Military Aviation

F-16s not on the Table for Ukraine, discussion of transferring Soviet-era Fighters like the MiG-29s used by the Ukrainian Air Force all but Dead, NATO Says

When US Permanent Representative to NATO Ambassador Julianne Smith was asked whether the US or alliance members have discussed transfer or training for American aircraft like F-16s, she simply stated, “No.”

US Permanent Representative to NATO Ambassador Julianne Smith said that despite Russia’s advances in eastern Ukraine, Washington does not intend to provide high-end aircraft to Kyiv.

When asked by Air Force Magazine whether the US or alliance members have discussed transfer or training for American aircraft like F-16s, Smith simply stated, “No.”

Smith said that the prospect of a prolonged conflict between Russia and Ukraine has not changed partners’ willingness to provide aircraft to Ukraine. Smith also said that she relies on the Defense Department for detailed, regular talks with the Ukrainian Defense Ministry about Ukraine’s battlefield needs.

In a Jun. 1 New York Times editorial, President Joe Biden argued that his decisions regarding which weapons to transfer to Ukraine were motivated by giving Ukraine the strongest hand at the negotiating table, not weakening Russia.

The President wrote: “We want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign, and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression.”

“We have moved quickly to send Ukraine a significant amount of weaponry and ammunition so it can fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table,” Biden said. “We do not want to prolong the war just to inflict pain on Russia.”

In the editorial Biden also argued why he approved the transfer of the advanced rocket system High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), but with limited ranges and guarantees from the Ukrainian government that they would not be fired inside Russia’s borders.

The President also added that as part of a $40 billion aid package approved by Congress in May, other advanced weapons like Javelin anti-take missiles, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, artillery, precision rocket systems, radars, unmanned aerial vehicles, Mi-17 helicopters, and ammunition would continue to flow.

An eastern flank NATO official told Air Force Magazine that alliance members had not “directly” talked about providing American aircraft to Ukraine.

He also said even the discussion of transferring Soviet-era fighters like the MiG-29s used by the Ukrainian Air Force is all but dead.

“There is less talk about the supply of post-Warsaw Pact airframes,” the official said. “There are other ways to sustain the [Ukrainian] Air Force.”

The Ukrainian military, earlier, said that they 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.

As we have previously reported, 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.

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

As our contributor and Helion & Company publisher’s editor Tom Cooper explained, Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria are still flying MiG-29s, for example. Ukrainians can fly such jets, even if their communications and IFF have been significantly modified over the time.

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.

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.

“That doesn’t happen fast. At the end of the day, we’ve got to leverage what they have and offer them some other unique capabilities to make the problem challenging, and then there’s the longer-term view. Clearly, they want to migrate from Russian capabilities to U.S., but that takes some time,” Harrigian told Air Force Magazine.

“You just don’t throw somebody an F-16 and wish them good luck. That is not a recipe for success, and we want to set them up for success,” he said.

However, during a joint press conference with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III at the State Department on Jun. 1, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance will continue to invest in Ukraine.

“The alternative—not to support Ukraine—that would actually enable President Putin to win,” Stoltenberg said. “That would be dangerous for all of us, and the price we’d have to pay would actually be higher than to now invest in the support for Ukraine.” T

he type of weapons provided to Ukraine are tied to real-time battlefield needs Smith said in her meeting with reporters the same day.

“We’ve seen an evolution in terms of what’s been provided,” she said. “It reflects the evolution of the war, of the situation on the ground, of the Ukrainians own internal debates about what is needed in this moment.”

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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