A senior defense official, who like others interviewed for this report, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said that while the Pentagon’s calculation was unlikely to change anytime soon, there remains a possibility that the discussion will be “M1-ed,” a reference to Biden’s recent commitment of M1 Abrams tanks after administration officials suggested for months that the sophisticated weapons would be too complex. to maintain for Ukraine.
Another senior defense official acknowledged that there is growing frustration at the Pentagon among those who want to do more to help Ukraine but find their views thwarted by others who favor a more cautious approach. The official said that while Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and some of his senior staff were reluctant to endorse the Abrams tanks and, weeks before, the advanced Patriot missile system, Biden finally did it.
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A Pentagon spokesman, Brig. General Patrick Ryder said the United States and its allies have provided short-term support to “support and enhance Ukraine’s existing air capability” and are consulting with Ukraine on its long-term needs. The Pentagon said in April that some allies had agreed to provide spare parts for planes Ukraine already had.
“The war remains fluid and dynamic, so the nature of our support will continue to adapt and evolve as needed to give Ukraine the training, equipment and capabilities it needs to be effective. on the battlefield,” Ryder said.
The Ukrainian demand for additional fighter jets dates back to the first weeks of the war, almost a year ago. The country’s air force then had a few dozen Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighters, reinforced by a smaller number of Su-24, Su-25 and Su-27 jets. Ukrainian pilots flew them sparingly against a complex array of Russian surface-to-air missiles, and some were shot down.
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An assessment of the air war over Ukraine by the Royal United Services Institute in London found that Russian pilots remained “very effective and deadly” against their Ukrainian counterparts, thanks to their aircraft’s long-range missiles and to superior technology overall. Ukraine’s air defenses, imbued with new Western systems, have also improved, prompting the Russian air force to stay away from the battlefield, according to the assessment. He suggested that even a small number of Western warplanes could have a significant deterrent effect, even in the face of Russian air defenses.
In late January, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told a gathering of US and European defense leaders in Germany that they needed to move quickly to provide his government with tanks, long-range missiles, air defense systems and F-16s. A few days later, agreements were made to send the tanks. Other demands, for now, remain elusive.
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Ukrainians want the F-16, in part because there are more than two dozen nations flying them, creating a large pool of potential donors, said retired Army Lt. Gen. David Deptula. ‘air. Given the limited number of aircraft and spare parts available with the MiG-29, he said, Ukraine will have to adopt a Western aircraft at some point.
“What Ukraine needs is a game changer, and that’s air power,” said Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Power Studies. “We have to stop asking ourselves what will happen if we provide air power and start asking ourselves what will happen if we don’t.”
If the Biden administration had started training experienced Ukrainian pilots to fly the F-16 last year, they would already be using it in combat, Deptula said. He estimated that a fighter pilot trained on other aircraft could learn to use the platform within months.
Another retired Air Force general, Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, said he was also in favor of sending F-16s to Ukraine and starting pilot training, but starting with a small number of experienced pilots and evaluating their performance before expanding the program.
Carlisle, who chairs the board of the Stimson Center think tank, said Ukraine would also face difficulties in maintaining the planes. But “it’s not insurmountable”. To ease such a burden right off the bat, he said, he would recommend sending planes that have recently undergone major maintenance.
Other analysts are wary that the Biden administration continues to increase its involvement in the war. Daniel Davis, a retired army officer and senior researcher with Defense Priorities, said it’s unreasonable to expect Ukrainian pilots to be able to master the F-16 in a matter of seconds. months only and that the continued threat from Russian air defenses makes the jets unlikely to change the game.
“Even American F-16 pilots would struggle against Russian air defense,” he said. “There’s no reason to think they’re going to be insensitive to this.”
Davis said he doesn’t believe the supply of F-16s alone will induce Russia to escalate its war, but if Ukraine threatens to retake the Crimean peninsula that Russia illegally annexed in 2014, Moscow could take drastic measures.
“It’s a different set of rules, and if you don’t realize you’re dealing with a nuclear power, you’re putting us at risk,” Davis said. “It’s reckless to the highest degree.”