A group of senators is urging the Biden administration to consider supplying Ukraine with fourth-generation fighters to help the country repel Russian forces, which annexed Crimea in 2014 and invaded Ukraine for a second time on Feb. 24.
Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) sent a July 19 letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Army Gen. Mark Milley. The letter asked them to look into providing such fourth-generation fighters and training, as well as to speed shipments of military equipment to Ukraine as appropriated by Congress under the $40.1 billion Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, which President Biden signed into law on May 21.
On July 25, Portman said on the Senate floor that feedback seems to indicate that the Lockheed Martin [LMT] High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) have performed well.
“The Ukrainians are an effective force when they are armed with the right weapons,” said Portman, who co-chairs the 15-member Senate Ukraine Caucus with Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). “Officials have said that with the help of HIMARS, Ukraine has taken out Russian command posts, ammunition depots, air defense sites, radar and communications nodes, and long-range artillery positions. These are all ‘’high value’’ targets, and destroying them has saved Ukrainian lives and saved some of the shelling of Ukrainian cities.”
Last week, U.S. Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown and Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall suggested that the U.S. may evaluate providing older fighters, including A-10 close air support planes, to Ukraine (Defense Daily, July 22).
“There also seems to be some progress in sending Ukraine other tools to help them fight, particularly in the air,” Portman said on July 25. “The U.S. Air Force top general hinted last week that Ukraine may get fourth-generation fighter jets from the United States or from other allies, and he left open the option to train Ukrainians on how to use them. These fourth-generation fighter jets could include U.S. F-16s, the Gripen from Sweden, the Rafale from France, and the Eurofighter from the European Union. Some of Russia’s most devastating strikes, of course, have come from the air, either from aircraft or from missile strikes. Earlier in the war, you remember, there were many who talked about creating a no-fly zone in Ukraine. That never happened.”
While NATO and the U.S. have not seemed to want to risk angering Russian dictator Vladimir Putin by imposing a NATO-led No-Fly Zone over Ukraine, supplying Ukraine with older fighters and training, as needed, would aid the country in establishing its own No-Fly Zone, Portman said.
The senators included the fourth generation fighters in the July 19 letter “because we had heard from Ukrainian fighter pilots who came over here several weeks ago and met with us,” Portman said. “We put together a meeting. It was very powerful to hear their words. But they said they know how to fly these planes. And with regard to the details, they could learn them quickly, and it would make a huge difference. It has made a huge difference with what they have, which are aging Soviet aircraft, MiGs, and not enough of them. But we have got to move quickly if we do this because we have to keep Russia from gaining more ground, and we have to save more lives.”
“Training Ukrainian pilots on modern Western aircraft will take some time, and, as we have seen, even a day delay can mean the difference between life and death so let’s get started,” he said.