Will F16s escalate the War in Ukraine?

First things first. Russia is gravely wrong to invade Ukraine, and Ukraine has a right to defend its people and territory. Then other nations can and should give assistance to Ukraine in its self-defense.

Now, not everything done in the defense of a nation is morally justifiable. One limit is acts that are inherently gravely immoral, such directly targeting civilians or torturing POWs. Another limit may be found in the evaluation of the circumstances of acts, and their possible or likely consequences. If the reasonably anticipated bad consequences of an act gravely outweighs any reasonably anticipated good consequences, the act is gravely immoral.

The escalation of the war in Ukraine, beyond a certain point, poses grave dangers not justifiable as a defense of the nation, due to very grave consequences that can be anticipated.

In this article, I’ll discuss a particular type of escalation, whereby the Allies of Ukraine continually increase the range, power, and overall capability of weapons assistance. Each increase might seem and actually be, in itself, justifiable. But when a set of these increases in warfare capability are considered, a very grave escalation could result, perhaps suddenly.

The U.K. has provided Storm Shadow subsonic cruise missiles, carrying a large explosive force and capable of evading missile defenses (by flying low and navigating via terrain). France is now considering providing their version of the same type of missile, the SCALP-EG, with similar capabilities. The range of these missiles is about 250 km (155 mi). Although the media has called these missiles “long range”, they are merely longer-range than the main weapons currently used by Ukraine. These cruise missiles can penetrate reinforced structures before detonating; they are much more effective than a typical military drone or Multi-Launch Rocket System (MLRS).

The distance from the border of Ukraine to Moscow is 500 km, and from Kyiv to Moscow, the distance is about 770 km. This would seem to exclude an attack on Moscow from the dangers of escalation with these weapons systems, as their range is half the distance from Ukraine’s borders to Moscow.

The problem is that Ukraine is also seeking 40 to 50 F16 fighter jets, if not from the U.S. directly, then from our Allies, with U.S. permission. As Ukraine runs low on troops and artillery shells, they will seek other means to carry out this war, beyond a daily meter-by-meter fight on the front lines. If Storm Shadow and SCALP missiles are fitted to F16s (with some HARM missiles to take out enemy missile defense radar systems), multiple squadrons of F16s could devastate targets in Moscow, including possibly the Kremlin. The F16s need not enter Moscow’s Oblast, as the range of these missiles and their ability to hug the terrain to avoid missile defense systems could allow a successful attack from 250 km away.

F16s have a range of 500 miles (860 kilometers). But while the trip to Moscow from Kyiv is 770 km, they can fire from 250 km away, making the trip 520 km one way. The one0-way distance to Moscow is shorter if the planes are flying out of Kharkiv airport, only 700 km, which is 450 km to firing distance. While that is still too short, they might figure out a way. Consider Doolittle’s Raid during World War 2. Their air attack on Japan should have been impossible, but it happened. However, that was a one-way trip. So if Kyiv is desperate enough, they could send F16s in a one-way trip to attack Moscow, and the distance is not a problem then.

Russian fighter jets, sent to intercept F16s, might not prevail, if the Ukrainian pilots are well-equipped and well-trained for such a confrontation. And with 40 to 50 F16s, Ukraine could send multiple squadrons, one after another, to overcome defending fighter jets and missile defense systems. The F16s could be accompanied by some older Soviet jets from Ukraine, as a layer of additional defense of the F16s tasked with firing on Moscow.

This type of attack might be beyond what Kyiv is willing to do at the present time. And I’m sure that they have given and will give guarantees to their Allies that Ukraine will not attack Moscow and other targets in Russia with Allied weapons. But if the war in Ukraine goes badly, and Ukrainian defenses on the frontlines fall apart, any nation’s leaders would be willing to break agreements in order to defend their nation.

How would attacking Moscow help Ukraine? This would seem to be a dangerous escalation, that would certainly prompts a massive response from Russia. But an attack on Moscow would not only risk escalation — it would seek escalation. As a desperate strategy, Kyiv might deliberately force a major escalation of the war with Russia in order to guarantee that NATO will join the war against Russia directly. If they have no other option, they might escalate the war in order to save their nation.

