Andrzej Duda, the president of Poland, became the first official from the security alliance to promise fighter jets to Kyiv on Thursday, marking one of the most substantial increases in military assistance to Ukraine from a NATO member since the Russian invasion.
Four MiG-29 fighters will be delivered to Ukraine in the coming days, according to Duda, who added that the remaining MiG-29 aircraft is being serviced and would likely be delivered in stages. In comparison to a year ago, when it was politically unimaginable for a NATO member to deliver Ukraine such advanced lethal support, four may seem like a small number, but it represents a significant advancement.
It is not surprising that Poland took this action because it has a strong fear of Russian expansionism stemming from a long history of Russian aggression.
Can it possibly have an impact? Certainly, it might be on a political level. It could trigger a chain reaction whereby more European nations supply fighter jets to Ukraine as this support becomes accepted.
The Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger declared his country would send a squadron of 13 MiG fighter jets to bolster the defense of Ukraine less than a day after Poland’s commitment. As other European nations modernize their air forces, it is conceivable that more will follow suit and release their MiGs, which were designed by the Soviet Union.
Poland is indeed acting in this manner. Last year the government negotiated a record significant $14.5 billion defense agreement with South Korea which includes the acquisition of 48 FA-50 light aircraft, and it has also added US F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters to its fleet. Another practical benefit is that MIG-29 parts are more easily accessible for Ukrainian aircraft repair and maintenance because so many European nations own MIG-29s.
The Kremlin has been unsurprisingly dismissive when it comes to the idea of military advantage, stating that giving Ukraine more MiGs from the Soviet era won’t have any impact on how the conflict develops. So, it stands to reason that President Volodymyr Zelensky would prefer to purchase F-16s rather than MiGs.
For obvious reasons, the specific composition of Ukraine’s air force, which is most likely less than a tenth the size of Russia’s, is still unknown. Once the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, almost five years after the MiG-29s were first put into service, Ukraine received scores of these aircraft. Yet after Russia illegitimately grabbed Crimea, its fleet suffered.
MiG-29 aircraft use analog flight technology, which is more antiquated. The coveted F-16s from Zelensky are digital. Short-range shooting down of Russian aircraft is possible with MiGs thanks to their good mobility and ability to deploy weapons. However, F-16s have enhanced early warning since they can fly for more extended periods, are more adaptable, have integrated weapons systems, and have significantly better long-range and radar capability.
The example of contrasting a “1990s laptop with the most recent MacBook” is used by defense analyst Alex Walmsley, associate fellow of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London. Alternately, a Porsche and a Ford Escort. In terms of flying and firing missiles, they are essentially equivalent, but MIGs are less agile and potent.
Due to impracticality and concerns about escalating tensions with Russia, the US has so far rejected requests to give Ukraine access to F-16s. With the downing of a $32 million US Reaper drone over the Black Sea by a Russian fighter this week—the first time Russian and American aircraft have come into close contact since the war began—the desire to prevent a catastrophic spill-over of the conflict was at the forefront of people’s minds. The potentially explosive occurrence was used as evidence of direct American involvement in the competition by Russia.
Nonetheless, the transition from resistance to delivery has happened previously. For instance, the US eventually agreed to give Ukraine M1 Abrams tanks after Germany changed its attitude toward Leopard II tanks.
The impracticality defense, however, is not merely a political ruse. Unlike the Ukrainian Air Force, which would need months to train a MiG-29 pilot to a high level of proficiency and effectiveness on an F-16, they will be able to employ the MiG fighters as soon as they come because they currently operate them. Not to mention the shortage of Ukrainian pilots.
Former US Lieutenant General Mark Hertling observes that while the Ukrainians have shown great flexibility in absorbing new equipment such as user-friendly Himars and Javelins, F-16s are a “completely different ballgame.” To shoot and drop bombs, they have various engine components, designs, and fire control systems. According to Hertling, “a lot of people want things to happen in Ukraine right now, but without years of training during peacetime and the establishment of sustainment and repair, you’re just not going to achieve the outcomes you think you’re going to get.”
The initial jet pledges will strengthen Ukraine’s air defense but won’t in any manner fundamentally change the conflict or give Ukraine an advantage. According to William Gilpin, a former RAF F-16 fighter pilot, it is pointless to show up if you are a generation behind. Nowadays, the Russian Air Force is a generation ahead of the Ukrainian Air Force. They would advance a generation with the F-16s.
This is the problem. The impracticality of equipping Ukraine with F-16 jets, which would necessitate a massive amount of training during an active fight, is obvious. Nevertheless, without them, achieving air superiority is even more difficult.
NATO, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is a political and military alliance that was formed in 1949 to promote security and defense among its member countries. The organization consists of 30 member countries, primarily from Europe and North America, and its headquarters are located in Brussels, Belgium.
The key principle of NATO is collective defense, which means that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all members, and the alliance will respond accordingly. NATO’s primary purpose is to provide security for its member countries and promote stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. It also supports the democratic values of its members and promotes cooperation on defense and security issues.
Over the years, NATO has undertaken a variety of missions and operations, including peacekeeping, humanitarian aid, and crisis management. It played a key role in ending the conflict in the former Yugoslavia and has been involved in counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan.
NATO continues to evolve and adapt to changing security challenges. In recent years, it has focused on strengthening its deterrence and defense posture in response to a more assertive Russia, and it has also worked to enhance its partnerships with other countries and organizations.