Is Ukraine to receive an emergency shipment of fighter jets in an effort to fight off the Russian invasion? The answer is yes, according to the most senior European Union officials.
The unprovoked and illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine has united the West against Moscow. Over the past five days, Russian President Vladimir Putin has done more to unite the U.S. and its European allies than any of his actions and decisions during the 20 years he has been in power.
More than 15 countries are sending military aid to Ukraine. Some are shipping FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank weapons; others are sending FIM-92 Stinger anti-aircraft weapons; and yet others are shipping machine guns, ammunition, and helmets.
The wrath—because it is wrath pure and simple—over Putin’s actions in Ukraine has prompted even the European Union to approve the transfer of weapons worth hundreds of millions of dollars effective immediately. In that package, the most senior E.U. officials have indicated, will even be fighter jets.
Did Anyone Mention Air Dominance?
Although it is already day five of the war in Ukraine, the Russian military has failed to achieve air dominance over the Ukrainian skies despite its quantitative and qualitative advantage. Ukrainian fighter jets and drones still inflict losses on Russian air and ground targets.
On Monday morning, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claimed that Ukrainian forces had destroyed 150 Russian tanks, 27 aircraft, 26 helicopters, and 706 armored personnel carriers, supply, and support vehicles. Although that numbers might be a bit off, footage from the ground indicates that there is some accuracy in them.
Our very own Alex Hollings, Sandboxx New’s Editor-in-Chief, recently wrote about the “Ghost of Kyiv,” the Ukrainian fighter pilot who allegedly has scored six air-to-air kills, a number that would make him an “ace.”
Had the Russian military achieved air dominance over Ukraine, it would have been able to engage ground targets almost at will, and thus most probably tipping the balance of the conventional war to Moscow’s favor.
Europe To Send Ukraine Fighter Jets
On Sunday, Josep Borrel, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, announced a $500 million military aid package to Ukraine. In it, Borrel said, would be included fighter jets.
“We are going to provide even fighting jets. [Ukraine] has been asking us that they need the kind of fighting jets that the Ukrainian [Air Force] is able to operate. We know that some [EU] member states have these kind of planes, and the western borders of Ukraine are still open and several [of these] member states have a border with Ukraine,” Borrel said.
The aircraft are intended to replace battlefield losses.
On Sunday night, a few hours after Borrel’s announcement, Alexandre Krauss, a senior adviser to the E.U. Parliament, went as far as to say that the fighter jets would be airborne over Ukraine on Sunday.
However, a few hours later he retracted, saying that he misspoke. Had his initial statement proven to be accurate, it would have meant that the Europeans had already sent the aircraft to Ukraine when they went public with the decision. Such an approach—again, had it been accurate—would have been the best course of action as it would have ensured operational security.
As far as the type of aircraft, there is a limited set of viable options.
Russian-Made Aircraft Against Russia
Although the Ukrainian Air Force would love to add some F-16 Fighting Falcons, Dassault Rafales, or even JAS Gripensg to its arsenal, in reality, its choices are much more limited. To have an immediate effect on the battlefield, Ukraine can only accept aircraft its pilots and maintainers have experience with. And that means MiG-29 Fulcrum, MiG-21, and Su-25 Frogfoot.
There are few European countries, including Poland, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Slovakia, who still fly these Russian-made aircraft and can send them to Ukraine. Although there is a limited number of planes available (estimates range from a few dozens to a couple of scores), the Ukrainians could use them. Poland is the most likely country to provide Ukraine with fighter jets as it borders Russia and understands the danger Moscow poses. Reports already indicate that Ukrainian pilots have arrived in Poland to pick up fighter jets.
In terms of fighter jets, the MiG-21 is antiquated, but the MiG-29 Fulcrum can have an impact on the battlefield. Indeed, the Ukrainian Air Force is already flying the aircraft against the Russian invaders. And the alleged “Ghost of Kyiv” apparently flies a MiG-29 Fulcrum.
Although the Su-25 is designed for close air support, the Ukrainian military can still find a use for it. Slower and less agile than its fighter counterparts, the Su-25 may not help secure air superiority but it can inflict great damage on the Russian invading forces. Indeed, it is already day five of the invasion, but the Russian military has failed to achieve the crucial air dominance over Ukraine. Ukrainian fighter jets, attack aircraft, and even drones are still flying and attacking Russian columns.
Supplying Ukraine with aircraft made in the Soviet Union or Russia makes perfect sense as Ukraine already operates the same type of aircraft. As a result, no time will be wasted trying to learn the platform, and the aircraft would be able to fly almost immediately. Adopting a new aircraft platform is no easy or quick task.
(Footage showing an alleged Ukrainian drone striking a Russian BUK anti-aircraft system).
Take Greece for example. Faced with Turkish aggression that almost led to a war in August 2020, the Greek government decided to purchase the Dassault Rafale fighter jet from France. Because of the extraordinary circumstances—a continuous threat of war with Turkey—the fighter jets needed to be operational as soon as possible. Even with that threat of a war looming in the background and an almost unprecedented show of understanding by the French government, which fast-tracked the sale—the first Greek Rafales didn’t arrive in Greece until a few weeks ago.
For Russia, not winning is losing; for Ukraine, not losing is winning. Even a handful of fighter and attack aircraft could make the difference. The Ukrainians, after all, have shown Putin and the world that they won’t go down without a fight.