Ukraine’s ability to repel one of the world’s leading military powers has surprised the world. Since the full-scale invasion in February 2022, neither Russia — despite its superiority in numbers and capabilities — nor Ukraine has been able to establish air superiority.
With fewer and less capable air domain assets, Ukraine has instead been obliged to adopt the less costly and inherently defensive strategy of ‘air denial.’ However, for it to remain successful will require Ukraine to sustain continuous air defence operations and the West to commit to a steady supply of military assistance. Mutual air denial is essentially an attritional form of warfare from which Russia is likely to draw greater benefits and a strategy which forces Ukraine to make difficult choices regarding the targets it wants to deny.
The F-16, albeit not a silver bullet, offers the prospect of enabling Ukraine’s air forces to more effectively exploit openings in Russia’s defences and to strike Russian forces and their logistics. However, unlike previous provisions of Western military assistance, the decision to give Ukraine F-16s moves past the more short-term view of helping it meet the immediate needs of the war. The effort spent training Ukrainian pilots, ground crews, and logisticians will have long-term value in supporting Ukraine’s air defence needs and deterring any renewed Russian aggression.
Download and read: In a State of Denial: The Air War in Ukraine (PDF)