Air Force Chief Hints Western Fighter Jets Could Go to Ukraine
No decisions yet, but U.S. and partners, looking at many options.
Ukraine may get Western fighter jets and pilot training to aid in its conflict with Russia, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., said, but he doesn’t know precisely what kind of fighter jets they would be.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley—in a separate engagement on Wednesday—emphasized that no decisions have been made.
At the Aspen Security Summit in Aspen, Colorado, on Wednesday, Brown hinted strongly that the idea of getting Western jets into Ukraine is now on the table.
“There's US [jets], there's Gripen out of Sweden, there's the Eurofighter, there's [the French] Rafale. So there's a number of different platforms that could go to Ukraine,” he said in response to a question on if the U.S. might be willing to sell or provide Ukraine with U.S. fighter jets. “I can't tell you exactly what it's gonna be,” he said.
The comments come on the heels of remarks Brown made to Reuters on the possibility of training Ukrainians on Western jets.
“I do believe that we have an aspect and a responsibility, like we do with all our allies and partners, to be prepared to train them in various capabilities and capacities,” Brown said on Wednesday in Aspen.
Brown said he met with officials from partner militaries at an event sponsored by the U.K.’s Royal Air Force last week. The group “had a lot of time to talk about how we train together for our common defense. And it's no different with Ukraine. And so part of this is understanding where Ukraine wants to go and how we meet them where they are, and then look at capabilities not only from the United States but [from] many of our allies and partners [who] have an interest in ensuring that Ukraine can provide for its own security,” he said.
Ukraine currently flies Soviet-era aircraft like MiG-29s. In March, a senior U.S. defense official said that they were flying approximately 56 fighters five to ten hours a day.
The Ukranians have been seeking more fighters to challenge Russia, but talks between the United States, Poland, and Ukraine to send F-16s to Poland and then Polish MiGs to Ukraine fell apart in March. New MiGs aren’t a good long-term choice, as it will be increasingly difficult to get replacement parts in the future, Brown said.
Asked during a Pentagon press conference whether the military will start training Ukrainian pilots to fly Western jets, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the DOD’s focus now is providing troops the weapons systems they need and making sure those systems can be integrated to work together effectively in combat.
“We’re looking at a lot of things, everything, but in terms of predicting where we’re going to be with pilot training in months or years, I won’t venture to do that,” Austin said. “I will say that the Ukrainians, their air force does have a capability as we speak, and they’re using some of that capability on a daily basis.”
Milley said “there’s been no decisions” on whether to train Ukrainian pilots on Western fighter jets, but that officials are considering “a wide variety of options, to include pilot training.”
Austin also said the U.S. military is training Ukrainians to maintain the equipment sent by Western nations, and to increase the ability to predict what sort of maintenance will be needed soon on different systems. Conversations about increasing Ukraine’s ability to service and fix the platforms it received got a lot of attention during Wednesday’s virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, he said.
“Sustainment is a key part of any military operation, and when you’re in combat, it’s really, really important. So it’s not good enough just to provide a piece of equipment,” Austin said Wednesday at the Pentagon. “As we discussed with our partners and allies today on what Ukraine’s needs are going forward, these are the kinds of things we talked about.”
Austin also said the next weapons package for Ukraine, which is expected to be announced this week, will include four HIMARS systems, bringing the total sent to Ukraine to 16.
“The Ukrainians have made excellent use of HIMARS and you can see the impact on the battlefield,” he said.