Brynn Tannehill Profile picture
May 21 31 tweets 7 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
Lot of virtual ink being spilled on F-16s to Ukraine over the past few days. It's looking like it will become a reality. So, let's discuss some of the capabilities, challenges, limitations, and best potential uses of the aircraft. 1/n
The thread below provides a fair bit of technical information on the aircraft. But the short version is that ~60 former NATO F-16A/B Mid-Life Update aircraft are in storage, and are the most readily available airframes. 2/n
The big things to take away that are important to further discussion at that they're AIM-120 AMRAAM, JASSM, and LINK-16 capable. They also use the AN/APG66V2A radar, which is close to obsolescent (Pulse Doppler, not phased array, PESA, or AESA like modern radars). 3/n
So, some things that represent challenges for Ukraine to employ F-16s were written up by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in a report from March 2023. Well worth a full read, but I'll summarize here. (Thanks to you-know-who for sending) 4/n…
* Adapting Defense Structure: Ukraine was still in the process of changing from Soviet military doctrine to something closer to NATO when the war started. This includes their air force. This could impact effective employment of a NATO aircraft. 5/n
* Pilot training: This was highlighted, but is one of the most surmountable problems. Putting Ukrainian pilots through just the training they need appears to take about 4 months, and lots of countries are volunteering. 6/n…
Maintaining and Sustaining Aircraft: I did a thread about this. It takes time and a mountain of parts to fully sustain an aircraft. Maintainers take time to train as well. This could be partially mitigated by contract maintainers, and leaning on Poland and Romania for support 7/n
However, I would caution that electronic parts for elderly aircraft like these F-16 MLUs are hard to come by, as they've been out of production for a decade+. If they break, and you run out of spares, you're going to have to micro-manufacture it in a workshop. 8/n
Munitions: Who is going to provide what? AIM-120s are $1.2M a copy. The 2023 NDAA didn't allocate any $$ for HARM. Is the US willing to provide early model JASSM? Thankfully, the F-16 Block 20 doesn't need mods to employ them, but it is a challenge. 9/n
Financing: Where will the money for operation and sustainment come from? Operating these aircraft is likely to be more expensive than older MiG-29s, Su-24s, and Su-27s in Ukrainian inventory. This has to be budgeted for, w/legal authority. Surmountable, but a consideration. 10/n
The other piece that gets lost in this is more technical considerations. Simply put, neither Ukraine or Russia wants to go in each others air space because the air defenses are so lethal. Ukraine has scored kills with Patriot and S-300s. Russia has lots of even nastier stuff 11/n
Russian ground based air defenses are lethal enough that the idea of flying old F-16s within their envelope is suicidal. Drawing them down with legacy aircraft not optimized for the SEAD mission with HARM would be long, brutal, and have a significant chance of failure. 12/n
This is why we see Ukrainian aircraft nap-of-the-earth flying, lobbing munitions, and getting out of dodge without ever crossing the front lines. They're using terrain to mask them from defenses. 13/n
The other massive threat is Russian MiG-31s and Su-35s flying with long range R-37 missiles. These have been particularly lethal against Ukrainian MiG-29s and Su-27s. These Russian aircraft can see further and shoot at longer range than the F-16 MLUs 14/n…
Most people imagine modern air combat to look like Top Gun. In reality, it's mostly fought Beyond Visual Range (BVR). The guy with the more powerful radar and longer range missiles usually wins. Dogfighting is something of an afterthought, even in training. 15/n
While we paid a price for this thinking in Vietnam, radars and missiles (and the situation) have evolved such that in Ukraine air-to-air combat has played out as BVR only, and the Russians are consistently winning fights with bigger better radars and longer range missiles. 16/n
The F-16 MLU doesn't change this equation. It's small, antique APG-66 radar can't see as far as bigger, more modern Russian radars on the MiGs and Sukhois. The R-37 has a significantly longer range than the AIM-120C. And it (potentially) gets worse. 17/n
Russia has A-50 AEW&C aircraft for long range detection, targeting and cuing. Ukraine doesn't have an equivalent. If they did, it might allow Ukraine to fire AIM-120s at data-linked targets without turning on their APG-66 radars, mitigating radar counter-detection. 18/n
The video below explores how this might play out in a simulated environment, even assuming that something (like a Patriot Battery) can provide data link cuing for an F-16 equipped with AIM-120s vs a MiG-31 with R-37s. 19/n
Mind you, I think the F-16 driver in this did just about all they could. Another sim with "Growling Sidewinder" (who is very good) has him getting splattered over and over again like Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow. 20/n
I used to work for the Air Force on their sims to train F-16 pilots in air-to-air combat, from 2012-2015. These videos (particularly the first) are (in my opinion) a fair representation of the challenges faced by F-16s in Ukraine. 21/n
I do not believe that giving Ukraine F-16s is sufficient to allow them to achieve even temporary, local air superiority with pulsed ops. However, I do see several potential tactical advantages over the current situation. They aren't useless. 22/n
1. First is that the combination of Patriot's modern radar, plus data link of targets, will increase survivability of the F-16s, and improve lethality against targets such as cruise missiles, improving Ukrainian defenses against attack. 23/n
2. Somewhat improved long term sustainability. As hard as it is to obtain F-16s parts and technical expertise from the manufacturer, it's still easier than obtaining it for Russian made MiG-29s and Su-27s. 24/n
3. It continues the work of integrating Ukrainian equipment, tactics, doctrine, and data sharing with NATO standard systems. If there is to be long term security for Ukraine, I believe NATO membership is a must. One of the requirements for joining is compatibility. 25/n
4. Most important, to my mind, is it facilitates Ukraine obtaining and using the AGM-158 Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM). Broadly similar to the StormShadow, JASSM would provide additional long range strike capability against difficult targets. 26/n
It would also facilitate use of the LRASM missile, which is basically JASSM but for anti-shipping work. Even a relatively small number of either of these could dramatically shift the balance of power in the Black Sea (particularly LRASM). 27/n
Thus, I'm not opposed to moving F-16s to Ukraine. I think its a good thing overall. But, I think people need to be clear eyed in their assessment of the capabilities and limitations of the system. This is not a wunderwaffe. 28/n
It's a 35-40 year old lightweight multi-role fighter with a mid-90s upgrade to some mission systems. It is capable of linking to other NATO standard systems, and can carry some more modern weapons. It is not going to grant air superiority. 29/n
Ukraine isn't going to be loitering over the battlefield dropping JDAMs the way the US did in Afghanistan and Iraq. It may potentially help with the SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) mission, but it won't draw down most of Russia's air defenses. 30/n
But, in combination with JASSM, LRASM and AIM-120, it could significantly improve Ukraine's position overall in areas that are critical (defense against cruise missiles, long range strike, and sea control). - fin 31/n

