Denmark and Netherlands Say Ukraine Can Use Their F-16s to Strike Targets Across Russia

Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen has confirmed that the Ukrainian Air Force will be able to use F-16 fighter aircraft donated by his country to strike targets across internationally recognised Russian territory. Of 40 F-16s pledged by NATO members, Copenhagen is your supply 19, with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen having confirmed that the first batch will arrive in June. Regarding how such strikes would comply with international law, Rasmussen stated: “We are talking about the possibility of weakening the aggressor by taking out military facilities on Russian territory… It is completely within the rules of war that a country that is attacked defends itself. It also includes the right to go after military facilities on the attacking party’s own territory.” “This is not a carte blanche for Ukraine to use F-16 to launch indiscriminate attacks into Russia. It is also not in Ukraine’s interests to take on the kind of warfare that you have from the Russian side, where you go after residential buildings. That’s not what we’re talking about,” he added. 

Following the Danish statement, Dutch Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren confirmed on June 3 that Ukraine would similarly be allowed to use F-16s delivered as aid for strikes on Russia. “We are applying the same principle that we have applied to every other delivery of capabilities, which is: once we hand it over to Ukraine, it’s theirs to use,” she explained, contrasting the policy with Belgium’s restriction on only using the aircraft for strikes on territory that was not internationally recognised as Russian. The F-16 is a lightweight short range fighter that first flew over 50 years ago in 1974, and is not well suited to deep penetration strikes which is outside the scope of the missions it was designed for. Nevertheless, the fighters are expected to be modified to integrate a number of long range missile classes before delivery to Ukraine, much as the country’s Soviet built Su-24 and Su-27 fighters have been. Missiles such as the SCALP and Storm Shadow have significant ranges which could facilitate strikes deep behind Russian lines, although the F-16 will be limited to carrying less of these missiles than Ukraine’s existing much larger combat aircraft can.  

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