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Fighter Jets for Ukraine?

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Things are moving forward rapidly on the transfer of fighter aircraft to Ukraine.

A contingent of military officials is quietly pushing the Pentagon to approve sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine to help the country defend itself from Russian missile and drone attacks, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

Ukraine has kept American-made F-16s on its weapons wish list since the Russian invasion last year. But Washington and Kyiv have viewed artillery, armor and ground-based air defense systems as more urgent needs as Ukraine seeks to protect civilian infrastructure and claw back ground occupied by Russian forces.

The Ukrainians are expecting to get new fighters:

With the country under continuing sporadic missile and drone barrages, like the one yesterday, Ignat acknowledged that the work to create the airfield network for new fighters cannot be done “as well as it could have been done in peacetime.”

Ignat did not offer any details about where or how many airfields are in the pipeline, or what kind of work needed to be done.

But any improvements likely involve upgrading the quality of operating areas and possibly lengthening runways. Ukraine’s Soviet-designed tactical jets were built to operate in conditions that can be considered positively austere when compared to their Western counterparts. The bases they operate from reflect this flexibility. too. As for the aircraft, they have sturdier landing gear, mud guards on their nose wheels, in some cases even intake doors that protect the aircraft from ingesting damaging debris during taxiing. Most Western designs are made to operate from much more pristine surfaces that are meticulously cleared of even small pieces of debris. So if Ukraine wants Western fighters, it needs infrastructure that meets their operational needs.

France seems open to the idea as well.

A French government official confirmed that unnamed Eastern European countries and Denmark were also possible candidates to provide fighter jets to Ukraine, while a Ukrainian Air Force spokesman says that a transfer of advanced Rafale multirole fighter jets is on the table.

Speaking today, Thomas Gassilloud, chairman of the National Assembly’s National Defense and Armed Forces Committee, said that the French government could agree to supply Ukraine with the fighter jets that it so badly wants.

“Regarding deliveries [of fighter jets] to Ukraine, we must study requests on a case-by-case basis and leave all the doors open,” Gassilloud said, after talks in London with British counterparts, including U.K. Defense Minister Ben Wallace.

I really don’t know whether the thinking here is that Western fighters can help Ukraine win the war (they can, although as with the main battle tanks there are no wonder weapons), or that they can ensure that Russia understands that the war will continue indefinitely and that it cannot expect to improve the technological balance of weaponry on the battlefield. With respect to the latter new fighters will definitely improve Ukraine’s prospects for controlling its airspace, although given the density of Russian anti-aircraft weaponry over the front it’ll be hard to turn that into offensive muscle. With regard to the latter the Ukrainian Air Force in six months will be light years more lethal than it was at the beginning of the war, with no comparable improvement on the Russian side. Either way it’s good news. It will be interesting to watch the dynamic among the producers of the candidate aircraft (F-16, F/A-18, Eurofighter Typhoon, Rafale, Gripen) shift from caution about transfers to enthusiastic competition for a chance to display their wares in combat.

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