From Fighter Jets to Fancy Footnotes: Ukraine’s F-16 Fumble


by Jeff Childers

Eject, eject, eject! Last week, Politico ran this unintentionally hilarious Proxy War headline: “Ukraine frustrated with US over F-16 pilot training.” Among other things.

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A running Proxy War theme greatly amusing the warbloggers is the endless cycle of euphoria that always begins with media celebrations over some game-changing weapons system to be provided to Ukraine. Shortly after delivery, the new wonder weapon inevitably fizzles out, just like a 200 million dollar M1 Abrams tank mired in the Ukrainian mud.

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Then, the media always claims it was never that big of a deal in the first place. And moves on to the next high-tech wonder weapon. Rinse, cycle, repeat.

Of all the game-changing weapons systems glowingly predicted to turn things around for Ukraine, there was one that stood out above the others, a master weapon to rule them all, the high-tech wingman that Ukraine needed most to help it show those wily Russians who they were messing with: the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

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To say former Ukraine president Zelensky has been anxious to get his tiny hands on some free U.S. fighter planes would be an exercise in understatement. The F-16 Fighting Falcon retails for an affordable $80 million dollars out of the hangar, not including missiles, maintenance, or delivery charges.

But alas, some problems have popped up on the runway.

The biggest problem is that American flyers aren’t allowed to fly the damned things. American pilots flying American fighter jets launching American missiles at Russian military assets would break the rules. Thus, Ukrainians must fly the planes.

Needless to say, flying F-16s isn’t like driving a golf cart. It’s hard even if you’re sober. They are possibly the most difficult and demanding mode of transportation ever invented, where even tiny errors can be fatal and wildly expensive. If Top Gun taught us anything, it’s that it takes years of training and mad skills to graduate a new fighter pilot.

So that’s one problem. But now, Politico reports, it seems Ukraine’s jet fighter pilots didn’t sign up on the Top Gun program’s application website in time:

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We’re still training them anyway, slowly, in small groups. However, the graduation rate isn’t encouraging. They expect to have the first full squad of fighter pilots by the end of next year:

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That prediction might seem obvious, even wildly optimistic, given that Ukrainians aren’t known for air combat skills. But the long training lead time wasn’t obvious to corporate media. Last September, the AP predicted Ukraine’s F-16s would already be taking it to the Ruskies:

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On top of the now-delayed timeline, and possible worse news for Ukraine, the F-16 narrative from anonymous U.S. officials is unpromising. The officials quoted carefully shrank expectations for the new F-16 fighter jets, miniaturizing the deadly air fighters from game-changer status down to just a teeny tiny “increment of capability”:

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Note the journalistic sleight of hand in the quote above. They softened the negative impact by slyly sliding in — without citing a source — that officials have warned for months the F-16s won’t make much difference anyway. So. No biggie.

It’s a mental trick. By dropping in the phrase “officials have warned for months,” Politico’s reporter gave the impression that this isn’t news, everybody already knows it. But that’s not true, at all. Lies! A mere three weeks ago, Business Insider mendaciously called the F-16s’ now-incremental capability a vital role that would personally humiliate Russia’s president:

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A month before that, military think tank GIS Reports misleadingly predicted that F-16s would change the war:

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Early last year, ABC wrongly described how the ill-fated fighters would “turn the tide:”

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I can’t end this chain of journalistic disgrace without quoting CNN, whose humiliating headline even included the fateful words “game changer:”

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To cap the story off, the F-16s are only the latest grim example of broken Biden promises. In January of last year, Biden vowed Ukraine would not receive any F-16s, since that would be too much of an escalation. CBS headline from January 23, 2023:

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Last year, President Robert L. Peters said, “nyet:”

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I’ll grant you it’s fair to wonder whether Biden even knows what he’s saying most of the time. He might have just thought he was answering a question about whether he’d reached his hair-sniffing limit yet. But I will maintain the dignity of this blog and assume the leader of the free world understood what planet he was on.

There’s a lot you could say about all this official lying. Biden’s shrinking group of defenders would say he changed his mind, which presumes he has a mind to change. They would say the media, well, what can they say about the media? The best you can say about official F-16 policy is that the U.S. is totally reactive, with no plan, and the unshameable, lizard-lipped media continues lyingly covering for our wandering war schemes and official dissembling.

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