pilots.  NATO cannot  do that!

Most NATO troops are at the level of weekend warriors at best, like George W. Bush Jr. during the Vietnam War hiding out in an Air National Guard Unit, so as not to serve in Vietnam. Most of the time he did not even attend required weekend drills.

Russian pilots are now seasoned, and with combined force technology, ground, intelligence, and eyes in the sky, which have all been tested under actual battlefield conditions, in Georgia, Syria and Ukraine, and the latest gifts of F-16s or other planes from the West will be quickly shot down.

One insightful article in Popular Mechanics sums it up well, with a full commentary, Ukraine May Buy Hand-Me-Down F/A-18 Hornets from Australia. It’s Not a Perfect Idea. Maybe in theory…

The key comments about the F/A-18B Hornet jets are revealing: “The last of these jets were retired from Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) service two years ago, and would otherwise soon be either sold or destroyed.”

The article mentions how Russian missiles out range western ones, but fails to mention that they have almost twice the range, and was this omission intentional or not? The US has already given AIM-120s to Ukraine and modified the Ukrainian MiG-29 and Su-27 to carry them. It hasn’t made any difference.

Could it be for lack of training, or firing them off too early – as if I understand nowadays, planes don’t see one another in dogfights, as radars engage targets 100s of kms out and shoot off their air-to-air missiles.

But the reality makes you question the motivation in the first instance, to beg the rhetorical question, “What do we know about the friendly skies of Ukraine and what difference if any would hand me down planes, F16 or F/A-18 Hornets make, or is it just a PR ploy?”

However, neither the Hornet nor the F-16 would outrange Russian radars or outgun Russian missiles.

Reality in the Sky

The F-16 is a 1970s design, and although it has undergone upgrades over its lifetime, even in the latest version it is in no way a competitor for the Su-35, let alone the Su-57. The F-16A series which NATO intends to transfer to the Ukrainians provides little improvement over the MiG-29s which the UAF already operates.

The only possible advantage would be the data link systems, if installed, allowing networking between planes. However, these rely on AWACS support, and are vulnerable to jamming. Something we have seen the Russians have a marked superiority in.

The F-16 will fare no better against the Russian integrated Air Defence system of SAMs and Fighters than the aircraft it is replacing. A further problem is that the AIM-120 AMRAAM radar guided Air-to-Air missile has a significantly shorter range than the missiles carried by Russian fighters, which can engage from over 100 km outside the range at which the F-16 can retaliate.

Then what is the motivation, especially considering the lack of experienced pilots, and where will the next generation of make believe “Ghosts of Kiev” come from?

The motivation is clear, the case of both outdated jets from various air forces, and other military hardware, and what was once modern and state of the airs have reached or exceeded their useful lives. At least the Dutch are honest as to when they will hand over some of their F-16s, when they reach the end of their useful lives,

It is only a question of what to do with aging planes as understanding the actual motivation for the collective West is clear, and this takes us back to what to do with a rusty bomb after 10 years, and how to get more “buck for the bang” for defense contractors as they “laugh all-the-way-to-the-bank.”

Is the loss of manpower, and reputation, worth the opportunity costs involved, as we can read in the Popular Mechanics article which explains “it would still require a considerable investment by Ukraine of money and personnel toward a fleet of aircraft which are no longer cutting-edge and are near the end of their service lives…?”

And what is being offered is not a game changer, with F16 or F/A-18 Hornets, and not to mention the dearth of qualified pilots—and not enough time to train them up.  This outdated and worn out technology will not be able to go head-to-head with Russia’s Su-35s and combined air defense/offense systems.

I think they will be target practice for Su-35, MiG-31, and Su-57 fighters. It’s another case of grasping at straws. They are completely outclassed and outgunned. The pilots won’t know how to perform in a stressful situation, as old habits relieves the intellect and their original training on Russian planes will kick in

F-16s are a big joke, especially for those that learned to fly on older Soviet fighter jets, as this technology is totally different, and it will be a sad ending for pilots if they ever get the jets. I suppose it will be embarrassing when they spiral out of control and crash and burn, even if they are not shot out of the Friendly Skies of Ukraine.

Even Germany jumps back and forth over to supply much sought after F16s, as reported in the New Voice of Ukraine, with the headline, “Germany may reverse stance, approve fighter jet deliveries to Ukraine soon.”

The F-16s were an excellent aircraft in their day, but they are designed as part of a system. They are intended to work with AWACS, tankers, and other aircraft such as the F-15 and specialised support such as jamming aircraft, and Wild Weasel SAM suppression aircraft.  And they are markedly inferior to the latest Russian designs.

Wild Weasel is the term for aircraft modified for SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defence) which usually carry special sensors to detect and pinpoint enemy radars, as well as specialised anti-radiation (ARM) missiles. 

Other limitations

The Russian R-37, which is carried by the Su-35, Su-57, and the MiG 31, can engage bomber/AWACS size targets at up to 400 km, and fighter size up to 200 km. The latest AIM-120 has a maximum range of 160 km against large targets, and maybe a little more than half against fighter size targets.

It appears, all things considered, the motivation for the fanfare over supplying jet fighters is that the West is just dumping the “old junk” to have an excuse to buy back new – as I can understand this, as a layperson, but why don’t the experts get it too – are they so clueless?

I suspect few Russian planes have been taken down with air-to-air missiles but instead by ground fired missile, and this was early in the conflict before Russian tactics were adapted to meet new challenges. The bottom line is that there can be no effective offensive on the ground by Ukraine without effective air cover. And to think otherwise is delusional.

And if somehow, an effective offensive is to happen on the part of Ukraine, from where do the pilots and planes come, and from what generation will be the technology? The only way out seems for NATO to get directly involved or divine intervention.

And even then, the Russians still have the advantage in the skies. The last statement may be an over statement, coming from ‘just a journalist’; however, I think I am close to the reality.

Ukraine will never be a No-fly Zone like Northern Iraq. Even the USAF, active duty, will have a very bad time against the integrated air defense the Russians have now. But then why all the media spin, airtime and print columns, on the need to provide F-16s to the Ukrainians?

CNN and US Government Pushing the Envelope

The original meaning of the expression “pushing the envelope” relates to testing the limits or the theoretical performance limits of an aircraft, particularly in terms of its maximum speed, altitude, and maneuverability. The boundaries of what is considered possible or acceptable.

In a more positive sense, it implies a willingness to explore new possibilities, take appropriate risks, and challenge conventional norms or expectations. However, it works out at the expense of the lives of others—then there is not a hard choice to make as to the moral choice for the West so not to sacrifice innocent lives.

Looking for excuses

At least the West can find an excuse now, and considering efforts to distance itself from the mess, “NATO hesitated when Ukraine begged for weapons. Now, their counteroffensive against Russia is hitting snags”, analysts claim.

All this comes’s, the media damage control, and at a most convenient time, as Part of Biden and NATO’s concern for sending some assets — such as tanks and F-16s — was Russian escalation – so they claim!

Biden and the US State Department, DOD, and other stakeholders want to justify their reneging on various weapons systems, technology transfers, based on the so-called “claim” that Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. 

The truth of the matter is that they don’t have weapons to send, much of it is junk, already sent, (warehouses are empty). It does not go down well to highlight the wholesale failure of American technology on the battlefield, as that is bad for US and European business.

Last but not least, we should consider the potential impact on political polls and upcoming election results and how the hard truth threatens the political survival for those (the elites) who are now facing the “reality” of a real knock-down-and-drag-out-war.


Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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