«It's Like a Difference Between a Porsche and a Lada»: Retired Top U.S. Air Force Pilot on the Advantages of the F-16s over Soviet Fighters, the Training of Ukrainian Pilots and the Tactics of the Russians

Interview with Dan Hampton — retired United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel.

Photo: Dan Hampton's Facebook

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Dan Hampton flew 151 combat missions during his twenty years in the United States Air Force. He is one of the most decorated fighter pilots in the history of the U.S.

For his service in the Iraq War, Kosovo conflict, and first Gulf War, Col. Hampton received four Distinguished Flying Crosses with Valor, a Purple Heart, eight Air Medals with Valor, and numerous other citations.

The media called him «the deadliest F-16 pilot.»

And he is one of those who is willing to come to Ukraine as a pilot. In an exclusive interview to «Vchasno», Dan Hampton spoke about the advantages of the F-16 for Ukraine, the differences between the philosophies of Russian and Western pilots, and how Ukrainians can most effectively use F-16 fighter jets.

«The Russians have a completely different philosophy, the idea on how to use these aircraft in combat»

«Vchasno» news agency: Mr. Hampton, in your opinion, how long can the training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16 jets take?

— Well, it depends on the type of pilot. I assume that in the beginning, you would send the most experienced pilots to make the transition to F-16s. And for men like that, with what they already know, I would say four months is a good number. A lot of it is going to depend on the language, whether they come to the United States or to one of the countries in Europe, everybody tends to use English as a common language.

I’ve spoken with some of your pilots who already speak very good English so I don’t think that’ll be a problem, but if I was going to offer some advice to those men that are interested in doing this, I would say «Continue to practice and to build up your English», because that will make a difference.

Photo: 831 tactical aviation brigade

What are the main differences between F-16s and aircraft that Ukraine already has, like MiG-29s, for example?

— Unfortunately, the Ukrainian Air Force is using Russian aircraft. That sort of says it all. I think your pilots have done a marvelous and very heroic job with what they have. But the problem is that it’s Russian equipment. I think everyone in Ukraine and around the world has seen that there are some serious limits to Russian equipment, no matter what they say. The Russians are very big about telling the world how great their stuff is. But the general assessment from people like me is that it’s not so good. That’s been a real limitation for your Air Force because you’re fighting people that are using the same equipment. So they know everything that it can do and that it cannot do, right?

Our equipment is so much different. And no matter what the Russians say, they really don’t know what we have or what we can do. In Ukraine recently you all have seen that with the Patriot missile system and some other things that we have provided. And the airplanes are even better. So I think probably the biggest difference when we’re talking about Russian equipment and Western equipment, is a completely different philosophy, the idea on how to use these aircraft in combat.

F-16 Fighting Falcon / photo: Getty Images

So it’s like two different cars, right?

— Yes, I’d say it’s like a difference between a Porsche and a Lada.

What tactics, and maneuvers our pilots should master? What should they learn during this course of training?

— Obviously, I don’t want to go into details about all of this because I’m sure the Russians will be reading this piece just like everyone else. I will tell you that they will learn everything they need to know. If the plan for them is to come to the United States to train, then they will learn how to use our weapons and our aircraft the way that we do.

The Russians have a very different idea about using airplanes. To them, I think, aircraft is more an extension of their infantry. They even call them «air regiments», which is an infantry term. They don’t think about them the same way that we do. We tend to use our aircraft in a way called «combined arms». So the aircraft are used with people on the ground, jamming and surveillance aircraft, and other things that are all working together to do something. The Russians don’t really do that.

And there are lots of different kinds of tactics, both for air-to-air fighting and then for fighting on the ground. I think, one of the biggest challenges for your pilots is to learn close air support and destruction of air defenses and some of the other things that we do. Not that they can’t do it, but they haven’t been thinking about it as much as Western trained pilots have. So those are all things that they would learn how to do and they’d be quite capable of doing once they get the airplanes.

«No matter how close enemy aircraft are flying we can see them because of the capabilities of the radar»

And if to compare the F-16 with the Russian Su-35: what are the advantages of the first? Because the Russians always like to lie about their superiority in technology and equipment, even though, I believe, it’s not true.

— Yes, like their hypersonic missile, right? («Kinzhal», which the Russians called «invulnerable», and which is now successfully shot down by Ukrainian air defense — ed.) Again, I’m not underestimating them, don’t get me wrong. You never underestimate someone that you fight, but you don’t overestimate them either. You have to remember that all of this equipment that the Russians are using is obviously made in Russia, which means it’s probably going to work about half the time. And when it does work, it’s not going to work like they say it’s going to work. Not that it’s not dangerous, but you have to factor that in whenever you’re dealing with the Russians because, I think, they don’t tell the truth about much.

