US Fighter Jets Now Under Consideration For Ukraine: Air Force Chief
For weeks there have been rumors and widespread reports that the United States is close to starting a formal training program for Ukrainian pilots in order to better combat superior Russian aerial forces. But amid the weapons bonanza being offered and shipped from Washington to Kiev, it was also reported that fighter jets were never on the table - not even from allies.
This is particularly so after in March a proposal for Poland to send its own MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine, which Ukrainian pilots are already trained on, fell through in a bizarre and somewhat diplomatically embarrassing way, given Warsaw prematurely claimed the White House had agreed to replace its donated MiGs with F-16 jets. The Biden administration then rejected that any agreement was made, and the whole fighter jets for Ukraine initiative appeared shelved. But now fresh words from Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall have revived speculation the Biden administration is intensely mulling jet transfers.
"Despite previous reports to the contrary, the United States is indeed considering sending fighter jets to Ukraine and training their pilots how to fly them, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall says," reports Newsmax based on his revealing words before the Aspen Security Forum this week.
He stressed that while the "right now problem" remains ground-based fighting particularly in the East, creating an urgent need for more artillery and heavy gun systems, Ukraine's military will soon need better aerial assets to stave off Russia's assault.
"We'll be open to discussions with them about what their requirements are and how we might be able to satisfy them," Kendall said, before saying it remains "largely up to Ukraine" to decide what type of aircraft would meet its needs.
"There are a number of international opportunities that are possible there," he said. "Older US systems are a possibility" - he added while raising the possibility of A-10s, which have been in process of an off-and-on retirement under the Pentagon
Currently, the draft National Defense Authorization Act just passed in the House authorizes up to $100 million to establish a Ukrainian pilot program to train on American aircraft (F-16s in particular), which is the biggest indicator yet the Biden administration could be poised to pull the trigger.
Top US Air Force command seems to be on the same page on the issue, as Politico reports of separate statements this week:
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown hinted that the U.S. or one one of its allies may soon send fighter jets to Ukraine.
"There's U.S. [fighter jets], there's Gripen out of Sweden, there's the Eurofighter or the Rafale. So there's a number of different platforms that could go to Ukraine,” he said...The Ukrainians are unlikely to get MiGs, he continued, because it’ll be hard to get parts from Russia. "It'll be something non-Russian, I could probably tell you that. What I can't do is tell you what it's going to be," he concluded.
“lawmakers recently approved $100 million as part of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act to train Ukrainian pilots to fly U.S. fighter jets as the campaign against Russia rolls into a fifth month.” https://t.co/sF4VTNgp6P— Mollie (@MZHemingway) July 22, 2022
Without doubt, Moscow would view this as a huge escalation, and a significant step toward fulfilling Zelensky's ultra-provocative and risky request to "close the skies". Already there are rumors that in some cases NATO operators themselves could be manning some of the more sophisticated longer range rocket systems recently sent to the Ukrainian battlefield. Might this one day be the case with allied aircraft issued to Kiev?
It remains, however, that US-made jets would require a steep learning curve for Ukrainian pilots, possibly taking years to train on them - depending on the system. On this question, Air Force Secretary Kendall alluded to the possibility of accelerated training in the Wednesday remarks.
Meanwhile, in fresh comments reported by The Wall Street Journal, President Zelensky has stressed the need for anti-air defense systems is more "more urgent" than ever amid increasing Russian reliance on long-range missiles. He also again asserted that Ukraine's position is that it won't negotiate with Moscow until the army has reclaimed all lost national territory. Anything less "will only prolong the war," he stated.
And speaking of the ongoing weapons bonanza, some of the latest headlines Friday:
- BIDEN AUTHORIZES SECRETARY OF STATE BLINKEN TO DIRECT THE DRAWDOWN OF UP TO $175 MLN IN DEFENSE AID FOR UKRAINE -WHITE HOUSE
- WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON KIRBY: U.S. DEFENSE DEPT TO ANNOUNCE UKRAINE WILL GET UP TO 580 PHOENIX GHOST UAVS
- WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON KIRBY: TOTAL U.S. SECURITY ASSISTANCE FOR UKRAINE COMES TO $8.2 BLN