Over the past few weeks, there has been a renewed push to send advanced fighter jets to Ukraine.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive has brought the war in Ukraine once more to the forefront of the news cycle, and Kyiv and its Western partners are looking to capitalize on that renewed interest in the form of more military aid.
Since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, 2022, Western fighter jets have been high on Kyiv’s wishlist.
As the months passed, the idea of Western aircraft in Ukrainian service became increasingly realistic. Indeed, Ukrainian pilots might soon be flying Western fighter jets in combat.
Ukrainian Pilots, Western Fighter Jets
Earlier in 2023, Ukraine formally asked Sweden to send JAS 39 Gripen multirole fighter jets. Stockholm, however, rejected Kyiv’s request over concerns about gaps in its own defenses. But a few days ago, in the 12th and latest package of military aid to Ukraine, Sweden announced that it would allow Ukrainian pilots to train on and test the Gripens. Worth about $24 million, the military aid package also aims to provide logistical support to Ukrainian weapons systems in action on the ground.
Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonsson said that his country needs its JAS 39 Gripen multirole fighter jets “for the defense of our territory right now.” However, Jonsson’s last two words might be key to Ukraine’s quest for Western fighter jets. The “right now” qualification opens the door for a future transfer of JAS 39 Gripens to Ukraine.
In addition to the push for the JAS 39 Gripen, Kyiv has been trying to get its hands on some F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets.
F-16s for Ukraine
A handful of Ukrainian pilots have already traveled to the United States and gone through an evaluative course. Their American instructors determined that a potential training course for Ukrainian pilots on the F-16 would take much less time than expected, strengthening the case for sending Western fighter jets to Ukraine.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg revealed last week that Ukrainian pilots are already training on the F-16.
“Exactly when decisions will be taken – it’s too early to say, but the fact that training has started provides us with the option to also decide to deliver planes, and then the pilots will be ready to fly them,” Stoltenberg said.
Denmark and the Netherlands are spearheading a joint training program for Ukrainian pilots to learn how to operate the F-16, but it’s unclear whether Stoltenberg was referring to this program. Denmark has said that it is ready to transfer F-16s to Ukraine, but only with Washington’s approval.
Both the F-16 and the JAS 39 would greatly enhance the capabilities of the Ukrainian Air Force and even allow it to establish air superiority. This would increase the lethality of the Ukrainian military.
A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.