I would say from the fighting end of things the biggest difference would be the radar. Our aircraft have what’s called an «advanced electronically scanned array radar», which is very, very tactically important because the radar gives the pilot a very, very clear picture. No matter how close enemy aircraft are flying we can see them. No matter how many of them there are, we can see them, no matter what altitude they’re at, we can see them because of the capabilities of this radar.

When you match the radar, the trained pilots with some of our weapons like the AIM-120 AMRAAM (an American beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile — ed.), and some of the other ones that we have, and the Russians don’t know about, you have a very lethal, dangerous combination.

Again, the Russians are dangerous up to a point, but they don’t have that capability. The most advanced radar they have is probably 20 years, maybe farther back than ours. They just don’t have the technology to make or construct these types of systems. They have some very good air-to-air missiles, but again, that’s at the mercy of the radar and the Su-35. Also, the Su-35 is huge. It’s like shooting at an airliner from my point of view. I don’t even need a radar to see that airplane 15, 20 miles away. And he’s never even going to know I’m there. So the size difference is significant.

The performance of the airplane is also quite different. The F-16 is a true «fly by wire» airplane, which means it uses electronic impulses from the pilot to move the flight controls. So really, to give an illustration: I think I want to go that way, and the plane goes that way. It’s that fast. That’s how maneuverable it is. And the Su-35 really has nothing like that.

Su-35 / photo: Militarnyi

Do you familiar with the tactics of Russian pilots? Because, you know, on the ground, they show some Soviet-era approach. What about their skills in the sky?

— I've trained many different kinds of pilots from many different countries and I learned long ago that you can never say they’re all bad, or they’re all good because there’s always going to be a few exceptions. And I’m sure there are a few Russian pilots that are actually very, very good flyers. But again, that’s just part of it, you have to have the airplane and you have to have the weapons along with the ability to fly. Just because you can fly an airplane very well doesn’t mean you can fight with that airplane very well if that makes sense.

And the Russians, as everyone in Ukraine and the world has noted over the last year and a half, don’t have much imagination when it comes to tactics. Their idea of tactics on the ground is to keep throwing people at your guns, which is good for you, but bad for them. And they have, in some ways, the same idea when they use aircraft. They’re not disposable, but they’re going to keep throwing equipment and airplanes at something without a whole lot of thought given to who they’re fighting and what they’re fighting.

And I think a lot of that is due to the Russian belief, at least up until a year and a half ago, that they were better than everyone else, which always makes us kind of laugh a little bit because we know the truth. But the Russians have believed that for so long that they didn’t see any need to adapt their tactics or change what they were doing because they thought they were going to win no matter what. And they don’t do well with what we call «reactive tactics». They don’t think very well as things are happening. The Russians always have to have a plan for everything. Go pick up the mail, go to the store, or whatever. They don’t do well when they’re in an environment when things are happening that they haven’t thought out.

And that’s probably one of the biggest strengths of Western pilots, especially American pilots, because we have basic plans, but we don’t follow them all the time. We adapt as things change and we adapt to what’s happening around us and we deal with it. The Russians don’t do that very well. And your pilots have demonstrated that they are quite capable of doing that as well. So I think once they get the right airplanes, it will be a very good combination.

«By the time the Russian goes into his aerobatic fancy maneuvers, he’s already dead»

Not a question, but a fun fact. Sometimes I have to monitor the propaganda media and the Russian Telegram channels. And right now, they’re posting some episodes with Su-35 or Su-27 from video games saying that it’s real. The aircraft demonstrates some maneuvers in the sky and everything. And they add a text saying something like «Can F-16 do this? Can F-16 do that?» I mean, they say that Su is, I don’t know, a fantastic airplane.

— It tells you a lot about how they think, doesn’t it? I think a lot of their leaders, whoever’s left, are still living in the era of the Soviet Union when they could tell people anything and people would believe it because that’s all that they saw, read, and knew.

Well, those days are long over. I mean, even now, Russia cannot control the information that’s coming into Russia. So people see them put out a video game, a cartoon of this. And we laugh at that as well because that kind of shows how desperate they are if they’re resorting to something like that to try to scare people. And it also tells you how little they understand the rest of us. If they think that that’s going to bother us or intimidate us or frighten us in any way.

And you have to remember, airplanes can do lots of cool tricks and aerobatics and things, but that’s not fighting. And so by the time the Russian goes into his aerobatic fancy maneuvers, he’s already dead, all right? We would have killed him 20 miles before that. I made this point once before, they’re very good at sending modified aircraft with nice paint jobs to air shows to make a nice show for people, but that’s not the same as combat.

The Russians post clips from video games, passing them off as real videos

«14 months ago I said that you need to turn the sky over Ukraine into „if it flies, it dies“ zone»

In the conditions of war, when Ukrainians are not able to fly into Russian airspace, but instead have to fight drones, missiles, and, in fact, Russian fighters flying on the front lines in the east, what is the most effective way of the use of F-16 for Ukraine in this situation? What do you think?

