Ukraine Situation Report: First Of 30 Belgian F-16s To Be Delivered “This Year”

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F-16 Belgium ukraine
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Belgium says it will supply Ukraine with 30 F-16 fighters by 2028, with the first examples expected to be handed over this year. While Belgium had previously confirmed that it would participate in the multinational training effort for Ukrainian F-16 pilots, and provide aircraft of the same type to Kyiv, the numbers involved had not been confirmed, while the delivery timeline has also now been accelerated.

Today’s announcement came during a visit to Belgium by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. There he met Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo who reiterated that the F-16s, once delivered, were not to be used outside of Ukraine’s borders.

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“These F-16 jets will be provided to Ukraine as soon as possible. Our aim is to be able to provide the first aircraft before the end of this year, 2024,” De Croo said at a press conference with Zelensky. “We will do everything in our capacity to deliver some aircraft already this year.”

The 30 F-16s — which are becoming available as Belgium replaces them with F-35 stealth jets — are part of “at least €977 million in Belgian military aid to Ukraine this year,” according to Zelensky.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visit to Belgium took in Melsbroek Air Base, where he was shown around F-16s by Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Minister of Defense Ludivine Dedonder, as well as F-16 pilots, instructors, and technicians. <em>Photo by Didier Lebrun / Photonews via Getty Images</em>
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visit to Belgium took in Melsbroek Air Base, where he was shown around F-16s by Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Minister of Defense Ludivine Dedonder, as well as F-16 pilots, instructors, and technicians. Photo by Didier Lebrun / Photonews via Getty Images

Under a new defense agreement, Belgium will support Ukraine over 10 years, with this to include modern armored vehicles, air force equipment, naval security, mine clearance, and military training.

De Croo had previously said that Brussels would start to deliver F-16s to Ukraine in 2025 although the final decision remains with Belgium’s next government, with the country due to head to the polls in June.

Before the decision to transfer F-16s was taken, Belgium had said it would join the coalition of countries led by the Netherlands and Denmark that would train Ukrainian pilots to operate the fighters. At that point, however, the jets themselves were not on the table, De Croo saying “We have said that we cannot supply aircraft, but we can train pilots.”

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At the latest count, around 85 F-16s have now been committed to Ukraine. These comprise 24 from the Netherlands, 19 from Denmark, and 12 from Norway (with the same country providing 10 more that will be used for spare parts). Ukraine's first F-16 pilots have completed training in Arizona and it's possible the first Vipers could arrive in Ukraine as early as next month.

Before diving into more developments from the conflict in Ukraine, The War Zone readers can review our previous coverage here.

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As well as F-16s, the Swedish Saab Gripen has been repeatedly touted as a possible future fighter for Ukraine. Reports out of Sweden indicate that other European countries — namely those that have already committed to providing F-16s — have requested that Stockholm puts any such plans on hold, for now.

Swedish Minister of Defense Pål Jonson has also expressed his view that the current focus should be on getting F-16s to Ukraine, and crews trained to operate them.

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One of the aircraft that Kyiv badly needs to supplement and eventually replace with the F-16 is the Soviet-era MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter. In the meantime, the MiG-29 is being kept busy by the Ukrainian Air Force and adding new Western-made weapons in the process.

Just a day after it was confirmed that Ukraine is using the air-launched version of the Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) in combat, photos emerged showing the weapon in service on Ukrainian MiG-29s.

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It was reported late last week that examples of the GBU-39 SDB began to be delivered to Ukraine in November 2023. This makes it highly likely that the wreckage of weapons previously identified as Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs (GLSDBs) were actually SDBs dropped by Fulcrums.

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According to an article in The Washington Post, the air-launched SDB has been highly effective.

“One U.S. weapon used by aircraft, the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb, has proved resilient to jamming,” the article stated, citing confidential internal Ukrainian assessments. The same report notes that “nearly 90 percent of dropped [Small Diameter Bombs] struck their target.”

Another U.S.-made weapon that is being used in combat by Ukrainian MiG-29s is the AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile, or HARM, which provides Ukraine with a suppression and destruction of enemy air defense capability, also referred to collectively as SEAD/DEAD.

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The continued threat posed by the Ukrainian Air Force means that Russia is continuing to target its aircraft and infrastructure with drone and missile strikes against its facilities.

While unconfirmed, multiple reports state that the latest Ukrainian air base to come under heavy attack is Starokostiantyniv, in the Khmelnytskyi region of western Ukraine. The airfield is primarily home to Su-24 Fencer strike/reconnaissance aircraft that are the launch platforms for Storm Shadow and SCALP EG cruise missiles.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that on the night of May 26 the base was targeted with dozens of Shahed-136 one-way attack drones, Kh-101 air-launched cruise missiles, and Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missiles.

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Low-resolution satellite imagery obtained by TWZ does not reveal any obvious damage to the base, although this remains possible.

