The US is still in talks with Poland to potentially backfill their fleet of fighter planes if Warsaw decides to transfer its used MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets to Ukraine.
Warsaw asked the White House if the Biden administration could guarantee it would provide them with US-made fighter jets to fill the gap, as Poland weighed sending its warplanes to Ukraine last week. The White House said it would look into the matter. Poland, for now, has held on to its fighter jets.
However, even though authorization for new, replacement fighter jets to Poland could take a long time, discussions between Warsaw and Washington are still underway.
“We are working with the Poles on this issue and consulting with the rest of our NATO allies,” a White House spokesperson told POLITICO. “We are also working on the capabilities we could provide to backfill Poland if it decided to transfer planes to Ukraine.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed on Mar. 6, 2022 that the US is working with Poland on plans to supply Ukraine with these planes. “We are working with Poland as we speak to see if we can backfill anything that they provide to the Ukrainians,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
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 these countries have been hesitant to give up those planes without guarantees from the US that they could replace them.
For Poland the MiG-29 Russian-made planes could be expendable since the country has been modernizing its aircraft fleet since 2006, when it first started flying F-16s, and in 2020 signed a $4.6 billion deal for 32 F-35s, the first of which will arrive in 2024.
The White House has “in no way opposed Poland transferring planes to Ukraine,” the spokesperson added, pointing out how difficult an operation it would be to get the planes into Ukraine. Russian officials have pledged to attack any convoys carrying weapons entering the country.
The issue of transferring American F-16s to Poland is a complex one, given the sensitive avionics on American planes.
According to POLITICO, “After Zelenskyy’s impassioned Zoom call with senators on Saturday, during which he urged the U.S. to send planes, drones and Stinger missiles to Ukraine and impose oil sanctions on Russia, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) sent a letter to President Joe Biden throwing their full support behind backfilling Poland with F-16s if they were to hand over their Russian planes, saying they would work to ensure there was funding to finance the transfer.”
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.
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.
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.
Nevertheless, on evening of the same day, a Ukrainian official said pilots had arrived in Poland to receive military aircraft from EU partners. The planes in question were MiG-29 fighter jets.
But the deal stalled out.
In fact, Poland, Bulgaria and Slovakia rejected the idea, and the Ukrainian pilots left empty-handed.
The US has already shipped $240 million of the $350 million in military assistance Biden approved recently, with the rest expected to arrive in the coming days.