This article by Jake Epstein and John Haltiwanger was originally published by Business Insider.
Ukraine is finally getting the Western-made tanks that it wants, but there are still a few big items on its wishlist. Kyiv says the next thing it wants is fighter jets.
“We have new tasks ahead: Western-type fighter jets, sanctions, Peace Formula implementation,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said after Germany announced on Wednesday it would send Leopard 2 main battle tanks, a decision that followed weeks of mounting pressure by European countries.
Yuriy Sak, an advisor to the Ukrainian defense minister, concurred, telling Reuters that “the next big hurdle will now be the fighter jets.” Some others, however, have pointed to long-range missiles.
Throughout Russia’s 11-month-long war, Ukraine has repeatedly pressed the US and other partners to provide Western fighter jets. As early as March of last year, Ukraine’s air force lobbied on social media for NATO countries to send F-15 and F-16 fighter jets able to provide a better defense of its skies than the Soviet-era aircraft that it has been operating. Those requests have lately taken a backseat to other demands though.
Sending these highly capable jets to Ukraine would likely be a massive undertaking for the US. Top US Air Force officials have not ruled out sending aircraft to Ukraine, but nothing has been sent.
There have been discussions about America’s A-10 Warthogs, slow but powerful tank killers, but a Ukrainian military advisor argued previously that what is really needed is fast fighters like the F-16.
Related: The A-10 could actually help win the skies over the next big fight
Experts have said that the best Western jet to provide Ukraine might actually be the overlooked Swedish-made Gripen, given that it has a lower operational cost than its American counterparts.
Should Western jets eventually make their way to Ukraine, it would mark the latest instance where Ukraine has asked the US and allies for weapons and, after some time, got what it requested. This pattern has been seen with rocket artillery, high-profile air defense systems, armored fighting vehicles, and, most recently, tanks.
Gérard Araud, the former French ambassador to the US and the United Nations, described Western security assistance to Ukraine over the nearly one-year-long war as “piecemeal” — partial steps taken over time.
“Every three months there is a debate about a new type of weaponry. Now, it’s tanks. I can bet that in the next three months, it’ll be planes,” Araud told Insider. He said “every time we are squabbling and squabbling,” but at the end of the day, countries end up green-lighting the military hardware.
U.S. defense officials have said that security assistance tends to focus on Ukraine’s short-term battlefield requirements. However, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said this week that while Washington continues to assess Ukraine’s “immediate” battlefield needs, it is also holding discussions on what Kyiv needs in the “medium- to long-term.” There’s been no word on aircraft though.
Feature Image: A US Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor T. McBride)
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