Ukraine Situation Report: F-16 Coalition Begins To Take Shape

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday thanked U.S. President Joe Biden for supporting an international plan to train Ukrainian Air Force pilots on Western fighters like the U.S.-made F-16.

“I welcome the historic decision of the United States and @POTUS to support an international fighter jet coalition,” Zelensky said in a tweet. “This will greatly enhance our army in the sky. I count on discussing the practical implementation of this decision at the #G7 summit in Hiroshima.”

Zelensky was reacting to reports earlier Friday that Biden informed leaders of the G-7 group of nations that the U.S. will support a “joint international effort to train Ukrainian pilots on modern fighter aircraft, including F-16s,” Politico reported, citing “a senior administration official.”

That represents a major shift in the administration’s position on Ukraine’s need for F-16s, something Biden has opposed. 

“The decision to support the training initiative came together very quickly, officials said, and was made by Biden following meetings with G7 leaders in Hiroshima, Japan, where the topic of F-16s to Ukraine was a key point of discussion,” CNN reported. “UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been pushing particularly hard in recent days for countries that have the jets in their stockpile to send them to Ukraine so that the country can better defend itself against Russia’s daily aerial attacks.”

There is a growing effort to create an international “coalition of jets” including an international effort to train Ukrainian pilots, something you can read more about in our story here.

There have been several new steps by Biden toward that effort. On Friday, CNN reported that Biden signaled he would not block the foreign export of F-16s to Ukraine. That, coupled with Biden’s decision on pilot training, is another incremental move toward creating a fleet of foreign-donated Western fighters akin to Western armor Ukraine has managed to accumulate as U.S. and allied concerns about providing more modern tanks slowly faded.

“The move could pave the way to eventually send advanced Western fighter jets to Ukraine, and discussions are ongoing about how and when that would happen, the official said,” Politico reported. “The coalition of countries participating in the training effort will decide when to actually provide the jets, how many to send and who will transfer them as the training takes place over the coming months.”

The training will most likely take place in Europe, not in the U.S., Politico and CNN reported.

“But US personnel will participate in the training alongside allies and partners in Europe, the official said,” CNN reported. “It is expected to take several months to complete and the official said the hope is it will begin ‘in the coming weeks.’”

As we reported yesterday, a U.S. Air Force assessment earlier this year of Ukrainian pilots who came to the U.S. for simulator testing found that they could be trained in basic operations of American-made F-16 Viper fighter jets in around four months, far quicker than the Pentagon had previously suggested.

That assessment, first reported by Yahoo News, is very close to the training schedule estimates that F-16 pilots provided to The War Zone for a feature published back in February.

An F-16C Viper fighter jet assigned to the Arizona Air National Guard’s 162nd Wing. The 162nd was the unit that oversaw the assessment of two Ukrainian pilots earlier this year. Air National Guard

The Biden decision on training Ukrainian pilots comes as officials in Kyiv, from Zelensky on down, have continuously pushed for more modern aircraft than its current tactical aviation fleet that consists mainly of Soviet-designed Su-27s and MiG-29s

While any pilot training, let alone operational use of donated aircraft, will be too late for the looming Ukrainian counteroffensive, there is no indication that hostilities will end any time soon. So whenever the pilots are trained, and they have Western jets to fly, that will be welcome news for Ukraine.

Before we head into the latest from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

On the battlefield, there are claims and counterclaims about the status of Bakhmut.

“Thanks to the skill and courage of the heroes, it was possible to knock the Russians out of their positions and gain a foothold on advantageous lines” in the Bakhmut direction, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of the Ground Forces of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said on his Telegram channel Friday. “Counteroffensive actions of the Defense Forces continue.”

“The enemy withdrew most of its reserves from Bakhmut and significantly strengthened the group,” Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Thursday on her Telegram channel. “The enemy attacked Bakhmut all day today. All attacks were repelled by our defenders. We currently control the southwestern part of Bakhmut.”

Russian forces “also attacked the outskirts north of Bakhmut. Attacks repulsed. In some areas, there is an advance of our troops by 500 meters. Fierce fighting continued throughout the day in the southern suburb of Bakhmut. The enemy went on the offensive and tried to regain the lost territories, but suffered losses and was unable to complete its tasks. In some areas, our troops advanced by 1 kilometer.”

