This comes at a time when Russian troops claimed to have taken another town near the coveted city of Bakhmut.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba said his government expects the delivery of German-designed Leopard 2, British Challenger 2 and American Abrams armored vehicles.
With that done, kyiv is now pushing for the fighter planes it needs, it argues, to protect those tanks from the sky. His calculations point to at least 200 Western planes to replace the current, Soviet-made and largely obsolete ones, Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ignat said.
“Right now, the F-16 is the most likely candidate to replace the old Soviet aircraft,” the official emphasized.
However, US President Joe Biden categorically rejected that possibility.
“We are going to talk” with Volodimir Zelenski about the delivery of the armored vehicles, Biden told reporters at the White House, after having answered with a resounding “no” when asked if he was willing to send F-16 fighter jets. .
The F-16 fighters, made by Lockheed Martin, are capable of long-range strikes, a move some fear will escalate tensions with Moscow, especially as Ukraine also begins to demand long-range missiles from its partners.
All in all, analysts believe that Biden’s position could change, given what has happened in recent months with the tanks.
The allies were initially reluctant to supply Ukraine with arms, fearing an escalation. But Washington ended up promising kyiv its Patriot air defense system and more recently heavy tanks, as did several European countries.
Meanwhile, Poland, one of the European countries that pushes with greater emphasis the delivery of all the weapons that Ukraine demands, also seemed to step on the brake.
“At the moment there are no official talks about the transfer of F-16s” from Poland to Ukraine, Wojciech Skurkiewicz stated. “The subject does not exist,” he insisted.
The United States, where these devices are produced, should give permission for any nation to transfer such equipment to a third country.
Like the United States, Germany rules out the delivery of planes for the moment. However, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, assured for his part that “nothing is ruled out” about this type of transfers, but that the Ukrainians did not make that request to his government for the moment.
At the other extreme, others do say they are willing to deliver the planes, such as Slovakia, which has Soviet MIG-29s, and the Netherlands, which has begun to replace its fleet of F-16s with F-35s.
Like the German Leopard heavy tank, “the F-16 is one of the most produced fighters in the world, so there are a lot of them, and many European countries have them,” says Olivier Fourt, a journalist specializing in military aeronautics.
“It is an excellent fighter, very versatile. In theory it includes all US and NATO air-to-air and air-to-air weapons, ”he assures, although he warns that“ in the United States the re-export regulations are very strict ”.
According to experts, the Western fighters would allow attacking Russian troops and discourage the Russians from bombing urban centers and energy infrastructure.
But by themselves they would not be a miraculous solution to the conflict. “Western fighters would certainly increase the survivability and air-to-air performance of the Ukrainian forces against the Russians. However, they would still be exposed to Russian air defenses, which would limit their ground attack options,” says Justin Bronk, a military expert at the British research center RUSI.
Finally, there is the question of the pilots, explains retired French General Jean-Paul Palomeros, who was part of NATO’s so-called Allied Transformation Command.
“It would be necessary to find Ukrainian pilots to train. But, how many of them are operational today?” asks the former high official.
In one year the Ukrainian army has lost about fifty Soviet fighters.
“It takes at least three months to train an already qualified pilot in a modern fighter plane. An air force is not built overnight,” the general said.