Ukraine proposes, the United States disposes. Desperate to regain the skies, Ukraine has been crying for F-16s, the lightweight fighter aircrafts. The embattled East European nation has been demanding the jets since Russia’s invasion in February 2022. Yet, Ukraine’s cries are being ignored by America. Ironically, America is blocking sympathetic nations too from supplying F-16s to Ukraine. Is there politics here too?
When a prominent American politician is responsible for the blocking, can politics be far behind? The politics is so perplexing, Ukraine is in no mood to search for logic here. After 25 January this year, Ukraine is more befuddled and it may dare to ask a weighty question. Despite German Chancellor Olaf Scholz agreeing to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, why is America blocking the jets, while it could give M1 A2 Abrams tanks to Ukraine? https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-64391272
Naysayers Talk Technical
The naysayers say they have a common concern. Led by American president Joe Biden, the alarmist nations are sounding alike. Their common fear is this: giving F-16 jets will make Ukraine capable of striking targets deep into Russia and this is sure to end up escalating the conflict to nuclear proportions. A nuclear war is a no-no at any cost, they insist. This anti-nuclear argument makes sense to pacifists.
Not stopping at their anti-nuclear pitch, the naysayers are offering technical reasons too for saying no to the much-needed F-16s for Ukraine. They contend the complex F-16s will pose four crucial challenges to Ukraine. One, F-16 pilots need at least three months of training. Ukraine says this is not an issue as pilots can be put for training immediately. Two, the problem of sourcing spares. Ukraine argues this too is surmountable.
Most American allies have F-16s and thus the global supply chain for spares is well supported. Thus, sourcing spares will not be an issue. Three, the jets call for seamless support logistics. Ukraine says such logistics can be built. Four, Ukraine does not have smooth runways needed for F-16 jets. Ukraine is sure this challenge
too can be overcome by making F-16 pilots use dispersed airfields with equal effect. https://slate.com/news-and politics/2023/02/biden-ukraine-f16-fighter-planes.html#:~:text=Biden’s%20first%20reason%20for%20not, and%20fight%20with%20the%20plane.
Blocking F-16s Despite Availability
These issues make the anti-nuclear argument a winning bet for naysayers. Moreover, deploying F-16 jets for hitting deep into Russia is riskier. The jets so deployed deeper into the Russian territory will be exposed to attacks from Russian surface-to-air missiles and the daredevil S-400s. Sure, deploying the jets for deep serious attacks will be a riskier proposition for Ukraine and not advisable in the present attritional moment.
Yet, Ukraine is insistent and wants the jets, come what may. Militarists’ warnings on the quality of the available runways – they are short and rough – are falling on deaf Ukrainian ears. Primarily, Ukraine appears swayed by easy availability of F-16 jets. As many NATO air forces, including America, are in the process of phasing out their F-16s in favour of the most advanced 5G F-35s, the F-16s are plentiful now for the asking.
Spring Offensive Ready for Launch
Nevertheless, if US president Biden walks the talk, America will not supply F-16s to Ukraine. Quite Explicitly, Mr Biden did say so on 30 January. Ukrainophiles are however sure Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky will get the jets eventually. This is possible as Russian air forces are stepping up their attacks and they will be busier on Ukrainian skies soon. In such a case, NATO, America in particular, will not remain unhelpful.
As Ukraine foresees Russia intensifying air attacks soon to gain supremacy in the skies, Mr Zelensky has turned more persistent in his demand for the jets. Plus, Ukraine is set to launch its spring offensive to regain lost territories, well before the next phase of Russian mobilisation. Mr Zelensky’s men want to blunt Russia’s efforts to leverage its large MIG-29 and SU-27 fleets. Ukraine views the American F-16 jets as its prime saviour. https://english.elpais.com/international/2023-01-26/ukraine-in-race-against-time-to-launch-spring-offensive-with-nato supplied-tanks.html
Global Ethics and Geopolitical Morality
If Russia regains the skies, as Ukraine fears, the war equations may change in Russia’s favour. Already, Ukraine has lost a considerable number of aircraft and pilots. Ukraine is certain this loss has turned the conflict into a woeful war of attrition. Thus, Ukraine does not want to lose the skies to Russia for sure. As Ukraine’s anti-aircraft missile losses are mounting, Ukraine is persisting in its demand for the F-16 jets to stem such losses.