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More from @BrynnTannehill

May 18
I don't think people quite grok how much tonnage of spare parts is required to keep military aircraft in reliable flying condition, and how hard it is, especially when they're legacy aircraft. So, let me tell you a story. 1/n
I was part of a study team a while back for an organization that fields a small fleet (~10) of air frames that were of a type previously fielded by the DoD. The airframe was old, and had been out of production for decades. 2/n
The airframe had been used by a number of other countries, who were also in the process of retiring this airframe. The organization was asking us to look at the viability of continuing to fly this airframe for another decade or two. 3/n
Read 21 tweets
May 18
With the Patriot missile system in the news in the last few days, let's talk about it, it's designed capabilities, and the competing claims by various parties. 1/n
Patriot was originally designed in the 70's and introduced in the early 80's. The system consists of a lot of different elements, most of which have been repeatedly upgraded over the past 35 years. 2/n Image
Two things to note: there are (up to) eight M901/902/903 launch vehicles in a battery, so if you lose one, you still have capability. The other is that they can be connected by fiber optic cable or VHF (SINCGARS) data link. The latter allows wider dispersal for survivability. 3/n Image
Read 24 tweets
May 12
One of the central narratives of American Christianity is a belief that they are persecuted and a victimhood. Unsurprisingly, the sects most closely tied to these beliefs are the ones that supported slavery and lost the Civil War (white evangelicals). It's pure paranoia. 1/n Image
First, there's the Supreme Court backing them. In Little Sisters of the Poor and Masterpiece Cake shop, SCOTUS has determined that ANY government interference in religion, no matter how slight, is unconstitutional. In Little Sisters, it was making them sign a one-page form. 2/n
In Masterpiece, it was a government official noting during deliberations that historically, religions hadn't always been on the side of human rights...

In Kennedy v. Bremerton, SCOTUS invented facts to justify their ruling for teacher led prayer in schools. 3/n
Read 20 tweets
May 11
A ton of ink (virtual or otherwise) has already been spilled on Trump and CNN. Obviously it was Trump at his most awful. And obviously CNN did our country a disservice by hosting what was effectively a Trump rally. But, there's an angle that's missing from the discussion. 1/n
Namely, the audience. These were all Trump supporters. Republicans and independents who were supporters of the former President. Clinton called them a "basket of deplorables" in 2016, and they got offended.

Last night was a reminder she was right. 2/n
They laughed and cheered as Trump mocked the woman he was found liable for sexually assaulting. He was cheered when he called "moderator" Kaitlan Collins "a nasty woman." They eagerly devoured the myriad of lies he told about EVERYTHING. 3/n
Read 13 tweets
May 9
This is a great example of how misinformation flourishes, and later contradictory information dies. Right after Nashville, police said that had found a "manifesto".

Later, they admitted it was just a jumble of ramblings, with motivation other than admiring shooters. 1/n Image
It doesn't matter that police admitted the shooter didn't write anything about trans or religion in their notes: it has become "tribal knowledge" that there was a "manifesto" and they did it to target xtians or as political retribution. 2/n…
"But TBI director David Rausch did talk candidly about the contents of the manifesto at a Tennessee Sheriffs' Association meeting. Rausch said what police found isn't so much a manifesto spelling out a target but a series of rambling writings indicating no clear motive." 3/n
Read 7 tweets
May 9
Good article on Erin Reed. I disagree on the trajectory of things, though: while some states are setting themselves up as sanctuaries, the GOP will find ways to circumvent it the way they do abortion access in blue states (see: Mifepistrone).…
Going a step further, if the GOP gains the trifecta at the federal level in 2024 (House, Senate, Executive) it's game over. They will use the executive branch to remove trans people from all federal service (and most federal contractors). 2/n
We'll also see the FDA used to ban access to HRT nationally. Military ban is coming back. Ban on trans people in bathrooms on all federal buildings or buildings that receive federal funding (schools, universities, state owned buildings, hospitals, etc...) 3/n
Read 8 tweets

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