WASHINGTON -- Ukraine needs warplanes. It has plenty of allies. It is more difficult to get fighter planes to Ukraine than it may seem.
The Defense Department stated that the Biden administration turned down a proposal by Poland to make its MiG fighters, made in Russia, available to a U.S. military base in Germany. This would have allowed for a handover to Ukraine.
Legal, logistical, and political difficulties are the root causes of these problems. NATO's 30 member countries, which includes the U.S., Germany and other leaders, wants to help Ukraine but has resisted any actions that could lead it into Moscow's war with its neighbor.
Officials have so far deemed Ukraine's requests for additional fighter jets and requests to impose an no fly zone as actions that could lead to direct conflict with Russia.
Why did Ukraine choose warplanes from Poland?
U.S. and Western European planes are not possible because Ukrainian pilots don’t know how they fly.
Max Bergmann, a senior fellow with the liberal Center for American Progress, said that their military was essentially built on the Soviet-Russian army, and they use Soviet-Russian equipment. He used to be a State Department official, but he oversaw international security assistance. It's almost like giving someone an iPhone that has had an Android for years. You don't want your flight manual to be read while you're fighting.
This is why former East bloc countries, such as Latvia and Poland, offered to send their MiG planes to Ukraine in return for Washington's promise to replace them with more modern U.S.-made aircraft in the future.
Why the U.S. balked
The Pentagon stated that the trade proposal was not "tenable" in practice. Washington also promised to sell F-16 fighters to Taiwan as part of its next round of counter-China sales.
All countries sell or give away military equipment that is used to defense their country. The State Department oversees $55billion in annual sales. It's usually the responsibility of the buyer to pick it up.
Officials in the West worry that Ukrainian pilots might fly to NATO countries to get fighter jets to take back to Ukraine, where they may have to engage Russian fighters. Moscow could view this country as a combatant, and thus fair game.
The core principle of NATO, as stated in Article 5, its charter, states that any attack on any member nation is an attack against all. This means that all 30 members would have to fight for the cause.
According to Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby, the report said that the intelligence community had deemed the transfer of MiG-29s from Ukraine as an escalatory act. This could lead to Russian reaction that could increase the chances of a military escalation against NATO.
Many have suggested that the fighter jets could be shipped overland, or even disassembled and assembled inside Ukraine. Kirby stated that U.S. intelligence and military officials have determined that additional jets "are not likely to significantly alter the effectiveness of Ukraine's air force relative to Russian capabilities."
Experts from outside the government noted that Ukraine hasn’t deployed many MiGs it owns. This makes them wonder if the country has the infrastructure to support these aircraft.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the losses sustained by Ukraine's air force during the Russian invasion were made worse by " years" of neglect and underfunding. "Most of Ukraine’s planes and air defense system are more than 30 years old."
It seems that the country's greatest air power success has been largely due to Turkish-made drones and not manned fighter aircrafts.
Russia's air force has been affected by its apparent logistical limitations. However, it still has more modern aircraft that MiG-29s which were first introduced to the air in late 1970s.
Bergmann stated that the bigger issue is that it is likely to be a waste of our time. "Would it be better to put Ukrainians in 40- and 30-year-old fighter planes that are essentially flying coffins?"