The defense of Bakhmut and its suburbs “will buy time for certain planned actions,” she added. “The command of the Khortytsia Security Service, in whose area of responsibility the Bakhmut direction, keeps the situation under control.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin, boss of the Wagner mercenary group doing most of the fighting for Russia in Bakhmut, claimed that while Ukrainian troops have almost been fully pushed out of the city, it won’t likely fall in the next two days.

“Bakhmut has still not been taken,” Prigozhin said in a voice message posted Friday on his Telegram channel. “Bakhmut is unlikely to be taken either tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.”

“There is a quarter known as the ‘Airplane’ – it is like an impregnable fortress from a bed of multi-story buildings in the southwest of Bakhmut, where incredibly heavy battles are going on,” Prigozhin went on to say.

“The fighting is going on for the fortified area of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Airplane area – the last stronghold of the enemy in the city,” he wrote. “Everything that can fly flies from us there. At the same time, enemy artillery and mortars also continue to work on our positions.”

“Despite everything, the Armed Forces of Ukraine continue to resist fiercely,” Prigozhin wrote, adding that his troops say Ukraine is using “a lot of Polish and Turkish mercenaries. Nevertheless, PMC ‘Wagner’ definitely reached the final stage of the battle for Bakhmut. Unraveling very soon.”

“We continue to press. And then either they will have to retreat, or they will all be destroyed,” he wrote.

“The battle for Bakhmut is moving towards its logical conclusion. Ukrainian formations now control less than 1 square kilometer – we are talking about pieces of territory 700-800 meters. Any attack by attack aircraft is supported by artillery fire. The enemy resorts to counter-battery combat, but strikes chaotically: perhaps, agony, they are trying to somehow hook.”

Speaking of Wagner, the group “has been working to obscure its efforts to acquire military equipment for use in Ukraine, including by trying to source the materials from Mali, where the group has a strong foothold,” CNN reported, citing a U.S. official.

The official, citing U.S. intelligence declassified within the last week, said the Biden administration “has been informed that Wagner has been trying to ship equipment for use in Ukraine through Mali and falsifying paperwork for the transactions,” according to CNN.

“There are no signs yet that Wagner has successfully procured the equipment, but the group has continued working to procure mines, drones, radar and counter-battery systems from contacts in Mali for use in Ukraine, the official said. “We are monitoring this closely,” the official added.

Video has emerged showing what appears to be a Ukrainian long-range strike on the Azov Sea port city of Mariupol, fully captured by Russia a year ago. We cannot confirm what happened or the extent of damage, if any. But the official Ukrainian Mariupol City Council says that residents heard at least three “powerful explosions” in that city, about 50 miles from the front lines.

“Explosions in the Mariupol district,” it reported Friday. “It is known about three powerful explosions that Mariupol residents heard. Pre-hitting the location of the personnel of the occupiers on the territory of the Mariupol airport. Judging by the video, if the information is confirmed, the enemy should have suffered significant losses. We are waiting for good news.”

The location of the explosion was previously a base for 150 Russians “and was systematically used to install air defense systems,” Mariupol Mayoral Advisor Petro Andriushchenk wrote on his Telegram channel. “Russia lies about the place deliberately. To prevent correction and finishing.”

We will update this story with more details as they come in.

Russian forces continue to fortify their positions in and around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) ahead of a Ukrainian counteroffensive that could run right through the location of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which is located on the banks of the Dnipro River. A potential attack route through Zaporizhzhia Oblast is something we first reported on in December.

“New trenches have been dug around the city and more mines have been laid,” Reuters reported, citing interviews with four anonymous witnesses. “Surveillance cameras at the plant are pointing north across a wide reservoir towards Ukrainian-controlled territory.”

As we reported last month, Russians have had firing positions set up atop some of the plant’s buildings for several months. Now it appears that nets have been erected as well in a possible deterrent to drones, Reuters reported.

“The measures described by two Ukrainians who work at the power plant and two other residents in the city of Enerhodar underline the risks the war poses to the security of the facility,” according to Reuters.

Highlighting the dangers of a nuclear power plant in a war zone, power was cut off in 15 settlements in the Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk oblasts as a result of Russian shelling, the Ukrainian News Agency reported, citing the Ukrainian Ministry of Energy.

“In the Zaporizhzhia Region, eight settlements were cut off as a result of shelling, 4,700 consumers were left without electricity. In the Donetsk Region, seven settlements were cut off due to shelling, and 10,200 consumers were left without electricity. There is also a power outage in the Mykolaiv and Dnipropetrovsk Regions due to shelling.”