And now the Ukraine’s Allies are inadvertently giving Kyiv everything it needs to launch such a major attack on Moscow, and thereby escalate the Ukraine war into a major war between NATO and Russia. F16s, coupled with Storm Shadow and SCALP cruise missiles and other weapons could make a very effective attack on Moscow and the Kremlin.

Recall that when the 9-11 terrorists attacked New York City and made a failed attack on Washington D.C., the U.S. response included a worldwide war on terrorism, the war in Iraq, where we still have troops, and a 20-year war in Afghanistan, the longest war in U.S. history. A Ukrainian attack on Moscow with U.S. jets and British and French cruise missiles would guarantee a massive response by Russia against NATO, widening the war into a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia.

Russia’s response could be unpredictable but severe.

Economic retaliation could also include direct military attacks on economic and infrastructure targets in the E.U. The attacks on Ukraine’s power grid this past winter (2022-2023) were fairly effective, and might evolve into attacks on infrastructure in NATO nations. Targets could include large corporations, ones that are key to certain industries with a global reach, as well as shipping ports, undersea communication cables, pipelines for oil and gas, and oil refineries. Then Russian hyper-velocity weapons might be capable of penetrating nuclear power plant structures, causing radiological disasters. Missile defense systems are not deployed across all of the E.U. in sufficient numbers to defense all targets.

Russia might use tactical nuclear weapons against military or civilian targets. Russia’s nuclear doctrine allows first use of nuclear weapons in case of a threat to the continued existence of the nation. A massive attack on Moscow would certainly qualify.

No one wants nuclear war. But few people realized that the use of even one low-yield tactical nuclear weapon would likely have devastating global economic effects, in addition to the vast death toll. Stock markets around the world would crash. Companies would stop hiring and expanding. International shipping would likely shut down due to lack of insurance combined with direct risks to the ships and shipping companies. No shipping means economic collapse for most nations, as the global economy is one tightly-woven tapestry.

The usual assumption in war is that the other side attacks military targets, such as bases and troop concentrations. But with the Ukraine war, civilian targets have unfortunately become a priority. They are much less well defended, except for capital cities, and the damage to the economy undermines the entire military force.

Russia is under increasingly severe economic sanctions from the western nations, with many other nations pressured to comply with these primary sanctions, or else they will face secondary sanctions against their own nation. If Russia replies in kind, Russia might cease all exports of oil, natural gas, metals, and other goods still needed by NATO nations.

China is under severe semiconductor sanctions, and so an escalation of the war in Ukraine will risk China entering the war. The benefits for China include an end to semiconductor sanctions (under the FDP Rule), an opening to take control of Taiwan, as the U.S. cannot fight Russia in Europe and China in Asia-Pacific at the same time. China could also expand its sphere of influence, obtain full control over the south China sea, and possibly compel Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines to move closer to China and further from the U.S. politically and economically.

If Russia and China join together to reverse the tide of economic sanctions, NATO could find itself short on crucial goods needed to supply its troops with weapons and munitions. Russia and China provide much steel, titanium, and other metals to the West. Then if China gains control of Taiwan, their influence over the semiconductor industry might be sufficient to issue semiconductor sanctions against the U.S. and E.U. Such sanctions would benefit Russia and China as semiconductor are essential for military weapons systems. Control of the global semiconductor industry would allow a rise in military power for Russia and China, with a concomitant decrease in western military power.

Who Would Win a War between NATO and Russia?

The Allies won World War 2. The death toll included 16 million Allies troops, 8 million Axis troops, and a total of approximately 75 million dead including civilians. Civilian deaths were about 10 times higher on the Allied side than on the Axis side.

Regardless of who would win, a war between NATO and Russia would devastate all nations — the NATO nation, Russia and its allies, and third party nations as well. Destroying much of the world is not an acceptable risk when defending Ukraine against unjust aggression from Russia. Consequences do matter in decision-making.

