MUNICH (Reuters) – Ukrainian officials urged U.S. Congressmen to press President Joe Biden’s Administration to send F-16 fighter jetfighters to Kyiv. They claimed that the aircraft would increase Ukraine’s ability hit Russian missile units using U.S.-made Rockets.
On the weekend, the lobbying was carried out on the sidelines of Munich Security Conference. This conference saw talks between Ukrainian officials (including Foreign Minister Dmytrokuleba) and Democrats/Republicans from the Senate/House of Representatives.
Senator Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and combat pilot for the U.S. Navy, stated to Reuters that “they told us that (F-16s] they want enemy air defenses suppressed so they could get [their drones] beyond Russian frontlines.”
Biden, when asked last month if he would give approval to Ukraine’s request for Lockheed Martin-made F-16s, said “no”.
Representatives from both the Senate and House attended together four delegations to Europe’s largest security gathering, calling it the largest attendance of U.S. lawmakers since 1963. It demonstrated bipartisan support in Ukraine.
The conference was primarily about Ukraine and took place just days before the 24th anniversary of Russia’s invasion. After a series of Russian defeats, both sides have been locked in a battle for dominance, mostly in eastern Donbas.
Kelly and three other legislators spoke to Reuters to discuss their discussions with Ukrainian officials. They said that they believe Congress is preparing to give Ukraine F-16s, one the most versatile multi-role fighters in the world.
The Ukrainian air force has modified American-made AGM-88HARM air-to-surface missiles to fire from Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighter jets. Rockets focus on electronic transmissions from radars belonging to surface-to-air missile unit.
Legislators stated that the Ukrainians believed their pilots would be more effective in targeting Russian S-300 and S-400 missile defense units with the AGM-88, provided they fired the rockets using F-16s’ advanced avionics.
Kelly stated that “They claimed that they needed that plane for the SEAD [suppression of enemy aerial defenses] mission.” “They think they can do better at taking out S-400s,” Kelly said.
According to him, while the F-16 requires at least a year of training, Ukrainian pilots can be trained to do “a limited amount of things…in a matter of months.”
On both sides of Atlantic, support is growing for Ukraine to acquire advanced NATO-standard fighter jets. Britain promises to provide training.
Since the start of war, both sides have been reluctant to make significant use of their airpower.
France, Britain and the United States have reached an agreement to supply Ukraine with jetfighters.
Since the start of “special military operation” by Moscow, Washington has given Ukraine around $30 billion in military assistance.
(Reporting and editing by Jonathan Landay; Editing done by Kirsten Donovan