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) said Defense Minister and Federation General of the Army Sergei Shoigu inspected the forward command post of one of the Vostok Group of Forces in Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

Shoigu “received reports by the commander of the Vostok Group and staff officers on the current situation, the nature of enemy operations, and the combat tasks performed by Russian troops in the main tactical areas,” according to the MoD.

He also met with the group commander, “where he praised the grouping’s excellent effectiveness in identifying and neutralizing hostile military hardware and manpower.”

Shoigu “ordered the group’s leadership to continue to actively carry out comprehensive reconnaissance to uncover the enemy’s plans in advance and prevent their implementation. He also emphasized the organization of all-around supplies for the troops involved in the special military operation, as well as the establishment of conditions for personnel safety.”

Thursday’s apparent sabotage of a train in the occupied Crimean peninsula could have lasting effects on Russian logistics, the U.K.’s Defense Intelligence Directorate (UKDI) reported Friday.

Occupation railway authorities blamed the derailment of a train near Simferopol on “interference by outsiders,” according to UKDI. That blocked the only rail line into the port city of Sevastopol, headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet (BSF).

While Russia will work toward a quick repair, “the incident will disrupt deliveries of supplies and potentially also weaponry, such as Kalibr cruise missiles, to the BSF,” UKDI said. “Any sabotage in this sensitive area will further increase the Kremlin’s concerns about the ability to protect other key infrastructure in Crimea. The peninsula retains a vital psychological and logistical role in enabling Russia’s war on Ukraine.”

When asked whether sabotage on the rail line shows Ukraine’s reach in Crimea and whether more such attacks could be expected, Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR), told The War Zone that “we cannot comment, not confirm and not deny this information.”

As a result of the attack, Russian investigators opened up a terrorism investigation, the Russian SHOT Telegram channel reported.

“After undermining the railway tracks in the Simferopol region of Crimea, a criminal case was initiated under the ‘Terrorist act,'” according to SHOT. “The power of the explosion was about 25-40 kilograms of TNT, according to our source. They are looking for saboteurs.”

The train was traveling from Simferopol to Sevastopol, according to SHOT.

“After the explosion, 11 out of 23 cars derailed: five of them overturned, one was torn apart. A crater with a diameter of 12 meters formed at the site of the explosion.”

There were no injuries and traffic was eventually restored, according to SHOT.

British special operations forces are working close to the front lines in Ukraine, The Wall Street Journal reported.

U.K. special operations forces “from the British Army’s SAS and SRR regiments and the Navy’s SBS units are operating very close to the front lines,” the newspaper reported. “These personnel are serving as key interlocutors between North Atlantic Treaty Organization intelligence efforts and Ukrainian forces. They aren’t fighting, but their guiding influence on Ukrainian special-forces activity is evident in the sabotage operations Ukraine has conducted against Russian railway, airfield, fuel and other logistical nodes. The British army is also regarded by the Ukrainian military command as its most reliable advisory partner.”

President Zelensky visited Saudi Arabia today, where he met with Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud.

“I thanked him for the invitation to participate in the Arab League Summit as an honored guest,” Zelensky said on his Telegram channel. “During the meeting we discussed in detail the current bilateral relations and global issues. I informed him about the security situation in our country and countering the Russian aggressor. I also spoke about the main elements of the Ukrainian Peace Formula.” 

Zelensky said he “noted the successful participation of Saudi Arabia in the return of 10 foreign prisoners of war from Russian captivity. We are interested in continuing joint efforts to release people.” 

“I am grateful to Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud for supporting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and for his principled position in the framework of international organizations.”

A volunteer fighting for Ukraine claimed the discovery of a nice cache of 10 Russian 9M114 Kokon anti-tank guided missile weapon systems generally mounted on tracked armor vehicles.

You can watch Ukrainian troops destroy a Russian Buk-M2 anti-aircraft missile launcher in this video below.

Near Avdiivka in Donetsk Oblast, a Russian MT-LB loaded with anti-tank mines was hit by several drone-dropped grenades and eventually exploded in a ball of fire, which you can watch in this video below.

Modern warfare is becoming more and more like a video game, which you can see as these Ukrainian First Person Video (FPV) drones chase down and destroy a Russian BMP-3 Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) in Donetsk.

There have been some Mad Maxian modifications made by both sides in the war, but this creation might be the wildest yet.

And finally, Russian claims about the weapons it destroyed continue to not only mount but to often exceed the amount of existing equipment. The U.S., for example, has only delivered 18  M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, yet Russia claims to have destroyed 50, according to one OSINT researcher.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.

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