Saturday, December 2, 2023

Gripen, F-16...: will light fighters see their image restored in Ukraine?

In recent decades, light single-engine fighters , such as the French Mirage 2000, the American F-16 or the Swedish Gripen, have lost their appeal to world air forces, facing heavier and more versatile aircraft Mirage like the F-35 or the Rafale .

These aircraft had, however, formed the backbone of many air forces since the 1970s, who appreciated their performance, but also reasonable costs and a much less restrictive implementation than that of heavier aircraft like the F-15 or the F-18.

The growing disenchantment with Western light fighters

It must be recognized that since the fall of the Soviet bloc, the specific interests of these devices, more economical, therefore likely to be acquired in greater numbers, and able to be deployed from more basic infrastructures, lost their appeal in the face of with the great versatility and reach promised by the new medium fighters.

The negative effects on the mass of forces, for their part, then seemed of less importance, while the hypothesis of a high intensity conflict seemed to be ruled out in the short or medium term.

F 35A maintenance e1681302744721
Medium fighters like the F-35A are not only more expensive than light fighters, they also require heavier maintenance and dedicated infrastructure to be operational.

It is in this context that the F-16, Gripen and Mirage gradually lost their prevalence within a majority of air forces, except the least well budgeted among them . Mirage assembly line was closed in 2011, while annual F-16 production was divided by 3 over the last 10 years.

As for the Swedish Gripen, after a dazzling and promising start in the 90s, it subsequently had to face a series of successive commercial failures, offset by the sole Brazilian order , most often against the F-35A. American or Rafale .

Ukrainian insistence on F-16s and Gripen

However, things could change on this subject in the months and years to come. Indeed, Mirage 2000, F-16 and especially Gripen, are precisely the aircraft insisted on for months by Ukraine to confront Russian air power.

Although partly neutralized by the omnipresence of anti-aircraft systems deployed on both sides, the air forces continue to play a major role in the conflict between Russians and Ukrainians, whether in supporting commitments to ground, destroy enemy logistics and command sites, or prevent the adversary from doing so.

Mirage 2000 Taiwan
Taiwanese Mirage 2000-5s regularly train to use sections of highways and secondary deployment airfields to face the Chinese threat.

Today still equipped exclusively with aircraft of Soviet origin partly supplied by the former members of the Warsaw Pact allied with Kyiv, the Ukrainian air forces place significant pressure on the logistical flow within the depths of the Russian system.

However, they suffer from constraints forgotten for several decades by Western planners, notably the great vulnerability of air bases, easily located and identifiable, especially by space means, and difficult to defend against combined attacks combining ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. and drones of different types.

The General Staff is all the more aware of these vulnerabilities because it has, on several occasions, exploited them to hit hard the Russian air forces, including the strategic air forces at Engels, and the long-range bomber forces action at the Soltsy-2 air base south of Saint Petersburg .

The constraints of the war in Ukraine

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Fabrice Wolf
Fabrice Wolf
A former French naval aeronautics pilot, Fabrice is the editor and main author of the site. His areas of expertise are military aeronautics, defense economics, air and submarine warfare, and Akita inu.

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