F-15 and F-16 fighters for Ukraine? If one had to guess what the Ukrainian military would most like, it would certainly be that Russia calls it quits and ends its “special military operation.” Since that isn’t likely to happen – at least not yet – next on the “wish list” would be more Western-made weapons, including advanced aircraft.
Kyiv had previously called for F-15 and F-16 fighter jets, but the United States has made it clear that providing such warbirds is a line that Washington won’t cross – at least not yet.
Last week, in a rare sign of bipartisanship, two U.S. Air Force veterans serving in Congress introduced a bill that calls for the training of Ukrainian fighter pilots and crews on U.S. military air assets. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Penn.), along with Rep. Ted W. Lieu (D-Calif.) had penned a letter to United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, noted that the aid the United States and other NATO members have provided Ukraine has given Kyiv the capability to stop Russia from overtaking the country and installing a puppet regime.
“As Air Force veterans, we know that in any conflict with an opposing military, one of the first actions our Joint Forces will take is to establish air supremacy,” the letter read. “Based on public reporting, neither the Ukrainians nor the Russians have established air superiority. We believe the U.S. and our NATO allies can help Ukraine change the situation in the air domain and give Ukrainian forces a decisive advantage in the war.”
Calls Increase to Give Ukraine the F-15 and F-16
The U.S. lawmakers have called for crews in the Ukrainian military to be trained and made familiar with the Cold War-era F-15 and F-16 aircraft, which they maintain could give Kyiv an advantage in the contested skies.
“We have watched for months as the Ukrainian people and global community fight back against the unprovoked, unjust attacks from Russia. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy rose to the occasion, calling on his fellow Ukrainians to join the fight and showing the world what true leadership and democratic unity looks like,” said Rep. Kinzinger via a statement. “The United States stands in solidarity with the Ukrainian people as they continue to defend their sovereignty. I hope we will continue helping them put an end to Russia’s ruthless war.”
Ukrainian officials have also called for the transfer of the U.S. military aircraft following an increased number of Russian missile strikes at population centers throughout the Eastern European nation.
Over the course of several weeks in June, Russia significantly increased the intensity of missile strikes targeting both military and civilian infrastructure across Ukraine,” Oleksandr V. Danylyuk, head of the Center for Defense Reforms and coordinator of the Interdepartmental Platform for Combating Hybrid Threats, which operates within the framework of Ukraine-NATO cooperation, told Ukrinform.net this week.
“At this stage, the Ukrainian air defense system copes with ballistic missiles, but may soon face munitions shortage. At the same time, Russian Kh-22-type guided cruise missiles pose the greatest threat. Such maneuverable cruise missiles operate at low altitudes and remain outside the range of air defense systems,” Danylyuk added.
The U.S.-made F-15 and F-16 could help level the playing field considerably.
“An effective and immediately required element of Ukraine’s air defense to counter cruise missile strikes is constant presence in the air of American F-15, F-16 fighter jets, or other Western interceptors. To protect Ukraine’s military and civilian infrastructure, as well as to ensure a shift in enemy dominance in the air, Western powers must send such interceptors to Ukraine,” Danylyuk concluded.
Ukrainian officials have called for the F-16, along with other western-made combat aircraft, for months. It was in April that Serhii Drozdov, former commander of the Ukrainian Air Force told reporters, “To effectively protect our territory, Ukraine requires at least one squadron of modern fighter jets, such as American-made F-16s or F-15s.”
However, it seems unlikely that even if U.S. lawmakers can agree on sending the American fighters to Ukraine that the White House would be on board with any plan. President Joe Biden has repeatedly suggested that he doesn’t want to infuriate the Kremlin by sending weapons that could be used offensively against the Russian forces. In addition, U.S. Air Force officials have said that even if a transfer were possible, the Ukrainians would require substantial training – while there still remains the issue of servicing the fighters.
As a result, what Kyiv wants and what it actually gets are likely to be entirely distinct.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.