HomeWorldRussia-Ukraine War: Live Updates: Biden Vows Ukraine Engagement; Zelensky denies that...

Russia-Ukraine War: Live Updates: Biden Vows Ukraine Engagement; Zelensky denies that Bakhmut fell

Since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago, Kiev officials have been calling on their Western allies to supply the country’s air force advanced warplanes like the F-16. But the United States, which makes the fighter jet, has long been reluctant to provide it or to allow other countries that have F-16s to re-export them to Ukraine.

US officials worried that the planes could be used to attack targets inside Russia, potentially escalating the conflict, saying sending Ukraine other weapons was a higher priority. But President Biden reversed course on Friday, telling his allies that allow Ukrainian pilots to be trained on the F-16 and that the United States would work with other countries to supply the planes to kyiv.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine welcomed what he called “the historic decision of the United States” and said it would “greatly improve our military in the sky.”

Here’s what we know about how the move could affect Ukraine’s air force.

How strong is the Ukrainian air force?

Ukraine inherited a sizable but aging fleet of Soviet-designed fighter jets and helicopters, which is a legacy of its history as part of the former Soviet Union. The Ukrainian air force fleet includes fighter jets such as the MiG-29, bombers, and transport and training planes, Col. Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesman for the force, said in an interview on Saturday.

Western military analysts estimate that Ukraine’s combined fleet, which belongs to the air and ground forces, has been reduced by more than a third since the Russian invasion began. Ukraine has lost at least 60 of its 145 fixed-wing aircraft and 32 of its 139 helicopters, according to US military information that was among classified material leaked on social media platform Discord in recent months. The document was not dated.

The Ukrainian air force rarely discloses numbers about its fleet or other details, including incidents of downed or destroyed aircraft. But officials have acknowledged some losses in the course of the war, as well as difficulties with repairing and replacing damaged planes.

“The newest aircraft is from 1991,” Colonel Ihnat said. “And all of this needs to be checked, repaired, and get parts.”

Obtaining spare parts has become a problem, as Russia is the sole producer of many of those parts. Even before the full-scale invasion, the trade in such items had largely ceased after 2014, when Russian-backed forces seized control of parts of eastern Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula.

Overall, the Ukrainian air force is “technologically outmatched and vastly outnumbered” compared to the Russian air force, according to a report. november report from the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in London.

A fighter jet, its affiliation unclear, near the town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine last year.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

How do Ukrainians use their planes?

When Russian forces blocked Ukrainian air defense systems in the early days of the war, Ukrainian Mikoyan MiG-29 and Sukhoi Su-27 fighters provided air defense in most parts of the country, engaging in air-to-air engagements to thwart Russian forces. Russian bombing. according to the institute report.

The Ukrainian fighter jets inflicted some losses on the Russian planes, but “also suffered serious casualties,” according to the report. The Ukrainians suffered losses in a few friendly fire incidents in the following days as they rushed to introduce new air defense systems.

However, despite having a superior fleet, Russia has not been able to achieve air supremacy in all of Ukraine, thanks to the strong air defenses of the Ukrainians. Those defenses have grown increasingly robust as Western nations contributed some of their most sophisticated weapons.

The Ukrainian air force continues to carry out combat missions, and Ukrainian planes and helicopters are often seen flying near the eastern front line. In recent weeks, Poland and Slovakia have supplied Ukraine with replacement MiG-29s, the first transfers the country has received to boost its depleted fleet. Some cannot be repaired and will be used as spare parts, Colonel Ihnat said.

Still, Ukrainian planes and helicopters are vulnerable to Russian air defense systems and limit their actions so as not to enter Russian-controlled territory. Ukrainian jets and attack helicopters have developed a low-flying tactic, launching unguided rockets from Ukrainian territory and then immediately diving to avoid anti-aircraft fire. Russian planes use similar tactics but have the advantage of superior firepower, allowing them to fire rockets and glide bombs from a greater distance.

“Russian pilots have been cautious during the war,” the RUSI institute report said, “so even a small number of Western fighters could have a large deterrent effect.”

US Air Force F-16 fighter jets during exercises in the Philippines this month.Credit…Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

Why do the Ukrainians want the F-16?

The Ukrainians do not want to use the planes only as a deterrent.

A group of Ukrainian parliament members speaking at the German Marshall Fund in Washington last month said they wanted the F-16 because its radar can locate targets on the ground hundreds of miles away, allowing pilots to remain safe. over Ukrainian-controlled territory while dropping weapons. in the areas occupied by the Russians.

Colonel Ihnat said that in addition to being used for air defense, meaning shooting down incoming Russian missiles and drones, the plane could provide cover for Ukrainian troops trying to advance in any counteroffensive. He noted that it could also be used to ward off Russian aircraft that have started dropping guided bombs from at least 30 miles from the Ukrainian front line; defend the sea route that allows Ukrainian grain to leave the country; and gain air supremacy over the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine.

Neither of those goals can be achieved with Ukraine’s current fleet of Soviet-designed aircraft, he said.

“The fleet is very old,” Colonel Ihnat said. “We have four to five times fewer planes than the Russians, and the range of the planes is four to five times less than the Russians.”

A United States Air Force F-16 refueling during an exercise in Nevada in 2014.Credit…John Locher/Las Vegas Review-Journal, via Associated Press

How would the F-16 increase Ukraine’s capabilities?

The small, single-engine, highly maneuverable fighter-bomber has long been a mainstay of the US Air Force, which used it extensively in combat during the 1991 Gulf War, in the Balkans, and in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

According a description of the Air Force fighter planethe F-16 can fly at twice the speed of sound and is capable of engaging ground targets over 500 miles away while defending with air-to-air missiles.

Western and Ukrainian military analysts have said that Ukraine’s air force needs modern Western fighter jets and missiles to sustainably counter the more firepowerful Russian jets and to hold its own against the Russian juggernaut, which it has used bombers relentlessly to destroy big cities like Mariupol and Bakhmut to capture them.

Although Mr. Biden does not see fighter jets playing a significant role on the Ukrainian side of the conflict for a while, providing them is part of thinking about how to defend Ukraine even after the current phase of the war is over.

Ukrainian officials have long said that Ukraine needs a military equipped and trained to NATO standards with modern aircraft in order to protect its border with Russia in the long term. The decision to provide F-16s to Ukraine suggests that the Biden administration and its allies now believe that too, and that even if there is a negotiated end to the fighting, perhaps a Korea-like armistice, Ukraine will need a long run. ability to deter an angry and sanctioned Russia.

Oleksandr Chubko contributed reporting from Odessa, Ukraine, John Ismay from Washington and David Sanger from Hiroshima, Japan.

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