Ukraine Plans to Store F-16s Abroad to Protect From Russian Attacks

Ukraine is considering keeping some of the F-16 fighter jets it will receive from Western allies at foreign bases to protect them from Russian strikes, according to a senior Ukrainian military officer.

Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway have committed to supplying Ukraine with over 60 U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets to assist in repelling Russian attacks. Ukrainian pilots are currently undergoing training to fly these aircraft, with deliveries expected to begin later this year.

Serhii Holubtsov, head of aviation within Ukraine’s air force, stated that “a certain number of aircraft will be stored at secure air bases outside of Ukraine so that they are not targeted here.”

Holubtsov told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a U.S. government-funded media outlet, that these F-16s could be used to replace damaged aircraft while undergoing repairs, as well as for training Ukrainian pilots abroad.

“This way, we can always have a certain number of aircraft in the operational fleet that corresponds to the number of pilots we have,” he said. “If there are more pilots, there will be more aircraft in Ukraine.”

has warned that Moscow could retaliate with strikes on facilities in NATO countries if they host the warplanes used in Ukraine.

“If they are stationed at air bases outside the Ukrainian borders and used in combat, we will have to see how and where to strike the assets used in combat against us,” Putin said last year. “It poses a serious danger of NATO being further drawn into the conflict.”

In March, the Russian leader again cautioned against providing air bases from which the F-16s could launch sorties against Kremlin forces. He asserted that these bases would become a “legitimate target.”

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

The F-16s require high-standard runways and reinforced hangars to protect them from ground attacks. It’s unclear how many Ukrainian air bases meet these requirements, and Russia would likely quickly target any that could accommodate the jets once they arrive.

Holubtsov noted that the F-16s would help protect front-line and border regions from Russian glide bombs that have inflicted significant damage on troops and residential areas, including Kharkiv. Glide bombs are heavy Soviet-era bombs equipped with precision guidance systems and launched from aircraft flying beyond the range of air defenses.

“I think we will succeed, first of all, in pushing back the aircraft that drop glide bombs farther from the contact line,” he said. “If we manage to push them back at least another 19-31 miles, this can already be considered a turning point and an achievement, if not of superiority, then of parity in the airspace.”

Ukraine’s Western allies are striving to strengthen military support for Kyiv as Russian troops have launched attacks along the more than 620-mile frontline, capitalizing on a prolonged delay in U.S. military aid. Ukraine is currently engaged in defending against a Russian push near its second-largest city of Kharkiv, less than 20 miles from the border.

The U.S. and other NATO allies have responded to the latest Russian offensive by authorizing Ukraine to use weapons they provide to carry out limited attacks inside Russia. This decision could potentially hinder Moscow’s ability to concentrate its troops for a larger offensive near Kharkiv and in other border areas.

Last week, Putin responded by warning that Moscow “reserves the right” worldwide. “If they supply (weapons) to the combat zone and call for using these weapons against our territory, why don’t we have the right to do the same?” Putin said.

He did not specify where such arms might be sent. The U.S. has stated that Russia has turned to North Korea and Iran to bolster its stock of relatively simple weapons, but Moscow could tap into its arsenal of high-tech missiles to share with adversaries of the West if Putin decides to execute his threat.