After long ruling out providing F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine to defend against Russia, the US military now says the planes “clearly have a role” in the war.
The US joined the F-16 coalition, which includes the UK, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, at the recent G7 meeting in Hiroshima, Japan. The coalition aims to provide Ukrainians with training on the planes, but it is not yet clear who will provide the equipment. Denmark and the Netherlands will lead the exercise, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday.
On Thursday, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley told a news conference that Ukraine “deserves a capable air force” but that it would take considerable time to develop an air force of the size, scope and scale needed.
“No magic weapons,” Milly said.
He noted that just 10 F-16s would cost about $2 billion, half for the cost of the fighters and half for maintenance. Russia primarily flies MiG and Sukhoi aircraft, several models of which are more advanced than the many aircraft currently flown by Ukraine.
“If you’re going to challenge Russia in the air, you’re going to need fourth- and fifth-generation fighters,” Milli said, noting that Russia has about 1,000 fourth- and fifth-generation fighters.
Fourth-generation fighters are typically aircraft produced in the 1980s that are less advanced than fifth-generation fighters developed over the past two decades, which use stealth capability and better situational awareness.
Canada’s CF-18 fighter jets, for example, are fourth-generation, as are the F-16s, while the F-22s flown by the US Navy and the F-35s that Canada is about to acquire are fifth-generation.
The Russian MiG-35 is sometimes described as being between the fourth and fifth generation fighters and the UK Ministry of Defence. He said he believed Russia had deployed as well its fifth-generation fighter, the Su-57, against Ukraine.
Mili said that so far Ukraine has successfully controlled its airspace from the ground, which has been the quickest, fastest and cheapest way to do so.
Senior Russian diplomats said Monday that moving F-16s to Ukraine would raise questions about NATO’s role in the conflict, and said Ukraine lacked the infrastructure or the necessary numbers of pilots or maintenance personnel to operate the planes.
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NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg countered that charge on Tuesday, however, saying the training of Ukrainian pilots would not make NATO a party to the conflict and noting that the alliance had ruled out a “no-fly” zone in Ukraine to avoid direct conflict with Russia. .
In February, US President Joe Biden told ABC’s David Muir in an interview that Ukraine “doesn’t need F-16s right now” and that “I rule it out now.”
As Ukraine’s allies discuss F-16 support, Canada announced Thursday it will donate 43 AIM-9 air-to-air missiles to Ukraine and send an additional five CAF medical trainers to Poland to train Ukrainian forces as part of Operation Connect.
Milli also responded Thursday to reports that anti-Putin Russians used American equipment to attack Russia’s southwestern Belgorod region.
Milley would not confirm whether American equipment was used, but said the US deal with Ukraine was that its equipment could not be used to attack Russia “within a geographic area.”
“This is a Ukrainian war,” he said. “It is not a war between the USA and Russia. It is not a war between NATO and Russia.
“It is not a direct conflict between the USA and Russia.”
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