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Explained: Why NATO allies are unlikely to send more advanced aircraft to Ukraine

London (CNN) In one of the most significant escalations of the army support for Ukraine of a NATO member since the Russian invasion, Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday he became the first leader of the security alliance in promise fighter jets to kyiv.

Doubt announced that four MiG-29 fighters will be delivered to Ukraine in the next few days; the rest, she said, is being repaired and will probably be delivered successively. Four may seem like a modest number, but it is a monumental step from a year ago, when a NATO member sending such sophisticated lethal support to Ukraine was politically unthinkable.

Not surprisingly, this step was taken by Poland, a country with a pronounced anxiety about Russian expansionism sparked by deep historical experience of Russian aggression.

Will it make a difference? On a political level, it certainly could. By normalizing such support, a ripple effect could begin in which more European countries provide fighter jets to Ukraine.

Less than a day after Poland’s pledge, Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger announced that his government would send a fleet of 13 MiG fighter jets to support Ukraine’s defense. It is plausible that more European countries will follow suit and release their Soviet-designed MiGs as they modernize their own air forces.

This is exactly what Poland is doing. Last year, the country signed a historically large $14.5 billion defense deal with South Korea that included the purchase of 48 FA-50 light jets, and also added US F-35 Lighting II stealth fighters to its fleet. Another practical advantage is that because many European countries have MIG-29s, their parts are more readily available for repair and maintenance of Ukrainian aircraft.

On the question of a military advantage, the Kremlin has been predictably dismissive, claiming that the gift of more Soviet-era MiGs to Ukraine will not alter the course of the conflict. Which could be why it’s the F-16s, and not the MiGs, that are actually at the top of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s wish list.

For obvious reasons, the precise composition of Ukraine’s air force, probably about a tenth the size of Russia’s, remains shrouded in secrecy. Ukraine inherited dozens of Soviet-made MiG-29 jets after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, some five years after they entered service. But his fleet took a hit after Russia illegally annexed Crimea.

MiG-29s are analog aircraft using older flight technology. Zelensky’s sought after F-16s are digital. MiGs can be used for short combat missions, can deploy weaponry and shoot down Russian aircraft with good close range maneuverability. But F-16s can fly longer, are more versatile, have integrated weapon systems, and have far better long-range and radar capabilities, thus providing improved early warning.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has requested F-16 fighter jets.

Defense analyst Alex Walmsley, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London, uses the analogy of comparing a “laptop from the 1990s to the latest MacBook. Or a Ford Escort and a Porsche. Basically, they do the same things: fly and launch missiles, but the MIGs aren’t as responsive and powerful.”

The US has so far resisted calls to provide F-16s to Ukraine on the grounds of avoiding escalation with Russia, as well as impracticality. The desire to avoid a catastrophic spillover of the conflict was present this week after the Shooting down a $32 million Reaper drone over the Black Sea by a Russian jet, the first time Russian and American planes have come into direct contact since the war began. He potentially arson incident it was used by Russia as proof of direct US involvement in the conflict.

Still, the shift from resistance to delivery has happened before; The United States decided to supply Ukraine with M1 Abrams tanks after Germany reversed its own policy on Leopard II tanks.

But the impracticality argument is not a mere political fig leaf. The Ukrainian Air Force already operates MiG jets, so they will be able to use them as soon as they arrive, whereas it would take months to train a MiG-29 pilot to a high level of comfort and efficiency in an F-16. Not to mention that Ukrainian pilots are in short supply.

Retired US Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling notes that while the Ukrainians have been very adaptable by bringing in new equipment like easy-to-use Himars and Javelins, F-16s are “a whole different ballgame.” They have different engine parts, layout, and fire control systems for firing and dropping bombs. “A lot of people want things to happen right now in Ukraine,” Hertling says, “but without years of peacetime training and establishing sustainment and repair, you just won’t get the results you think you’ll get.”

Early promises of jets will improve Ukraine’s air defense, but will in no way decisively alter or provide Ukraine an advantage in the conflict. Former RAF F-16 fighter pilot William Gilpin told CNN: “There’s a saying: if you’re a generation behind, there’s no point in showing up. Right now, the Ukrainian Air Force is a generation behind the Russians. move them a generation ahead.”

This is the dilemma. The impracticality of supplying Ukraine with F-16s, which require a huge training load in the midst of an active conflict, is clear. But without them, gaining air superiority is further out of reach.

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