What is the problem?
Ukraine has a modest batch of Soviet-made jets used actively during the war. The Air Force is far outnumbered by Russian forces and capabilities. However, Ukrainian pilots down the enemy aircraft, despite Russia's claims of having destroyed Ukraine's air power.
As time passes and Russian attacks become more brutal, the Ukrainian air force must be replenished. Russia's anti-aircraft defenses are considered effective enough not to risk its warplanes beyond the front line to minimize losses.
What is the solution?
What is Ukraine's request?
Ukraine has expressed interest in US-made F-16s, currently used in several EU countries.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine wanted to form a new "coalition of the planes" after weeks of debates in Western states about whether to supply battle tanks to Ukraine.
When presenting an air force helmet to UK Speaker of the House Lindsay Hoyle, Zelensky read the inscription: "We have freedom, give us wings to protect it."
As Ukraine plans its counteroffensive in spring, it calls on Western allies to send more military aid, including tanks and jets, for effective operations. Despite the risk, Ukraine hopes that squadrons of fast warplanes could be used to support a breakthrough or blunt Russia's attack.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Washington approves the transfer of F-16s, but is currently "very, very actively" looking at a proposal when Poland would send Soviet-made warplanes to Ukraine and receive American F-16s in exchange.
As Ukraine's counteroffensive is on its peak of anticipation, President Zelensky announced that his country would be ready to carry out the plan with or without an influx of American F-16 fighter jets.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's minister of foreign affairs, commented on the lack of F-16s on Twitter.
"Types of weapons that, we were told, would 'provoke Russia to escalate' if supplied to Ukraine but never did: Artillery, MLRS, Air Defense, Tanks, Long-range missiles. F-16s will not either. Giving Ukraine F-16s will deter Russia rather than 'provoke' it. Time to take this step," he said.
What is the allies' response?
The full-scale war in Ukraine has been ongoing for over a year, and the question whether the country's military should be supplied with Western-built fighter jets has been contentious.
Poland is one of the countries most sympathetic to helping Ukraine acquire F-16s. It is the first NATO member to send MiG-29 warplanes to Ukraine.
Slovakia approved sending a fleet of MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine a day after Poland's announcement.
Britain plans to expand training for Ukrainian fighter jet pilots as part of their investment in Ukraine's army. Other countries have expressed more openness to the idea of supplying jets.
However, some US officials believe a fourth-generation fighter is "going to struggle to survive" in the war. Some analysts also worry about the cost of sending additional equipment to Ukraine amidst escalating tensions with China.
The more weapons sent to Ukraine correlate to a smaller stockpile needed in case kinetic conflict erupts with Beijing.
So far, no states except Poland and Slovakia have agreed on the warplanes initiative. The reasoning lies in the unwillingness to provoke Russia, which could view this step as a significant escalation of their participation in the war. Unlike tanks or armoured vehicles, fighter jets could more easily be used to strike inside Russia.
US President Joe Biden is among the world leaders who have declined to provide jets to Ukraine despite a sustained pressure campaign.
Biden said in late February that he was "ruling out" sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine "for now."
Poland's decision would not affect the US's intention to send American F-16 fighters to Ukraine. President Biden said the state would not send fighter jets and would preferably choose ground vehicles, like 31 Abrams tanks.
Would warplanes make a significant change?
Ukrainian pilots are familiar with the MiG-29 jets. The new fighters would be used primarily in an air defense capacity to shoot down Russian aircraft and cruise missiles. They are fast and maneuverable enough to protect Ukrainian infrastructure and the frontlines.
One of the main issues is the deployment of the jets. Given the warfare on its territory, Europe's officials say it isn't clear if Ukraine could safely house and service the aircraft in the long run.
As for F-16s, the countries must give away their MiG-29s in exchange for American fighters, so Ukraine would need to wait for replacements for some time.
Western fighters with superior weapons would improve Ukraine's ability to destroy fixed Russian targets near the frontlines from a safer distance. Russia's war involves missiles, drones, and air defense systems. These pillars are what Ukraine needs for an effective response to constant attacks. More aircraft will allow Ukraine to use its arms better. Military equipment, like tanks and planes, are more effective when used as part of a larger strategy.
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