Reports from Australia are stating that the U.S. and Australia are contemplating delivering 41 Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets to Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been requesting advanced Western jets since the onset of the war. While the Biden administration has resisted green-lighting the request for many months, the U.S. shifted its position during the G7 summit in early May.
A Congressional Research Service report released in March laid out the aerial capabilities that Kyiv lacks. Air superiority, intelligence, suppression of air defenses, and ground attack roles were identified as facets that need improvement.
The likely shipment of Western fighter platforms like the F/A-18 Hornet would fill these gaps in Ukraine’s aerial capabilities.
Western Jets Might Be on the Way
For more than 15 months, the U.S. has incrementally increased military aid provisions to Kyiv. The White House initially denied requests for Patriot missile defense systems, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, and M1 Abrams main battle tanks.
Ultimately, all of these weapons systems were delivered. Earlier in the war, president Biden insisted that Kyiv did not “need F-16s now” and that the White House was “ruling out” the request altogether. Washington referred to the lengthy training period the platform requires to justify not sending the jets.
However, the Biden team changed its policy last month. According to the Associated Press, “U.S. officials say it will take several months to iron out details, but the U.S. Air Force has quietly determined that the actual training could realistically be done in about four months. The Air Force based the far shorter estimate on a visit by two Ukrainian pilots to a U.S. air base in March, where they got to learn about the F-16 and fly simulators. The training, officials say, would take place in Europe.”
The RAAF’s F/A-18 Hornets
While the Hornets are not F-16 Fighting Falcons, the potential delivery of these Australian fighters would coincide with the White House’s G7 policy reversal. The U.S. essentially granted permission to allies to supply Kyiv with advanced jets like the Hornets. According to Australian news outlets, the F/A-18s being considered are currently housed at an RAAF base outside Newcastle and have otherwise been relegated to retirement.
An Australian security expert advising Ukraine confirmed that negotiations surrounding the RAAF Hornets were underway. According to the expert, “Australia operates a large stockpile of retired planes which are otherwise scheduled for destruction,” adding that “there are multiple formal approvals required to conclude a procurement of these planes, but it is likely an idea whose time has come.”
Since Russia invaded, Ukraine has relied primarily on several dozen legacy MiG-29s, supplemented by deliveries from Slovakia and Poland. The Soviet-era fighters are simply not on par with what Kyiv would need to achieve air superiority, among the other factors listed in the March 2023 Congressional Research Service report. The addition of Hornets to Kyiv’s aerial arsenal would certainly enhance the country’s defense.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.