Ukraine is aiming high with request for F-15 and F-16 jets. Here’s why it probably will not happen

Ukraine is asking for more modern F-15 and F-16 fighter jets from the United States and Western allies, which it says could be pushed into the fight against Russia within a few weeks, but experts say the proposal is unlikely and unrealistic.

“In the sky, the greatest need for fighter jets – F-15s and F-16s of fourth generation or higher would suffice,” the country’s air force tweeted on Thursday, “pilots can learn to fly these with only 2-3 weeks of training.”

It would take more than a few weeks to train new pilots on the advanced American aircraft, and provided that high-tech aircraft would ultimately create more problems than solutions for the United States and Ukraine, according to John “JV” Venable, a research fellow with the Heritage Foundation, a think tank in Washington, DC

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Venable, a 25-year-old air force veteran with more than 2,000 hours of flight time on the F-16, said the delivery and training of Ukrainians on those planes would be nothing short of a “herculean effort.”

The United States is the largest operator of the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon, which have been used in several conflicts in recent decades. Both were introduced to the service in the 1970s and have since been adopted by countries such as Israel, Japan and Germany. They are designed for lightning-fast speed, durability in a variety of weather environments and are armed with high-tech radar and long-range missiles.

Venable said it would take a skilled pilot like himself up to six weeks to retrain on the F-16, an aircraft he is already very familiar with. In addition, a shipment of F-15 or F-16 would require a lot of financial and logistical commitment from the country that supplies the fighter jets.

“Where would Ukraine receive that training?” Venable said. “The host nation would have to completely have their own training pipeline, and no nation will do that. It’s a false hope.”

Along with just the necessary pilot training, giving Ukraine F-15s and F-16s would mean that any donor nation would also have to provide an abundance of spare parts, maintenance crews to train their military, and runway preparation.

The request of the Ukrainian Air Force is the latest example of the tense back-and-forth talks that the United States and European allies have had with Ukraine as they figure out how best to provide air support in their efforts to repel Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February after gathering more than 150,000 troops around the country’s border over the past year.

Last month, talks between Poland and the United States focused on supplying Ukraine with Russian MiG-29 jets because their pilots are already trained in flying that plane, but negotiations broke down over the complexity of delivering the planes. These aircraft were more up-to-date than what their country’s air force had in their possession, meaning the transition would have been more hassle-free.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, President Joe Biden’s administration has provided more than $ 1 billion in aid to their military, including Javelin and Stinger missiles to fight aircraft, as well as thousands of rifles and millions of ammunition cartridges.

And while Ukrainian forces have made extensive use of the weapons and continue to hinder Russian progress, their military and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy continue to plead for more advanced defense.

In a tweet thread Thursday, Ukraine’s air force said it could not compete with Russia’s missile systems and called for high-tech US-made Patriot missile systems. Long-range Patriot batteries are used by the U.S. military and are capable of taking down ballistic missiles and aircraft.

Venable said all of these “issues” would be a logistical nightmare for the United States, and more than likely, Ukraine is testing the waters for future arms purchases.

“They’re asking for the moon and hoping they land somewhere around there,” Venable said.

Karl Mueller, a senior political scientist at the nonprofit organization Rand Corp., which specializes in national defense strategy, said Russia was expected to sweep Ukraine’s air force and has fallen short.

Mueller added that while supplying Ukraine with U.S. missile launchers and advanced aircraft may not work in the short term, it lays the groundwork for their country to receive major military upgrades when the dust settles.

“Giving them more up-to-date Western aircraft is a more long-term issue,” Mueller said. “I assume now that we know they will not be conquered by Russia … there will eventually be a stream of weapons to ensure that Ukraine can remain safe.”

– Thomas Novelly can be contacted at thomas.novelly@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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