WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the world marks the one-year anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, McCain Institute Executive Director Dr. Evelyn Farkas and Dean of the Mitchel Institute for Aerospace Power Studies Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula argue in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that United States backed airpower, in the form of fighter jets and American drones, could prove decisive in the outcome of the war. This call to properly arm Ukraine is all the more urgent, as the Kremlin has begun setting the stage for a renewed Russian offensive in the Spring.
“These planes would not only give the Ukrainians new ability to defend against Russian aerial attacks; they would also provide counteroffensive capability to destroy missiles, aircraft, and offensive-drone launch sites that are putting much of Ukraine at risk. Close air support and interdiction from fighters would provide a significant advantage to Ukrainian ground forces.”—Evelyn Farkas and David A. Deptula in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal.
Read the article HERE or below.
Op-Ed: Why Ukraine Needs F-16s
The Wall Street Journal
By Evelyn Farkas and David A. Deptula
February 24, 2023
In Ukraine’s fight against Russian aggression, neither time nor manpower is on its side. Not only does Vladimir Putin plan to launch a new offensive in the spring, he may do so with additional aid from Chinese strongman Xi Jinping. Recent reports indicate that Mr. Xi will soon visit Mr. Putin for a summit—and that, for the first time, military support may be on the table. Such replenishment of Russia’s depleted weapons inventory could extend the current deadlock into a more dangerous and indeterminable conflict.
Yet the West has something in its arsenal that could fundamentally change the war: combat air power. Several Western nations have recently supplied Kyiv with modern tanks, including the U.S.’s M1 Abrams and Germany’s Leopard, which is a positive development and a diplomatic victory for Ukraine. But tanks have limitations. The gun on a modern tank has a maximum reach of about three miles, and the vehicle’s top speed is just above 40 miles an hour. Tanks can’t operate long without tremendous logistical support, both in fuel and maintenance, and won’t do much to change the picture on the ground as the war devolves into an ugly World War I-type stalemate.
But air power is different. Fighter aircraft typically fly at around 600 miles an hour and can defend multiple parts of the country on a single mission. Both manned and unmanned aircraft can carry thousands of pounds of ordnance and employ powerful sensors that report detailed battlefield information in real time. These planes would not only give the Ukrainians new ability to defend against Russian aerial attacks; they would also provide counteroffensive capability to destroy missiles, aircraft, and offensive-drone launch sites that are putting much of Ukraine at risk. Close air support and interdiction from fighters would provide a significant advantage to Ukrainian ground forces.
Ukraine has made the most of its Soviet-era combat aircraft—including Mig-29s, SU-25s and SU-27s—but its air force is taking losses and wearing out over time. The military doesn’t have enough spare parts to sustain such heavy use, and it will need something else “to close our skies,” as President Volodymyr Zelensky told Congress last year. Achieving that goal would mean outfitting the Ukrainian air force with Western combat aircraft. There are several types of fighter aircraft available in sufficient quantities in Europe today: the F-16, F/A-18, Gripen, Typhoon, Tornado and Rafale. The F-16 is the most versatile fighter in NATO countries and is readily available.
One misplaced concern is that modern fighters won’t matter in Ukraine because they’ll be too vulnerable to Russian surface-to-air missiles. But a primary function of the F-16 is destroying such weapons. The U.S. has already given Ukraine antiradiation missiles that help suppress enemy air defenses. The F-16 would be more than a match for Russian air defenses and allow enterprising pilots to view Russian surface-to-air missiles as lucrative targets.
Setting up the fighter operation will take time and include such tasks as training personnel and building logistics supply chains. But experienced Ukrainian fighter pilots can be trained in three to six months and contractors could be hired to provide maintenance and logistics support relatively quickly to get an initial F-16 squadron ready for combat by year’s end.
Drones can also offer additional situational awareness and faster striking power. While the Turkish TB-2 drone has been successful, imagine if Ukraine had access to such unmanned aircraft as MQ-1 Grey Eagles, Predators or MQ-9 Reapers, which offer four times the payload, 12 times the range and can stay aloft for more than a day at a time. There are dozens of retired MQ-9s in storage crates sitting in the U.S. desert today with no intended use.
The current Western formula is to approve weapons for Ukraine slowly and cautiously, wait to see whether they are effective, and repeat. But that gives Russia the advantage of time and increases the chances that Mr. Putin’s war aims will prevail. It is a mistake to wait until the Ukrainians are on the ropes to start training them on Western aircraft.
The Biden administration appears to be concerned about what will happen if the U.S. provides air power to Ukraine. The real worry ought to be what will happen if we don’t.
Mr. Deptula, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant general, is dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies and a senior scholar at the Air Force Academy. Ms. Farkas, executive director of the McCain Institute, served as deputy assistant defense secretary for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, 2012-15.