A former U.S. Air Force officer has warned that American or NATO service members responsible for maintaining F-16s delivered to Ukraine would become military targets for Russian attacks.
According to former Lt. Gen. Charlie Moore, former deputy head of the Cyber Command, countries that sell fourth-generation fighter jets like F-16s to Kyiv would likely also need to deploy contractors or military people who have expertise servicing the complex planes.
Kyiv has frequently asked its Western partners for fighter planes, and the F-16 has emerged as a clear favorite. These jets would constitute a considerable upgrade for Ukraine, which still uses Soviet-era planes.
Moore, (nicknamed “Tuna”), currently a professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said that while basic training might cover some components of the aircraft upkeep, maintenance of the avionics and hydraulic systems was a different story.
The United States has joined a coalition of nations promising to help Ukraine train its pilots to fly the F-16. Secretary-General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg stated last month that this training had already begun.
No allies have yet committed to providing Ukraine with the planes, but what was previously seen as a “red line” is suddenly looking more plausible. According to Western officials and observers, the F-16s would represent a shared responsibility to the Ukrainian air force, and several challenges are involved in supplying Kyiv’s military with brand-new systems.
One such difficulty is that, unlike the Soviet aircraft that Ukraine operates from scattered sites, the F-16s would require centralized bases—making them prime targets for Russian attacks.
Moore predicts that Ukraine will need NATO or Western contractors for the most challenging upkeep on these locations, at least in the short term.
Moore said such bases would be “legitimate military targets” following the laws of armed conflict if they required the presence of individuals from the nations supplying planes.
It has been estimated that it would take months to educate experienced Ukrainian troops on F-16s, and there is some debate over how long it would take for Kyiv’s pilots to learn to operate and employ the planes properly.