In the face of dangerous possibilities, is it okay for the West not to supply the jets to Ukraine? Without the jets, will Ukraine be able to avoid defeat and will it be able to make Russia lose? Steered by global ethics and geopolitical morality, the Netherlands is willing to send its F-16s to Ukraine. Poland and Denmark may be considering a similar idea. Will Mr Biden and the Pentagon get the right sense to give these nations the nod? https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/netherlands-open-minded for-sending-f-16-jets-to-ukraine-local-media/2792788
America Controls the F-16 Jets
The Netherlands and Poland may not get Pentagon’s nod, however. Certain, Pentagon will be influenced by Mr Scholz’s words. In an interview to euronews.com, Mr Scholz warned against the ‘risk of escalation’ and said: “There is no war between NATO and Russia. We will not allow such an escalation.” These words of denial show NATO has a one-track mind and is blind to the rising possibility of Russia regaining the airspace in the war. https://www.euronews.com/2023/01/30/germany-confirms-it-will-not-send-fighter-jets-to-ukraine
NATO’s blinkers make Ukraine’s job harder. Mr Zelensky has to convince every nation of consequence in the militarised West to give it the badly-needed F-16s. Bad luck for Mr Zelensky, president Biden has control over F-16 re-exports. This is why no nation will earn Mr Biden’s displeasure by acting against his wishes. If they dare to do, they should not expect America to rush to their aid in case Russia hits back.
France May Not be the Contrarian
Yet, Poland is keen to send the jets to Ukraine. Expect this keenness to disappear before NATO’s unified action of not sending the jets to Ukraine. Poland’s recent assertion points towards this. The country has affirmed to act in concert with NATO and its allies. Encouraged to speak out, Britain and Germany too have declared their intentions not to send F-16 jets to Ukraine. France alone is the contrarian here.
The contrarian France may still begin to do a rethink. President Emmanuel Macron would not like to displease Mr Biden. Doing so will mean inducing America to desert France, if Russia is provoked by France’s F-16 aid to Ukraine. This is why France may reconsider its desire to send its Rafale jets to Ukraine. Plus, America will ensure, direct or otherwise, no NATO ally acts out of step with Mr Biden’s decision not to send jets to Ukraine. https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/france-rule sending-warplanes-ukraine-96770962
No Mood to Decode the Politics
Consider how such decisions play out. Take the case of Patriot missiles. Only when America decided to give Ukraine the Patriot, Germany and the Netherlands jumped in to send theirs. Ditto for Bradleys and Leopard 2 tanks. Sure, the US can make the entire NATO dance in step. After all, NATO is a US-led military alliance, whose charter says America’s nod is needed for sale or transfer of F-16s from partners to third-party nations.
Plain and simple, embattled Ukraine is in no mood now to figure out this complex NATO politics. Ukraine’s top priority now is to grab air defence systems, artillery and armour. The urgency now is to replace its depleted fleet of MIG-29s, SU-27s and other Soviet-era jets. These fliers have failed to measure up to the Russian air challenge by not being able to detect cruise missiles. Sure, Ukraine needs many versatile jets. https://www.cnbc.com/2023/01/26/ukraine-aims-for-f-16-fighter-jets-after-winning-battle-for
The F-16 is one such jet. The F-16 fighter has modern avionics, sensors and weaponry, it is better than everything else in Ukraine’s fleet. Ukraine’s air fleet was designed before the nation was freed from the Soviets, over three decades ago. Ukraine needs F-16s now and cannot afford to wait longer, as it keeps losing its star pilots. Sad, Ukraine is fighting two wars at the same time now – one with Russia and the other with its own outdated air force. America should help Ukraine win both the wars.