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Ukraine’s F-16 Supply Gains Unstoppable Momentum: A Game-Changer in the Making

With Ukrainian forces preparing for a counteroffensive against Russian positions in eastern and southern Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky is traveling to European capitals this week to garner any additional assistance his troops can receive in their fight against Russia. The United States, United Kingdom, and European Union have been sending tanks, drones, artillery, missile systems, and radars to support Ukraine’s defenders. However, one crucial item on Ukraine’s wishlist, fighter jets, still remains unfulfilled, prompting President Zelensky to advocate for their delivery in discussions with European leaders.

President Zelensky’s message is gaining traction. On Monday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak acknowledged the challenges in supplying Western jets to Ukraine but affirmed that London would play a crucial role in supporting Ukraine’s efforts to acquire these aircraft. French President Emmanuel Macron also stated on the same day that Paris had opened the doors to pilot training. This step is significant as it would enable Ukrainian personnel to swiftly deploy and maintain Western jets like the F-16 if they receive approval for delivery.

Ukraine’s Air Force, fueled by the legend of the “Ghost of Kyiv,” a renowned fighter ace reputed for downing numerous Russian jets, defied expectations of defeat in the early days of the war. Prior to the conflict, it was presumed that the superior Russian Air Force would swiftly eliminate Ukraine’s air fleet in a hypothetical scenario. However, the Ukrainian Air Force remains operational, and the Ministry of Defense recently announced that a pilot had completed his 300th combat mission.

Nevertheless, the Air Force’s operations are hampered by advanced Russian aircraft equipped with updated avionics and long-range missiles. Ukrainian pilots have voiced their concerns to the media, emphasizing the need for Western jets to address the power imbalance in the skies. An Su-25 pilot, in an interview with BBC News, highlighted that F-16 pilots would be able to detect incoming threats independently, eliminating the reliance on ground-based radar operators for warnings.

While Kyiv’s Western partners have provided MiG-29s, which Ukraine’s military can either operate or use for spare parts, the delivery of Western-made combat jets has been a point of contention. The United States, in particular, has opposed transferring such aircraft. While not ruling out the possibility entirely, the U.S. does not currently view it as an urgent need. In February, President Joe Biden stated in an interview with ABC News that there was no current military rationale to provide F-16s.

The stance on fighter jets may change over time, as Western capitals have become increasingly willing to supply advanced weaponry to Ukraine. Initially, there were concerns about escalating tensions with Russia, which hindered Western willingness to provide armaments to Kyiv. However, as it became evident that Moscow intended to escalate the conflict regardless, there has been a growing determination to support Ukraine more resolutely. In addition to pressure from Kyiv and European allies, the Biden administration has also faced calls from domestic lawmakers. In March, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, urging a closer examination of providing F-16 aircraft to Ukraine.

Examining the hardware procurement cycle, the crisis between Russia and the West over Ukraine coincided with the late stage of Ukraine’s military inventories, necessitating their renewal. Russia had recently completed a massive rearmament program throughout the 2010s, while Ukraine’s armed forces were facing obsolescence, requiring inventory replacement or retirement. The Ukrainian Air Force, comprising Soviet-era platforms, was particularly affected.

On the eve of Russia’s invasion, Ukrainian pilots were still operating airframes inherited or acquired during the country’s independence, albeit repaired or upgraded over the years. In contrast, Russia had modernized a significant portion of its aircraft inventory as it launched the “

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