Ukraine’s Pilots Say They Need Modern Fighters to Gain Air Superiority Over russians

Soviet Aircraft Armed with Western Weapons is Only a Temporary Solution
General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon / Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon / Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Ukrainian MiG-29 pilots once again emphasize the need for Western aircraft to fight with the prevailing russian aviation

The interview with pilots from the Ukrainian Air Force was published by BBC News. It is once again called on allies to provide Ukraine with modern Western fighter jets so that Ukrainian pilots would have more opportunities to counter both russian planes and missiles.

The Ukrainian Air Force requires modern aircraft for multiple reasons. One of the key problems with Soviet-era fighter jets is the risk that Ukraine will eventually be left without serviceable aircraft and missiles to go with them if it does not receive modern ones from its allies. This was emphasized by the Commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, Lieutenant General Mykola Oleksyuk, in early April.

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Defense Express, Ukraine Needs Modern Fighters for Air Superiority, Soviet Aircraft with Western Weapons Only a Temporary Solution
Fighters of the U.S. Air Force / Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

As noted by a MiG-29 pilot with the call sign Jus, the main enemy of Ukrainian aircraft is the russian Su-35 fighter. Another pilot with the call sign Silk recalls a case when a Su-35 launched a missile at his plane, and the only way to survive was to abort the mission he was performing on his fighter jet.

Furthermore, Ukrainian pilots are often forced to fly at extremely low altitudes, which is not only extremely difficult but also quite dangerous, according to Silk, particularly "because of the low height, you don't have the time or the space for a safe ejection".

The situation is such that russian planes have both quantitative and technological advantages, as well as better weaponry. Although Ukrainian MiG-29s are supposed to protect the same Ukrainian Su-25s from russian missiles during missions, in practice they can do little. This is illustrated by the case of one of the MiG-29UBs, which is used without a radar system.

Consequently, fighter jets like the one flown by Silk, which accompanies Ukrainian ground attack aircraft during their combat missions at the front line, have a low ability to provide cover from russian air-to-air missiles.

Ukrainian Su-25 with Zuni missiles

The F-16s possess superior radar systems that can identify incoming missiles aimed at them. At present, the ground radar monitoring team has to rely on verbal communication to warn pilots of any potential threats in the air.

Chief of the Aviation Development Department of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Colonel Volodymyr Logachov, emphasizes the need to start training Ukrainian pilots on Western fighter jets as soon as possible. The urgency of this is since Ukraine, according to him, Ukraine "can afford to send only a certain number of people for a limited period o at any given time" to avoid "reducing military capabilities here."

This is indeed a significant argument in favor of Ukrainian pilots being sent for training, despite claims in the US that it makes no sense to start training on F-16s in advance.

Overall, concerning the supply of Western fighter jets to Ukraine, allies have not yet made a clear joint decision - some refuse to transfer them, arguing that they do not have extra aircraft or can transfer them only if a replacement appears (which often refers to the 2028-2030s), while others claim they are willing to discuss the transfer of aircraft, but only if the US is the first to do so.

Defense Express, Ukraine Needs Modern Fighters for Air Superiority, Soviet Aircraft with Western Weapons Only a Temporary Solution
Launch of AGM-88 HARM from MiG-29 / Photo credit: Ukrainian Air Force

In the latest news, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that his government is considering the possibility of transferring F-16 aircraft to Ukraine jointly with European and US allies but again emphasizes that, as with tanks, this must be a collective decision.

Today, allies are strengthening Ukrainian aviation in two ways. The first is the transfer of Soviet aircraft into the reserves of the Allies, but there are nuances here as well. For example, out of 13 Slovakian MiG-29AS aircraft, nine had to be dismantled for transfer, which speaks to their actual condition.

Defense Express, Ukraine Needs Modern Fighters for Air Superiority, Soviet Aircraft with Western Weapons Only a Temporary Solution
MiG-29 AS / Photo credit: Vzdušné sily OS SR

The second is the integration of Western weapons into Soviet aircraft. But this solution should not be the main one, but rather an intermediate one that will help strengthen the capabilities of Ukrainian aviation and hold out until the transfer of Western machines. The decision to strengthen Soviet MiG-29 and Su-25 with Western weapons such as HARM (high-speed anti-radiation missile) , JDAM (joint direct attack munition), or even AMRAAM (advanced medium-range air-to-air missile) is temporary and, above all, it is essential to consider the available resources and the number of aircraft involved in a full-scale war, recognizing that they won't be flying forever.

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