In a major development regarding the conflict in Ukraine, a senior European Union official said the bloc was now working to facilitate the delivery of fighter jets to the country as it continues to resist a total Russian invasion. Additional fighter jets could be particularly valuable to the Ukrainians, who have so far managed to prevent the Russians from gaining air superiority but have suffered casualties in the fighting. You can keep up to date with the latest news on the conflict in our most recent rolling coverage here.
Josep Borrell, Spanish politician currently High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, announcement earlier today that the bloc would provide funds to Ukraine to purchase fighter jets from unspecified member states. Although he did not identify the types of planes that could be headed to Ukraine in the near future, he indicated that these would be those that the Ukrainian Air Force already operates, which would help them get into battle faster. This is just part of a larger military assistance package valued at €450m, or just over $501m at the conversion rate at the time of writing.
Ukrainian Air Force fighter fleets consist of a mix of Soviet-designed MiG-29 Fulcrums and Su-27 Flankers, as you can read more about here. No country in the European Union operates Su-27s.
This would suggest that the transfer of MiG-29s was a central topic of discussion. Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria are still using Fulcrum variants, which could be transferred and fielded very quickly. While Bulgarian jets have seen some modest improvements since the fall of the Soviet Union, Polish and Slovak jets have been significantly improved.
Other EU member states have already flown MiG-29s and may still have some in stock, but the time it would take to get them back into service would likely make them less attractive. Still, they could potentially serve as back-up assets, especially since a number of Ukrainian MiG-29s that might have been unflyable were destroyed in a Russian strike.
Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria have the added benefit of being NATO members which are in the process of replace their MiG-29 fleets. However, Poland should receive the first of its new F-35A Joint Strike Fighters until 2024while Slovakia and Bulgaria should start receiving their new F-16C/Ds in 2023 and 2025respectively.
At the same time, these countries could mitigate any national security risk associated with the loss of the air defense capabilities offered by these jet aircraft by asking other NATO members to help protect their airspace in the interval. Alliance countries already provide this additional defensive capability to the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which do not have fighter jets, as well as to the Black Sea region. Beyond that, US fighters, along with those from other NATO nations, are already carrying out enhanced patrols along the alliance’s eastern flank as part of the build-up in response to the conflict in Ukraine. At the same time, it could also mean that it will be necessary to remove some sensitive NATO standard equipment from these planes before they can be handed over to Ukraine.
Romania and Croatia, which are also NATO members, are flying older and deeply upgraded MiG-21 variants that could be on the table, which could still be formidable adversaries in aerial combat. Ukraine does not currently fly the MiG-21 operationally, but companies in the country provide depot maintenance for other countries. This would seem even less likely than transferring the MiG-29s. The same goes for Poland’s aging fleet of Su-22 rotary-wing fighter jets, although these types could become more attractive if the conflict drags on.
Borrell may have used a more generic form of the term “fighter jets” and the European Union may also seek to supply Ukraine with other combat aircraft. Bulgaria still uses Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft, another type that is also currently in Ukrainian service and relevant to the conflict.
All of this is in addition to a growing range of weapons and other military aid that various European countries, as well as the United States, have delivered or plan to supply in the future. This included a shipment of air-to-air missiles for Ukraine’s existing fighter jets, according to the country’s armed forces.
Whatever specific aircraft types the European Union plans to transfer now, any additional and relatively modern combat aircraft will likely be a welcome addition to the Ukrainian Air Force fleets, which have already suffered losses. significant over the past four days. This includes some Ukrainian aircraft that were destroyed in missile strikes at various bases.
Ukrainian fighters, as well as air defenses on the ground, also shot down a number of Russian aircraft. This is what gave rise to the urban legend of a Ukrainian super ace, nicknamed the Ghost of Kyiv, which you can read more about here.
Ukrainian fighters, along with other elements of the country’s air force, such as Turkish-made TB2 armed drones, and air defenders on the ground, played a vital role in preventing Russian forces from attacking. achieve air superiority. It is a remarkable achievement. As an example of these efforts, earlier today a video emerged that shows a TB2 destroying Russian Buk-series mobile surface-to-air missile systems.
Preventing Russian forces from taking over the skies also gives Ukrainian aircraft, including TB2s, the ability to try to destroy convoys carrying much-needed supplies to units on the ground and provide close air support, as well as providing close air support. engage other types of ground targets. All of this, combined, can only serve to hamper the ability of the Russian military to provide air support to friendly forces, to move with greater freedom on the ground inside Ukraine and to operate otherwise. effectively.
All in all, the Ukrainian Air Force now needs more combat aircraft. This demand will only grow as Russian forces continue to push along multiple axes in northern, eastern and southern Ukraine, including around the capital Kiev.
If these additional European jets are to have an impact on the conflict, Ukraine needs them as soon as possible.
UPDATE: 7:05 PM EST —
Alexandre Krauss, political adviser to the members of Renew Europea “pro-European political group in the European Parliament”, wrote on Twitter that these planes, whatever they are, “will fly in Ukraine [sic] skies within the hour.” He did not elaborate further on what type of jets would be included in the European Union’s military air package or who would be flying them in Ukrainian skies shortly.
Separately, The Washington PostMichael Birnbaum said he was told by a European diplomat that Ukraine was about to receive Russian-made jet planes from Bulgaria, Slovakia and Poland. This further indicates the imminent delivery of MiG-29, as well as possibly Su-25, just as The war zone had fitted out.
It’s unclear how much training Ukrainian pilots might need to fly one of these planes. Polish and Slovak pilots would have needed significant additional instruction to learn how to use their upgraded MiG-29s. At the same time, much of this could cover more advanced systems that Ukrainian airmen won’t necessarily need to know to get the plane into combat, if they weren’t removed before delivery. in the first place.
We’ll update this story as more information becomes available.
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