“After Abrams M1 tanks we want F-16 jets,” advisor to Ukraine’s defense minister says

Although the Swedish Saab Gripen would be welcomed by Kyiv, the Lockheed Martin F-16s top Ukraine’s wish list.

Now that the US and NATO allies have agreed to send main battle tanks to help counter Russia’s stepped-up ground attacks, a Ukrainian official said that Ukraine is stepping up its appeals for modern fighter jets.

Yuriy Sak, an advisor to Ukraine’s defense minister Oleksii Reznikov told Air & Space Forces Magazine that “Until today, the major focus in the discussions have been the tanks, now we’ll start talking about jets.”

Although the Swedish Saab Gripen would be welcomed by Kyiv because of its ability to designed to operate from spartan airfields with a limited support crew, Sak said that the Lockheed Martin F-16s top Ukraine’s wish list and that his country’s hope is that Washington will eventually support the transfer of F-16s.

Sak said that “F-16[s] are best suited for our situations.”

As already reported, Kyiv has repeatedly asked for Western jets since the start of the war.

The Ukrainian military have been asking NATO to close the Ukrainian skies since the beginning of the invasion on Feb. 24, 2022 or at least provide them with additional fighter jets to match the Russian air force.

NATO can’t establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine because it would be equal to a NATO’s declaration of war with Russia. In fact, in order to establish and maintain a no-fly zone over Ukraine, NATO would first have to destroy Russian long-range surface-to-air missiles deployed in Belarus and south-western Russia. I.e., NATO would really have to fight Russians on the Russian proper.

However, in a historic move, the EU on Feb. 27 said it would take a much more assertive role in funneling weapons and other military equipment from its members to Ukraine, even using €450 million of EU funding to help finance the effort.

Among the weapons there were also MiG-29 fighter jets and Su-25 attack aircraft like those used by the Ukrainian Air Force that the UE in the person of its foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said it intended to donate to Ukraine.

But on Feb. 28 Borrell had to publicly backtrack: he acknowledged that even though fighter jets were “part of the request for aid that we received from Ukraine,” the EU did not have sufficient financial means to pay for those airplanes, which would have to be donated “bilaterally” by individual EU countries instead.

On Mar. 8, 2022 Poland said it would hand over its MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets to the US to be sent to Ukraine, but by saying it was not “tenable,” the Pentagon rejected the proposal.

Then Slovakia’s Prime Minister Eduard Heger said on Apr. 11, 2022 that his country was willing to donate its MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine if an arrangement can be made to secure the country’s own airspace.

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Slovakia had already given Ukraine its Soviet-designed S-300 air defense system.

Then on Apr. 26, 2022 more than 40 nations gathered at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to consider what type of weapons to supply to Ukraine.

Senior defense officials, including US Air Forces in Europe commander Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, spoke about the possibility of supplying American-made F-16s to Ukraine.

But in June US Permanent Representative to NATO Ambassador Julianne Smith said that transfer or training for American aircraft like F-16s were not on the table.

Even the discussion of transferring Soviet-era MiG-29 fighters was all but dead.

Now, Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh said in a yesterday briefing that F-16s were “another challenging system that would require training,” noting that even if the aircraft were provided, it would take time for Ukraine’s pilots to become proficient enough for combat.

The US and its partners have gradually expanded the types of weapons systems provided to Ukraine; actually, just a week after the Pentagon strongly argued the case against providing Abrams M1 tanks, President Biden decided to do so anyway after Germany declined to send or allow others to send German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine unless the US offered its own M1s.

The US no longer seems concerned that the Abrams can’t be supported by Ukraine.

“The Ukrainians have proven that they can learn complicated, complex, challenging systems,” Singh said.

The US has attempted to provided Ukraine’s Air Force with AGM-88 HARM air-to-surface anti-radiation missiles that can be used against surface-to-air missile sites. Recently, the US has provided an unspecified number of JDAM precision-guided bombs. But defense officials have repeatedly said that providing aircraft is not a priority for the Biden administration.

Nevertheless, the US does not fight a war without air power, and as explained above Ukraine has been pleading for Western jets for many months.

Justin Bronk, co-author of a November report about Russian Aerospace Forces written by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said that Western aircraft should be paired with modern air-to-air missiles, such as the AIM-120 AMRAAM. He cautioned, however, there are technology security concerns if missiles that miss their target fall into Russian hands.

“There’s a big question mark on sensitivity about whether we would even be willing to provide those things,” he said.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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