Does Ukraine still want F-16s or F-15s to better fight the Russians?
The answer is in the affirmative, according to a spokesman for the Ukrainian air force.
The fighters would supply modern air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles and bombs that could help Ukraine keep the air space contested and assist with close air support.
The Ukrainians have been calling for warplanes from NATO allies since the early days of the war, but these public requests could be falling on deaf ears. Why?
Should Ukraine Advocate in Public or In Private?
The United States and its partners may be willing to listen if the Ukrainians continue to keep its yearnings for new fighters behind the scenes. Negotiations are ongoing, but they are mostly in private. That is why the latest public request for new fighters is noteworthy.
Ukrainian Air Force Is Ready for New Fighters
Ukrainian air force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said on television on November 26 that without F-16s and F-15s, it will be difficult to liberate the territory Russia holds and win the war. It is not clear if Ihnat’s statement had the blessing of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or if Ihnat was speaking only for the air force in general terms. But it looks like Zelenskyy agrees with the air force.
President Zelenskyy Believes His Air Force Needs Help
Zelenskyy took to Facebook on November 1 and said Western fighters would “help Ukraine achieve superiority over the enemy in the skies.” He used a video from the United24 advocacy group to drive his point home. Warplanes such as the F-15 and F-16 could “significantly shift the power balance” toward Ukraine, according to the United24 narrator. Ukrainian air force pilots were interviewed in the video and yearned for advanced warplanes. “We require them right now,” one aviator said.
Another Government Official Is In Favor
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also called for F-15s and F-16s in a Twitter post on November 15, reported by the Kyiv Post. Kuleba has the idea to convene a special NATO summit in Poland to discuss how Ukraine could acquire the fighters.
Could the White House Make a Deal?
The Ukrainians have depended on the MiG-29s and Su-27s it had before the war, but these airplanes are becoming worn down from constant sorties. The U.S. and its allies would have to first train the Ukrainian pilots on how to fly F-16s and F-15s. When it comes to transferring American airplanes to Ukraine, the final decision rests with President Joe Biden, who has been reticent to up the ante by supplying fighters in the past. The White House is worried about escalating the war if it sent American warplanes.
A Trade May Not Be Sufficient
One thing the United States could do is to create “trades” with NATO allies. The Americans would supply F-16s and F-15s to NATO allies in exchange for these countries to send their MiG-29s and Su-27s and other Russian-made fighters. But that is not what Ukraine wants.
The U.S. Government Has a Tough Decision to Make
It will be interesting to see if the White House, the Pentagon, and Congress are listening to these requests and if it will move the needle on supporting Ukraine with fighters. There will be a new Congress in 2023 with some Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives questioning the amount and type of aid given to Ukraine. But the White House could still decide to act on its own without Congressional approval and send the fighters to Kyiv.
To further complicate matters, in March, at least 40 senators wrote a letter in support of transferring warplanes to Ukraine.
Ukraine would likely need at least 12 F-16s and F-15s to make a difference over the skies and this would have to include pilot training, maintenance crew preparations, and weapons. This would be a significant step toward the overall Ukrainian assistance strategy and will require continued dialogue and negotiations between Kyiv and Washington.
Expert Biography: Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.