Putin Says Western Bases Hosting Ukraine’s F-16s Would Be Legitimate Targets

Putin F-16
F-16 firing an AGM-88 HARM. In the box, Vladimir Putin. (Image credit: The Aviationist, using images in the Public Domain)

Russia warns it may attack NATO bases possibly used to launch Ukraine’s F-16s.

If the F-16s are delivered to Ukraine, Russia could also strike NATO bases from which the jets would launch. The threat was issued by Vladimir Putin during a meeting with a group of pilots at Tver, northwest of Moscow. The Russian President said an escalation could be provoked by the delivery of the promised Fighting Falcon jets, for which training of Ukrainian pilots is underway.

“F-16s are capable of carrying nuclear weapons, and we will also need to take that into account while organizing our combat operations,” Putin said.

“Of course, if they are used from bases in third countries, they would be a legitimate target for us, no matter where they are,” he added.

However, the Kremlin believes not even the supply of these fighters will be able to change the course of the conflict, “We will destroy their warplanes just as we destroy their tanks, armored vehicles and other equipment, including multiple rocket launchers”.

File photo of Danish F-16s. (Photo: Danish MoD)

Ukraine has long been asking its Western partners for the delivery of F-16s. Ukrainian President Zelensky said last year that at least 42 F-16s had been promised (the number is not known, but according to the most reliable sources, they should be 60), with the first deliveries expected by the Summer of 2024. Meanwhile, Ukrainian pilots, with different degree of flying experience, are at various stages of training, both in the U.S. and in Europe.

The delivery of the F-16s won’t be a game-changer, considering the need to integrate them in the Ukrainian Air Force, the lack of specific experience of Ukrainian pilots on the type and in view of Russia’s massive air force and sophisticated air defense systems. The weapon system requires logistic support, infrastructure and weapons: it will take years before the whole “ecosystem” that is required to sustain effective combat operations with the Fighting Falcon can be exploited at its best.

F-16 Ukraine
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte walk near an F-16, in Eindhoven, Netherlands, August 20, 2023. (Photo credits: REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw)

However, in the short and mid term, the “Viper” (as the F-16 is nicknamed in the pilot community) will be a quick upgrade from the current MiG-29s: the “new” jets will be used to detect, hunt and engage cruise missiles, helicopters, UAVs and Russian fighters, and to  conducting air strikes on Russian targets with stand-off missiles. The F-16s can also be used to fire the AGM-88 HARM missiles (a type that was not “natively” compatible with the Ukrainian combat aircraft but was integrated with the MiG-29 and Su-27) and JDAMs bombs in SEAD/DEAD (Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses) missions that are particularly important on the Ukrainian battlefield.

We will see.

MiG-29 AGM-88
A screenshot of the video shared by the Ukrainian Air Force showing the moment an AGM-88 HARM is fired by a MiG-29.
About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.