From tanks for Ukraine to F-16s in... how long?

Toby Talbot

When Volodymyr Zelensky began demanding tanks to use against the Russians, some analysts (including me) asked how long it would be until he renewed his demands for fighter jets and eventually tactical nukes. Now we know the answer to that question and it didn’t take more than a few days. We haven’t reached the stage of giving him nuclear weapons yet, but Politico is now describing the “fast track” in Washington as we move toward sending Ukraine F-16 fighter jets and long-range missiles. And the calls are coming from inside the Pentagon. Of course, on top of the logistical challenges involved in putting Ukrainian pilots in some of our Vipers, such a move could easily turn into a tremendous waste of time, money, and lives.

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Kyiv has renewed its request for modern fighters in recent days after the U.S. and Germany approved transferring tanks.

A contingent of military officials is quietly pushing the Pentagon to approve sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine to help the country defend itself from Russian missile and drone attacks, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

Ukraine has kept American-made F-16s on its weapons wish list since the Russian invasion last year. But Washington and Kyiv have viewed artillery, armor and ground-based air defense systems as more urgent needs as Ukraine seeks to protect civilian infrastructure and claw back ground occupied by Russian forces.

The Associated Press has more on this story, suggesting that there are factions in the White House and the Pentagon that are urging a more cautious approach. They note that Russia is already complaining about “direct involvement” in the war by the United States and the rest of NATO. Having some of our fighters show up on Ukraine’s runways could push them even closer to the edge.

Military analysts have already evaluated this potential development because Zelensky has been asking for fighter jets since the beginning of the war. The consensus is generally negative. First of all, it would take a solid six months to train Ukrainian pilots to the point where they could handle a Viper in combat. Also, just having some of the F-16s would not be enough.

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One expert quickly pointed out that the Vipers would quickly become “cannon fodder” for the Russians without AWACS (airborne early warning) support, such as is provided by the E-3 Sentry. So we would need to either give Ukraine a couple of E-3s or operate them ourselves. The Sentry is one of our most complicated and classified systems, so handing them out to Zelensky should be completely out of the question. And the Ukrainians don’t have anyone who would have the first clue on how to use the E-3s if we did.

But if American pilots and technicians are flying the E-3s around in Ukrainian airspace and directing the actions of the F-16 pilots, that would be a blatant case of the United States directly participating in military action against the Russians. At that point, we’re once again talking about the start of world war 3 and just waiting for the nukes to begin taking flight.

As far as long-range missiles go, Ukraine would then be able to strike targets deep inside Russia. Would Zelensky be able to resist the temptation? The entire situation in Ukraine continues to spiral out of control. We are escalating the war at a furious pace and nobody in Washington from either party seems to care. It’s long past time to hit the pause button and ask ourselves who is really benefitting from all of this. (Aside from the military-industrial complex, of course, where contractors are raking in billions of dollars from this fiasco.) If someone inside the White House or the Pentagon actually believes that the American people would somehow benefit from going to war against Russia, they should have the courage to stand up in front of the cameras and say so. If not, then we need to slow this train down by a great deal before we end up riding it off of a cliff.

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Salena Zito 12:00 AM | February 27, 2024
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