Ukraine wants F-16 fighter jets, but “You just don’t throw somebody an F-16 and wish them good luck. That is not a recipe for success,” USAF officials say

By Dario Leone
May 3 2022
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“To effectively protect our territory, Ukraine requires at least one squadron of modern fighter jets, such as American-made F-16s or F-15s,” Former commander of the Ukrainian Air Force Serhii Drozdov.

As we have recently reported, an online crowdfunding campaign to buy fighter jets has been launched by Ukraine. Called “Buy Me A Fighter Jet,” the campaign seeks funds from the public for new fighter aircraft to repel the Russian advance.

The campaign website lists the types of fighter jets Ukrainian pilots need. They are Russian aircraft such as Su-22, Su-25, Su-27, Su-24 and MiG-29. It said the pilots would be able to quickly master the American-made F-15, F-16 and F/A-18.

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.

Former commander of the Ukrainian Air Force Serhii Drozdov wrote in an Apr. 19 opinion piece: “To effectively protect our territory, Ukraine requires at least one squadron of modern fighter jets, such as American-made F-16s or F-15s. According to our estimates, our pilots can learn to fly such jets at an accelerated pace of two to three weeks.”

Drozdov said that Ukrainian Air Force (UAF) Soviet-era jets are not enough to evade modern Russian weapons.

“Pilots would continue to be sitting ducks in these planes—easy targets for the enemy,” he wrote.

Harrigian cautioned that training on American jets might be a step too far.

“Collectively, we’ve got to step up and understand what the Ukrainians’ requirements are and find a way to get it to them and get it to them quick. 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.

For this reason, as a senior defense official told Air Force Magazine, the US continues to provide or facilitate the transfer of Soviet-era spare parts to keep Ukrainian jets flying.

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“This is an air force that relies principally on old Soviet aircraft. That’s what they’re used to flying. That’s what they’ve got in their fleet. That’s what we’re trying to help them keep in the air. I’m not going to speculate about the future of aircraft deliveries one way or the other,” he said.

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.

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 is willing to donate its MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine if an arrangement can be made to secure the country’s own airspace.

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

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

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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