In Ukraine, military analysts are convinced that in a few months the country will have Western machines. “The issue of fighter jets is on the agenda, and I think a solution will be found in the next few months,” military analyst Taras Chmut, who is well-known in Kyiv, told DW. Already “in the second half of the year, towards the end of the year, they could perhaps be in Ukraine”.
He assumes “99.8 percent” that “the political decision” has already been made. For him, the practical implementation of the fighter jet plan is already “at 70 percent”: In other words, the clarification of questions about the training of Ukrainian pilots and ground personnel. He is convinced that the Ukrainian military quickly began “rethinking operational tactics” in order to integrate a modern fighter jet fleet into their plans.
Discussion on the confusion of the Kremlin
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in an interview with the newspaper “Der Tagesspiegel” that deliveries of fighter jets were not on the agenda. In fact, however, the discussion between Kiev and the more than 50 western support states of the Ukraine contact group led by the USA on this topic could already be well advanced – and the Ukrainian assessment could be closer to the actual plans than the public debate in the West especially in Germany – makes you believe.
Destruction in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson after a Russian missile attack at the end of January
The fighter jets “are weapons with a much greater strategic potential that can influence the course of the war much more than tanks,” believes Kiev military expert Chmut. In mid-February, the Ukraine contact group is scheduled to meet again at the US military base in Ramstein, Germany. “Work on the procurement of F-16 fighter jets continues,” wrote Andriy Yermak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, at the end of January, just over a week after the last Ramstein meeting. “We have positive signals from Poland, which is ready to leave them to us in coordination with NATO.”
The fact that US President Joe Biden recently answered a journalist’s question as to whether the USA would hand over F16 fighter jets to Ukraine with a “no” is classified by the “New York Times” as a “playbook”, i.e. as a well-known one Muster: According to this, Ukraine first publicly asked for modern Western military equipment, which the Biden administration initially rejected. The latter then silently suggests that Ukraine could obtain the same type of weapon much more quickly from European allies. Then it would go back and forth in public statements, until finally the gates for further weapon systems opened in Washington. A publicly performed media theatre, then, which is primarily intended to help confuse the Russian attackers and the Kremlin.
US think tank criticizes German hesitation
The months-long discussions about the delivery of Western battle tanks like the Leopard 2 from German production may have even accelerated the decision to use Western fighter jets for Ukraine. On the front in eastern and southern Ukraine, the Russian army launched offensives in several places in order to regain the initiative in the war. The Ukrainian army is now under pressure again, unlike after the successful recaptures up until the late summer of last year. In Washington, the verdict on the month-long reluctance of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is critical.
“The constant delays in providing Western material when it became apparent that it was needed or would soon be needed contributed to the prolongation of the conflict,” wrote the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in late January.
The commitments made in January for main battle tanks and armored vehicles are important “for further counter-offensives”. But the delays “in making these commitments may have deprived Ukraine of a chance of a counteroffensive this winter.” And the German Ukraine expert Nico Lange from the Munich Security Conference writes in his current blog on the military situation in Ukraine about a “missed opportunity for Ukraine”. Russia has “given time to increase troop density, fortify defensive positions and train and introduce new troops,” said Lange. “In the worst case, Russia’s attacks could leave Ukraine with too few reserves and too little time for combined arms exercises and the best possible preparation for counterattacks.”
A map by the US think tank American Enterprise Institute shows how much the Russian armed forces have meanwhile reinforced the Russian lines in Ukraine along the front.
At the same time, the US-led states supporting Ukraine made a qualitative leap in the quality of the promised weapons at their last Ramstein meeting in January. Especially with the delivery commitment for the GLSDB rocket (Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb) from the US company Boeing and the Swedish Saab group. According to the manufacturer, the weapon has a range of 150 kilometers and was only launched on the defense market in the fall of last year, after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
Small fighter jet units spread across Ukraine?
In London, the renowned think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), which advises the British armed forces, had already called for fighter jets for Ukraine at the beginning of November, and thus at the height of the Western battle tank discussion. “The Ukrainian Air Force needs modern western fighter planes and missiles” to keep the Russian Air Force at bay.
Military expert Justin Bronk writes that “a small number of Western fighter jets would already have a great deterrent effect”. RUSI recommends the distribution of western fighter jets in small teams in Ukraine. “Any Western combat aircraft delivered in the short to medium term must be able to operate in a dispersed manner, using mobile maintenance equipment and small support teams, and fly from relatively inaccessible runways to avoid being hit by Russian long-range missile attacks will be neutralized.”
In an interview with French television at the end of January, the spokesman for the Ukrainian air force, Yuriy Ihnat, gave a deep look into the Ukrainian wish list. “We have to set up up to five tactical aircraft brigades with a single Western multi-purpose aircraft type,” said Ihnat in the interview that was broadcast a few days ago. At the moment it’s just a matter of “which type it will be”.
Collaboration: Iryna Ukhina