The U.S. Wants To Arrange Soviet-Era Fighter Jets For Ukraine—Here’s Why That May Be Difficult

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A proposal to send Soviet-built fighter jets to Ukraine has found support among several U.S. lawmakers following “desperate” pleas by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky over the past few days, but such a plan faces multiple logistical and geopolitical hurdles that may be difficult to overcome.

In a private video call with U.S. lawmakers on Saturday, Zelensky asked for more fighter jets to help fight invading Russian forces and retain control over its airspace—a plea which received support from several U.S. lawmakers.

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said NATO countries had a “green light” to send warplanes to the Ukrainian military.

But the logistics of the plan are a challenge as the Ukrainian Air Force uses Russian-made MiG-29 and Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jets, types operated by only a handful of NATO air forces including Poland, Bulgaria and Slovakia.

The U.S. cannot offer any American jets like the F-16 to the Ukrainian Air Force as its pilots are not trained to fly these aircraft.

One of the proposals under consideration involves Poland supplying jets from its fleet of MiG-29s to Ukraine, with the U.S. offering American-made F-16s to Poland as a replacement.

However, Poland—which operates both U.S. and Russian-made jets—has previously rejected this as Putin has threatened against such a move and replacement fighters for its air force may not immediately be available.

“We’re talking with our Polish friends right now about what we might be able to do to backfill their needs if in fact they choose to provide these fighter jets to the Ukrainians. What can we do? How can we help to make sure that they get something to backfill the planes that they are handing over to the Ukrainians?” Blinken told CBS News on Sunday.

Last week, Polish President Andrzej Duda rejected calls for sending military jets to Ukraine at a NATO press conference, saying: “We are not joining this conflict. NATO is not a party to this conflict. We are supporting Ukraine with humanitarian aid, however we are not sending any jets to Ukrainian airspace.” Since then officials in Poland, a NATO member, have indicated that they would at least consider a proposal put together by Washington, according to the Wall Street Journal.

On Monday, NBC News reported that the fighter jet transfer plan may have hit a major roadblock as Biden administration officials begin reviewing its feasibility. According to the report, U.S. officials warned that delivery of fighter jets is much more complicated than supplying handheld weapons like guns and anti tank missiles. The main issue purportedly stems from the fact that the U.S. does not have a surplus of F-16s to send to Poland. This may prevent Washington from swiftly “backfilling” Poland’s fighter requirements, as Blinken promised. The Polish government has displayed restraint as well, with a government spokesperson saying: “As far as sending planes, I can only repeat that no decisions have been taken on the subject.”

Over the past week, Zelensky has made multiple requests to the U.S. and its European allies to provide additional fighter jets to Ukraine as Russia steps up its aerial bombardment of the country. Speaking to ABC News on Monday, Zelensky repeated his request for more jets for his country’s air force and added that he shared this view with U.S. President Joe Biden during a call on Monday. Zelensky noted that the Ukrainian forces have not been able to establish air supremacy and they need to do that to shoot down incoming Russian missiles that are targeting civilian infrastructure. Despite its overwhelming advantages, the Russian Air Force has also not yet been able to establish air superiority over Ukraine and the country’s airspace remains contested, U.S. officials have said.

White House weighs 3-way deal to get fighter jets to Ukraine (Politco)

Why Poland hasn’t given Ukraine its MiG-29 fighter jets to combat Russia despite U.S. ‘green light’ (The Week)

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