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According to Ukraine’s Radio Svoboda, Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yurii Ihnat confirmed that there was a combined missile and drone attack on Starokostiantyniv Air Base, but declined to provide any more details.

“I want to say that combat capability will be restored there. I think it’s not worth dramatizing the situation,” Ihnat added.

The status of the latest claimed long-range Ukrainian attacks on Russian objectives are similarly murky, but are worth keeping an eye on.

There have been reports of another attack on the Russian strategic early warning radar site in Armavir, in the Krasnodar region, in the southwest of the country. The Voronezh-DM radar there was substantially damaged in a reported Ukrainian drone attack late last week, as you can read about here. In the latest incident, it’s claimed that Portuguese-made Tekever drones were employed.

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Another early warning radar site, this time a Voronezh-M over-the-horizon radar based along the border of Kazakhstan near Orsk, was supposedly the target. This would have been the farthest Ukrainian airstrike so far. While this attack was widely reported, initial satellite imagery obtained by TWZ does not provide compelling evidence that it occurred or at least that it was highly successful in causing significant damage to the prized radar.

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There have also been claims made of a possible attack near ‘Putin’s palace,’ the shadowy estate of the Russian president located in the Krasnodar region on the Black Sea. According to Russian authorities, Ukrainian long-range drones attacked targets near the city of Gelendzhik, not far from the palace, on the night of May 26.

“The wreckage of one of the drones damaged an unfinished building in the village of Krinitsa,” said Veniamin Kondratiev, the governor of Krasnodar region. “A drone crashed into trees in the village of Dzhankhot, and the fire has been put out. Early reports indicate no casualties."

Kondratiev claimed that all drones were destroyed by Russian air defense units, but it remains unclear if Putin’s palace was actually among the targets, let alone whether it was successfully hit.

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As the Russian offensive in the Kharkiv region continues, there are reports of recent Russian advances made elsewhere in eastern Ukraine, notably in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Here, advances have been confirmed around Svatove, Avdiivka, and Donetsk City, according to the U.S. think tank the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

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In the Kharkiv region, meanwhile, the ISW asseses advances made by Ukrainian forces near Lyptsi in the northern part of the region.

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There are also reports of a build-up of Russian forces in the west of the Belgorod region, close to the border with Ukraine. This is likely an effort to draw Ukrainian forces away from other regions, allowing Russian troops to launch an expanded offensive operations on multiple fronts, with less resistance.

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An example of recent combat in the Kharkiv region is provided in the next video. Here, soldiers from the Ukrainian Special Forces 3rd Regiment launched a raid on Russian positions, which led to the capture of three Russian soldiers and the reported elimination of another 11.

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Moving on to Ukrainian air defenses, a newly emerged video purports to show, for the first time, an AIM-9X Sidewinder infrared-guided missile launched by a Western-supplied National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS.

So far, the U.S.-made AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile, or AMRAAM, has been the primary missile that Ukrainian forces are known to employ in these systems. One other potentially undisclosed type of missile may also have been launched from Ukrainian NASAMS, but that remains unconfirmed.

As for the AIM-9X, it was developed as an air-to-air missile and is not previously known to have been delivered to Ukraine. NASAMS is able to fire both the AIM-9X and the IRIS-T, with the last of these having been supplied to Ukraine as part of the IRIS-T SLM air defense systems provided by Germany. Available in large quantities, the AIM-9X would be a very useful way of bolstering the number of missiles available to NASAMS, as well as offering different capabilities due to its infrared guidance, albeit at much shorter ranges than AMRAAM. AIM-9X Block II is likely necessary for the NASAMS application, due to its lock-on after launch datalink capability. Where these missiles came from remains unclear.

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Additional air defense equipment could be headed to Ukraine with the news that the Netherlands is heading up a new initiative that plans to deliver another Patriot surface-to-air missile battery. The system components would be drawn from different countries, with the Netherlands providing certain core components as well as training.

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Among the major menaces of Ukrainian air defenses are the one-way long-range attack drones sent by Russia to strike military and civilian targets across the country.

The situation looks set to get worse for the defenders, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal.

The WSJ reports that the Alabuga plant in Russia plans to build 6,000 Iranian-designed Shahed-type attack drones each year, as well as surveillance drones. Those figures come from a contract between the plant’s Russian managers and their Iranian partners leaked by the Prana Network and that was independently corroborated by two advisers to the British government. At the end of April, the factory was ahead of its production schedule, having already supplied 4,500 of the promised Shaheds, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based defense-focused think tank.

A much less commonoly seen Iranian-designed drone in Russian service is the Mohajer-6. This example, armed with Iranian Ghaem-5 guided bombs, was videoed by a Russian citizen after it reportedly crashed in the Kursk region.

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Iran is first reported to have supplied Russia with Mohajer-6 drones back in 2022, but they have been seen only infrequently since then. Ukrainian reports suggest this latest example was a victim of Russian air defenses and/or electronic warfare, being brought down by friendly forces.

