Ukraine plans to receive the first shipment of 24 fighter jets from international allies

Ukraine plans to receive the first shipment of 24 fighter jets from international allies

Two battalions with 12 fighters each. This is the new military aid package that the Ukrainian army wants to receive from its international allies. The 24 fighter jets – ideally American F-16s – would represent only an urgent first phase in a new chapter in the arms supply to the Russian-occupied country: that of aerial bombardment. The number was provided on Friday by Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Colonel Yuri Ihnat. In addition to the difficult political negotiations involved in this operation, Ihnat confirmed that he cannot count on these aircraft on the battlefield in the short term, as pilot and crew training takes at least half a year and maintenance on the ground.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reiterated this week that after the agreement between the United States and Germany to send heavy tanks to its troops, the next step should be to give Ukraine air power. Moscow’s superiority in this field is undeniable on paper: according to Flight Global magazine, the Russian Air Force has a fleet of aircraft and helicopters of nearly 4,200 units, while Ukraine has 312, with an emphasis on the MiG-29, Su- 27 and the Mi-8 helicopters. His ships, old Soviet models, are no match for the most modern Russian fighters, Ihnat told a press conference in Kiev.

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Since the start of the invasion last February, former communist bloc countries that still had MiG-29s in their hangars have offered to transfer these fighters to Ukraine. The proposal came mainly from Poland and Slovakia, but Ihnat pointed out that they are not the priority because they would not make a difference on the battlefield, explaining that these countries obtain spare parts for their own aircraft.

The invasion of Ukraine marked a before and after in the air war, according to the analysis of the main defense centers. The conflict confirmed the new proliferation of drones and also surprised us because aircraft superiority was not decisive in any phase of the conflict. Kiev was saved by Russia’s inability to shut down Ukraine’s network of mobile air defense systems. The effectiveness of this defense already forced the Russian Air Force in April 2022 to drastically reduce the movements of its aircraft. Both armies limit the use of their fighters and helicopters to very short missions in specific areas of the front. As Russia uses its bombers to punish Ukrainian cities, they fire their missiles hundreds of miles from Russian airspace.

International allies have provided Kiev with hundreds of artillery pieces and light armored vehicles, anti-tank missiles and air defense batteries. The supply of almost all types of weapons required lengthy preliminary negotiations, with Western European countries, especially Germany and France, slamming the brakes for fear of an escalation of the war with Russia. The most recent example is the complicated negotiations over the German Leopard tanks, which ended this week with a green light from Berlin for the export of these armored vehicles together with the American Abrams.

There are two types of weapons that Ukraine has yet to obtain from its NATO allies: long-range missiles and fighter jets. So far, the White House has rejected it, arguing it would increase tensions with Russia. In addition, US President Joe Biden has made it clear that he does not want his country’s weapons used to bomb Russian soil. Washington even asked Poland last spring not to transfer old MiG-29s to Ukraine for fear of backlash from the Kremlin.

opening of Washington

But the Biden administration is also showing signs of openness in this area. When asked about the jets, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby stressed on Wednesday that US military aid to Ukraine “evolves as circumstances change.” [de la guerra]“. On Thursday, a Pentagon spokeswoman added that they “have not taken the F-16s off the negotiating table.”

The US Congress approved a budget in June to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s and F-15s. According to Ihnat, the group that must learn to fly these aircraft has already been selected, but is still waiting for the green light to start training. Where tanks or Western artillery take a few weeks to learn how to work – Leopards take an estimated four to six weeks – the apprenticeship time for fighters is at least six months, especially when practicing maneuvers and handling the multiple weapon systems that have . Technicians who service these devices must also invest six months in their training. This would indicate that these aircraft will be able to fight in Ukraine in the last few months of 2023 at the earliest. James Hecker, commander of the US Air Force Europe and Africa, told Politico in September that due to the operation’s complex logistics and technology, there would be a delay of up to two years between delivery of the F-16s and their launch into combat in the US. United States Ukraine.

Ihnat clarified that it is Ukraine’s wish to have only one fighter model for multiple missions; His priority is the F-16 because it is widely used in fifty countries and more units are available. Multirole fighters excel in their ability to engage in dogfights, take out missiles and drones, and engage ground targets. The Ukrainian Air Force spokesman stressed that if they couldn’t get enough F-16s, there were other options. Specifically, Ihnat mentioned the French Rafale and the Swedish Saab Gripen.

Britain’s defense analysis center RUSI stressed in a November report that the Gripen are “by far the best option for Ukraine” because their maintenance and operational requirements are the simplest among modern fighters. During a visit to Odessa last December, Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson ruled out that his government is considering supplying Gripen.

The handover of fighter jets is a concern in Western Europe. Federal Defense Minister Boris Pistorius warned in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Friday that the deployment of fighter jets in Ukraine was not only inappropriate for his government, but also dangerous: “Fighter aircraft are much more complex systems than heavy tanks, they have different firepower and range. With them we would venture into another dimension, and I warn against that.”

high cost

The Ukrainian government has been in talks with its counterparts in Paris about acquiring the Rafale even before the invasion. Ihnat reiterates that there is now no money to buy one of the most expensive fighter jets in the world and that the Ukrainian Armed Forces will abide by the words of French President Emmanuel Macron in 2022 when they are ready to hand them over. Ihnat assures this newspaper that there are new reports from the Élysée in favor of this agreement. According to Ihnat, the biggest disadvantage of the Rafale is the cost per flying hour, which is significantly higher than that of the Swedish Gripen. As an indication, according to aeronautical digital Aerotime, the price of a Rafale is around US$ 115 million, while the Swedish Gripen would reach US$ 85 million. Aerotime estimates that older F-16 models are worth $30 million. The Slovak Defense Ministry has valued one of its MiG-29s at $27 million, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported in August.

The price of the fighters is a variable that will also determine the negotiations on the delivery of these devices to Ukraine, since the aircraft destined for Kiev in the donor country must be replaced. The money question will weigh even more heavily than discussions about heavy tanks: the Leopards cost an average of 11 million euros, according to data from the Digital Military Center of Ukraine, based on the contract signed by Germany and Slovakia for the transfer in 2022 of 15 units of this tank.

The RUSI report pointed out that Ukraine also urgently needs to build a secure network of airfields that would allow constant movement of these fighter jets to avoid destruction by Russia. The British think tank was skeptical that this would be possible during the war: “The long high-performance airstrips and extensive support hangars that will be required for US combat operations will be difficult to build without being patrolled and attacked. [por Rusia]“. Ihnat assured that the Ministry of Infrastructure is already building secret bases, noting that civilian airports, now closed to commercial aircraft, could also be used for military purposes.

Source: La Neta Neta