The U.S. and other Ukraine allies must carefully avoid escalation, while assisting in the defense of Ukraine. Ukraine needs artillery shells, tanks by the hundreds (not by the 10s), funds, drones, and other support. But we can’t give them whatever they want, or we might find ourselves in a larger war that could have global severe consequences.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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6 Responses to Will F16s escalate the War in Ukraine?

  1. A Recent Reader says:

    Thank you for this article–

    Doesn’t your article of May 13, 2022 entitled “The Immorality of Supporting the Ukraine War” offer an overarching principle that supercedes the first paragraph?

    Are these current issues that are in play extensions of the original failure to respond realistically, as you detailed in that previous article?

    Thank you.

  2. James Belcher says:

    Present conditions of the war between Russia and Ukraine is one of a stalemate. War cannot be won while fighting on the land of only one country. Russia has continued the mass attacks on civilians and will continue to do so. It is a very real possibility where Ukraine will utilize the F16s’ in an attempt to take out the infrastructure of Russia. In my opinion, Ukraine would be justified in doing so. NATO might need to make a decision in containing Russia’s aggression with military personnel. It would be an atrocity should Ukraine lose this war due to NATO’s non commitment of troops.
    Russia could only escalate this war via nuclear threats. These threats have been ongoing where the world cannot be held hostage. There are only two outcomes for the world to get it right:

    1. Stalemate – both countries agree to terms.
    2. Russia totally withdraws from Ukraine and starts to repay Ukraine on its damage to civilian infrastructure.

    I believe its morally wrong to have civilians fight against the aggression of Russia where NATO supplies the equipment and not its military. War is fought to be won with limited civilian casualties. NATO sacrifices the Ukrainians in an attempt to weaken Russia.

    Once there is a commitment to war – the only outcome is not to lose the war.

  3. Ben says:

    Yes F16 is a big escalation, but Russia will swallow it again, as it swallowed the sinking of Moskva and the bombing of the bridge, besides other things. One should see military analysts like Canadian prepper and his erudite guests, to realize the depth of the conflict that either way (Ukrainian advance/win or Russian win) leads to a nuclear war. The conventional attack on Khmelnitsky depot left a mushroom cloud and a radiation cloud from the exploded depleted uranium shells that reached Poland. And it is still not considered a nuclear attack.

    I do not share the optimism about a limited WW3 with the involvement of the Muslim countries but without China and Russia. The heaven is clear in Fatima that it is not the case, that we are on the threshold of a major annihilation unless Russia converts. The cold war scenarios are clear that the chance of winning has that side who makes the first major nuclear attack (at least 100 primary targets, likely many times more). If NATO is about to win, it has to nuke Russia first, together with China, as the cold war plans envisioned and modern proponents of nuclear war say. Or to count on some unknown secret weapons from space. Does Russia have secret weapons too? We have enough videos online of objects over Moscow.

    Seems God still doesn’t allow the nuclear war to happen. As we know from prophecies that conditional delay is about to expire rather soon. We are in the extended time, the deadline was in the past years. The world didn’t change to better. To say there will be another 10 or 20 years is unwise. Maybe the good people will be given a chance to rescue in refuges protected supernaturally. And we are told the chastisement is not only WW3 but also it has a second celestial component. Either way, fire from heaven spoken of in Akita is a big enough chastisement regardless if it is human made or originated in space.

  4. Siby Plathottam says:

    I think you are over estimating both F16s and Russia’s capability to respond. First of all F16s are 40 year old technology. While they are good, they can’t penetrate heavily defended airspace like Russia. Plus Ukraine is not getting 100’s of F16’s. They are primarily for making sure Ukraine can stand up to Russian aviation within Ukraine. Secondly, Ukraine has already attacked several targets in Russia (as it has the right to in a war). Russia has thrown everything at Ukraine short of WMD’s. Their attacks against the Ukranian power grid (that you mentioned) failed. So F16s are not an escaltion but a tool to stop russian agression.

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