Ukraine says it will now push for Western fourth-generation fighter jets such as the US F-16 after securing dozens of advanced battle tanks from NATO allies.
Ukraine received a huge boost for its troops as the United States and Germany announced plans on Wednesday to provide Kiev with heavy tanks.
“The next big hurdle now will be fighter jets,” said Yuri Sak, who advises Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov.
“If we get them, the benefits on the battlefield will be enormous. … It’s not just F-16s, fourth-generation aircraft, that’s what we want.”
Ukraine’s air force has a fleet of vintage Soviet-era fighter jets that rolled off the assembly line before Kiev even declared independence more than 31 years ago. Warplanes are used to intercept and attack Russian positions.
Western military support was vital to Kiev and evolved rapidly during the war. Before the Russian invasion, even the idea of delivering lethal aid to Ukraine was highly controversial, but Western supplies have since broken taboo after taboo.
“They didn’t want to give us heavy artillery, and then they did.” They didn’t want to give us HIMARS systems, then they did. They didn’t want to give us tanks, now they are giving us tanks. Apart from nuclear weapons, there is nothing left that we won’t get,” Sak said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said there is no way fighter jets will be sent to Ukraine.
“I made it clear very early on that we are not talking about fighter jets, and I am doing the same here,” he said in the Bundestag.
Scholz added: “We will not send ground troops under any circumstances.” I said that there will be no direct participation of NATO soldiers in the war in Ukraine. This has not happened so far and will not happen in the future. And everyone can rely on that.”
Ukraine, which was invaded by Russia last February, has also said it wants to receive long-range missiles from the West.
Moscow reacted furiously on Wednesday after Germany approved the delivery of Leopard 2 tanks, the workhorse of armies across Europe, to Ukraine, a decision sure to boost Ukraine’s offensive power.
Germany has agreed to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, and the US is expected to confirm the delivery of M1 Abrams vehicles. But what is so important about tanks?
We asked a Ukrainian officer on the front line to explain ⤵ pic.twitter.com/ir8otoKspMs
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) January 25, 2023
‘Preventing escalation of war’
Scholz said Western allies would continue to support Ukraine, but also highlighted the danger of further inflaming the conflict.
“We must always make it clear in everything we do that we do what is necessary and possible to support Ukraine, but at the same time prevent the war from escalating into a war between Russia and NATO,” Scholz said.
Justin Bronk, a researcher at the RUSI think tank in London, said the Ukrainian Air Force would benefit greatly from NATO fighter jets in terms of air-to-air and potentially air-to-ground lethality.
But he said on Twitter that they would still be at high risk from Russian surface-to-air missiles, forcing them to fly very low close to the front line, something that would “dramatically reduce the missile’s effective range and limit strike options.”
A Ukrainian pilot code-named Juice told Reuters last month that many of his peers were taking English classes in their spare time in anticipation of Kiev one day receiving foreign aircraft such as the F-16.
“We also need attack helicopters”
Last week, allies pledged billions of dollars worth of military aid, including hundreds of armored fighting vehicles and troop carriers. They are considered more effective for attacking enemy lines when used alongside tanks.
Ukraine sees the weapons as regaining momentum in a war that has recently become a bloody, stalemate.
Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told Euronews that the next significant weapons system the West needs is fighter jets.
“We also need attack helicopters and long-range missiles to reach logistics bases and Russian command centers.” “We should get them now before Russia tries its big spring offensive,” Poroshenko said.
“The real game changer now is the jet fighter.” We should immediately start training programs for Ukrainian pilots and prepare to deliver them to Ukraine.