— I think what your Air Force is already considering is the way to go, which is to use the Patriot missiles back a little bit from the front, to use shorter-range anti-aircraft weapons along the front, so any airplane that comes from Russian territory has got to go through all of that to get to where it’s going. And then in and amongst all of this, you have F-16s at various places. So when the Russians come, if they survive the surface-to-air missiles, now they have to deal with the F-16, and they’re not going to survive that.

That’s going to play a very big factor in the way that they think. And they already don’t want to fly into Ukraine, and this is going to make it even worse. But you have to use the airplanes in conjunction with the shorter-range surface-to-air systems and then the longer-range systems like the Patriot and the other ones that you already have.

14 months ago I said that you need to turn the sky over Ukraine into an «if it flies, it dies» zone, meaning if any Russians come in there, they don’t go back. And that makes a difference in a fighter squadron. When close friends, good friends go out and they never come back, it makes you start to think and wonder, right? So that’s going to play a big, big factor in what the Russians try to do or are willing to do.

I think that when you get more advanced weapon systems to layer them the way that we do, it’s going to make a big difference because the F-16s, once there’s no danger from the MiGs, just have to think about the Russian surface-to-air missiles, which we can deal with. And while doing that, the aircraft can assist your infantry on the ground in blowing up Russian targets, tanks, fuel depots, bridges, or whatever you want. Again, close air support. The F-16 is very good at doing three to four things all at once.

«You need pilots that already know how to fly the F-16»

How the F-16s will strengthen Ukrainian Air Force in the long term? Is it the first step to modernize our Air Force? What is your opinion on this?

— Well, I think this will be a great first start. I have to make this point, though. The fighter jets that you’re going to get, wherever you’re getting them from, and I don’t know yet, need to be the right type of F-16s. There are lots of F-16s out there, just like there are lots of MiG-29s and Su-27s. There are different types and different models. You need to make sure that Ukraine gets the most advanced F-16s possible. I had always hoped that you would get those from the United States. I’m not the president, unfortunately, so I can’t make that decision, but hopefully, that’s what happens. And then in the long-term, you’ll have some of these more experienced pilots that have learned how to fly it.

Then you will start to send your young guys that are just starting out over to the United States to go through some of the pilot training programs we have. And they start from the beginning and go through the same pilot training that American pilots do, all the way up through F-16 training. It takes about two and a half years to do the whole thing.

And now you’ve got a mix of pilots — you’ve got very young guys who can spend 20 years flying this airplane or hopefully the F-35, more advanced airplanes, and then you’ve got some more experienced guys that are already flying the F-16. That’s how our Air Force is structured. We have different layers of experience so when one group leaves, you’re not left with nothing.

And to go through it from the beginning, all the way through the end, and then come to Ukraine and go through whatever training your country wants to do, I think would give you a very, very solid Air Force.

What about the maintenance of fighter jets? Because there are a lot of skeptical thoughts and opinions about it. I mean, how difficult are they to repair and maintain?

— The maintenance part of these airplanes goes with the pilot part. You have to have men who have gone through special schools to learn how to maintain these airplanes.

And I’m sure that when the Ukrainian Air Force gets F-16s, they will have maintenance men that come to train your people how to take care of the airplanes. I’ve heard some of the criticisms about the F-16s, but they’re not that delicate. I’ve flown them all over the Middle East in very bad conditions on runways covered with rocks and dirt and sand and things. And it’s not going to stop the airplane, okay? So it’s been sort of overstated if you understand me. People are making more of a deal out of that than they probably should. Your Air Force is quite capable of learning how to take care of these airplanes, weapons, and the electronics that go into them.

— In one of your interviews, you expressed your readiness to come to Ukraine and also join our Air Force. Do you still have this wish? And also, in your opinion, attracting some private pilots like you will be a relevant and clever idea right now for Ukraine while our pilots are learning?

— That was the idea. That’s why I suggested this months ago. You can’t just land 15 F-16s in Ukraine and expect your pilots to jump in them and go use them. So you need pilots that already know how to fly the F-16 to use them while your pilots are being trained. And the only way that’s going to happen right now is for contract pilots to be utilized.

And yes, there are enough of us who could make this happen. We’ve volunteered, we’ve asked, and so far we’ve heard nothing back from the government. I know they have lots to do, and you have a lot going on. But it’s something that I wish they would think about because we’re still willing to do it.

The interview was recorded on June 1, 2023

2023 © Інформаційне агентство «Вчасно» — новини Донбасу.
2023 © ГО "Медіа-Погляд".

Права на всі матеріали належать ГО "Медіа-Погляд" (якщо не вказано інше) та охороняються Законом України «Про авторське право і суміжні права». Усі текстові матеріали поширюються відповідно до ліцензії CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Сайт створено за підтримки DW Akademie

Розроблено iDev