Ukraine renews requests for F-16s and other jet fighters from allies

"It's time we gave our Ukrainian top guns the tools to finish the job. Ukraine needs F-16s now," said the Ukrainian Defense Ministry.

 An F-16 fighter jet. (photo credit: LOCKHEED MARTIN)
An F-16 fighter jet.
(photo credit: LOCKHEED MARTIN)

The Ukrainian military renewed its requests to allies for the donation of advanced jet fighters, with a special focus on the American-made General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, in a series of social media posts Saturday on Ukraine's Aviation Day. 

"For the last 184 days, the pilots of the Ukrainian Air Force have been fighting against a numerically and technologically superior enemy," read the text in a video posted by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, which was set to the Kenny Loggins song "Danger Zone" from the American fighter pilot film Top Gun. "It's time we gave our Ukrainian top guns the tools to finish the job. Ukraine needs F-16s now."

The post asserted that the fighter aircraft were needed not just for Ukraine's sake, but to defend the "free world" as well.

In another post, Ukraine invoked the words of American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to call for jets beyond just the F-16: The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II, the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Mirage 2000 and Saab JAS 39 Gripen. All of these are advanced multi-role or air superiority fighters, and the F-22 and F-35 are stealth fighters.

"It's time we gave our Ukrainian top guns the tools to finish the job. Ukraine needs F-16s now."

Ukrainian Defense Ministry

The danger zone

Earlier in the Russia-Ukraine War, President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials put out multiple pleas to Western states asking for warplanes to counter the Russian Air Force. However, the arming of Ukraine with Western aircraft has been seen as too provocative for the US. Critics of proposals to transfer warplanes noted the danger of an allied pilot being shot down while transporting the aircraft to Ukraine — which would draw NATO directly into the conflict. 

Zelensky has also called for the establishment of a NATO no-fly zone over Ukraine, which was also rejected for fears of drawing the US and other nuclear powers into the war.

A United Arab Emirates Air Force Mirage 2000 (L), UAE F-16 Desert Falcon (C) and a U.S. F-35A Lightning II (R) fly a partnering flight in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, in the Arabian Gulf, May 29, 2019 (credit: CHRIS DRZAZGOWSKI/U.S. NAVY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)A United Arab Emirates Air Force Mirage 2000 (L), UAE F-16 Desert Falcon (C) and a U.S. F-35A Lightning II (R) fly a partnering flight in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, in the Arabian Gulf, May 29, 2019 (credit: CHRIS DRZAZGOWSKI/U.S. NAVY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Maverick proposals for warplane transfers

A proposal by Poland for the US to supplement its air force with new American planes, and for Warsaw to send its Soviet-made MiG-29s to neighboring Ukraine was vetoed by the US. On Saturday, Slovakia signed a deal with the Czech Republic and Poland which would see its fellow NATO states defend the country's skies, allowing Slovakia's planes to be sent to Ukraine, Reuters reported. 

According to Reuters, Slovakia has said it is ready to send the 11 MiG-29s to Ukraine, but Slovak Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad said that no deal has been yet struck. Bratislava is set to receive a 2024 delivery of fourteen F-16s per a deal signed in 2018. 

Instead of transferring full airframes, the US has facilitated the transfer of aircraft parts to refurbish and return to service damage and aging Ukrainian Soviet aircraft, such as older MiG series fighters. Washington has also examined the possibility of training Ukrainian pilots. 

While in mid-April Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that Ukraine was receiving new warplanes from an unnamed source, he later retracted that statement. However, The Washington Post reported in late July that US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. had suggested that Western allies were still considering the possibility of the transfer of Swedish Gripens, Eurofighters, French Rafale jets or even American jets.

Top guns in Ukraine

Just over six months into the war, Ukraine has been nearing the end of its reserves of Soviet ammunition and equipment, and the US has been both trying to secure more Soviet weaponry and also facilitate a switch to standard NATO armaments.

While Russia has more aircraft and more advanced models than Ukraine, air superiority over the besieged state has thus far evaded President Vladamir Putin's air forces. This is in large part due to the steady supply of Western anti-air systems, such as FIM-92 Stinger surface-to-air missiles.

"Russia hoped to destroy our aircraft in the first hours of the full-scale invasion. And, of course, this enemy had a completely insane goal, like many other such goals," Zelensky said in an Aviation Day speech, praising Ukrainian pilots and air force crew. "The Air Force of Ukraine was preserved, and since the first day of the invasion, it has been honorably performing combat missions."

Roman Meitav and Reuters contributed to this report.