European plans to dramatically step up its production of artillery ammunition could face difficulties due to an apparent shortage of explosives. According to a report in The Economist, manufacturers of the explosives used for both warheads and propellants are unable to keep pace with the demand.

The article suggests that the shortage of explosives is “the biggest bottleneck” in the plan.

“The trouble is that explosive makers are unsure that production can be cranked up and fear that the quirks of the industry will hamper the surge that Ukraine needs to remain competitive on the battlefield,” The Economist says.

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One potential means of alleviating the ammunition problem has been identified in Turkey, which is set to become the biggest exporter of artillery shells to the United States, sometime this year.

Bloomberg reports that the United States has earmarked the Turkish defense industries to boost the production of artillery shells as part of the race to get more significant quantities of ammunition to Ukraine. The article states that the Turkish defense company Repkon is likely to be producing around 30 percent of all U.S. 155mm artillery shells by 2025.

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Nevertheless, Russian production of artillery shells continues to outstrip the efforts of the United States and Europe. A report from Sky News states that Russia is producing shells three times faster and four times cheaper than Ukraine’s Western allies. This year alone, Russia will produce 4.5 million rounds of ammunition, the report adds. This compares to around 1.3 million shells from U.S. and European production. When it comes to costs, a Russian projectile may be priced around $1,000, while a Western equivalent would be closer to $4,000, on average.

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One potential advantage of Russia’s prodigious output of certain kinds of weapons has been found by the United Kingdom, however, with reports that British aid for Ukraine has been directed toward buying Russian weapons from around the world. These, in turn, are used to replenish Ukrainian stocks, according to The Times of London.

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The United States has apparently warned Russia that if it were to use a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, even without casualties, it would bring a response in the form of a massive conventional strike that would obliterate all Russian targets in Ukraine.

This is the claim of Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski in a recent interview with The Guardian. Sikorski said: “The Americans have told the Russians that if you explode a nuke, even if it doesn’t kill anybody, we will hit all your targets [positions] in Ukraine with conventional weapons, we’ll destroy all of them.”

You can read our feature on what nuclear proliferation experts say are the chances that Russia uses nuclear weapon in Ukraine here.

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In related news, President Putin has issued his latest warning as Western allies consider relaxing the rules prohibiting Ukraine from using weapons that they supply on Russian territory.

“They should be aware of what they are playing with,” Putin said, during a press meeting in Uzbekistan.

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At the same event, Putin also made renewed nuclear threats against NATO, while criticizing the West for “not having any great desire to negotiate.”

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Meanwhile, White House National Security Communications spokesperson John Kirby has reiterated that, despite demands from President Zelensky to be able to use U.S. weapons to strike Russian territory, there has been no change in American policy in this regard.

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Elsewhere, Russia has deployed aerostats close to its border with NATO member Finland.

Multiple reports from both Finland and Russia describe the use of Russian aerostats to monitor the border, in the Republic of Karelia, which is a region belonging to Russia to the east of Finland.

You can read more about the Russian use of aerostats for military purposes in this previous feature.

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We round up this Situation Report with the latest from the world of drones, including the first-person-view (FPV) types that continue to bring astonishing footage from the battlefield, where their impact is increasingly felt.

From the Donetsk region, in eastern Ukraine, this drone from the 93rd Mechanized Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces is said to be dropping an explosive cargo made up of two TM-62 landmines. The target was an abandoned Russian tank. Each of the Soviet-era TM-62 mines carries around 17 pounds of explosives.

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The next video demonstrates not only the use of surveillance drones to monitor events on the battlefield, but also the adoption of different vehicles by Russian assault groups. After experiments with Chinese ‘combat golf buggies,’ motorcycles now seem to be in wider use among these small and highly mobile teams. Of course, the downside is the complete lack of protection against even small arms fire, as seen here.

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Different efforts to counter FPV drones also proliferate, some being more successful than others. In this case, a Russian soldier uses a shotgun to bring down a Ukrainian FPV drone.

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Other protective measures that we have begun to see more of in recent weeks include anti-drone nets. As Ukraine continues to press home long-range drone attacks against targets in Russia, especially energy infrastructure, these kinds of measures have cropped up more frequently, as in this example, reportedly near Moscow.

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Some remarkable footage next, from the perspective of FPV and surveillance drones. It shows the pursuit of a group of Russian soldiers into an abandoned building, after which they are followed in by an FPV drone. The final strike that demolishes the building appears to be from local artillery.

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Finally, the hazards of Russian translations for Western journalists are exposed in this example. While the inscription on the side of this Russian ‘turtle tank’ certainly looked more or less like the Russian word Гомосеки (homosexual), the actual name was much more prosaic: Громозека — the name of a Soviet-era cartoon character.

It’s a warning to us all to double-check those Cyrillic dictionaries before making an embarassing faux-pas.

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Contact the author: thomas@thewarzone.com