The White House and Pentagon are exploring the potential for providing Ukraine with U.S.-built fighter aircraft, according to a National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson, who added any such deal would likely not come together in the near-term.

“DoD is making some preliminary explorations into the feasibility of potentially providing fighter aircraft to the Ukrainians. But it’s not going to be something that they’re going to be able to execute immediately or even in the short-term because integrating and operating any kind of aircraft, especially advanced fighter aircraft with complex sensors and systems, that’s a difficult endeavor,” John Kirby, the NSC’s strategic coordinator for communications, told reporters on Friday.

U.S. Air Force airmen and A-10s from the 75th Fighter Squadron at Moody AFB, Ga., return from supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan Jan. 25, 2019 (Air Force Photo)

Kirby offered insight into potential aircraft support to Ukraine as he announced that President Biden has signed a new $270 million weapons package for Ukraine that includes four more HIMARS rocket launchers and nearly 600 Phoenix Ghost tactical drones.

“Russia continues…to launch heavy strikes across the country, striking malls, apartment buildings, killing innocent Ukrainian civilians. In the face of these atrocities, the president has been clear that we’re going to continue to support the government of Ukraine and its people for as long as it takes. We’ll have more packages of aid to announce in the weeks and months to come,” Kirby told reporters.

The new package includes around $175 million in equipment to be pulled from existing Pentagon stockpiles, the 16th such drawdown of equipment, covering the additional HIMARS, more munitions for the launchers, 36,000 rounds of artillery ammunition and four command post vehicles.

The remaining $95 million will be used to procure up to 580 of the new AEVEX Aerospace-built Phoenix Ghost drones using Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative funds. 

This is the second security assistance package for Ukraine to include Phoenix Ghost drones following an $800 million weapons package from April that included 120 of the new system (Defense Daily, April 21). 

Kirby’s comments on the exploration of a potential move to provide fighter aircraft to Ukraine follows recent remarks from senior Air Force leaders, including Secretary Frank Kendall, that the U.S. may be open to providing older platforms, including A-10 close air support planes. 

“Older U.S. systems are a possibility. As Ukraine, which is pretty busy dealing with a ‘right now’ problem, tries to sort out what its future will be longer term, we’ll be open to discussions with them about what their requirements are and how we might satisfy them,” Kendall said during a discussion at last week’s Aspen Security Forum. 

Kirby reiterated that any such move is “not something that’s going to happen anytime soon,” noting it will require thinking through factors for training, sustainment, maintenance required for the aircraft and figuring out a supply chain for spare parts.

On the additional HIMARS going to Ukraine, Kirby was asked about Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov’s comments this week that his country likely needs around 50 long-range rocket systems to “effectively hold back” Russia and at least 100 such systems “for an effective counter-offensive” (Defense Daily, July 19).

Kirby said the Ukrainians have been using the rocket systems “very effectively,” while adding he “won’t get ahead of packages that haven’t been signed out” regarding the potential for more deliveries of the Lockheed Martin [LMT]-built launchers. 

With the new weapons package announced Friday, the U.S. will have now committed 16 HIMARS to Ukraine, with 12 of the launchers having already been delivered to support Kyiv in its ongoing fight against Russia’s invasion.

During his discussion with the Atlantic Council last Tuesday, Reznikov said he believes Ukraine has proven to its international partners that it can use long-range rocket systems “economically” and “precisely,” adding that HIMARS and MLRS have helped destroy approximately 30 Russian command stations and munitions storages.

“This has significantly slowed the Russian advance and dramatically decreased the [frequency] of their artillery shelling. So it’s working. We are grateful to our partners for HIMARS and the M270 MLRS,” Reznikov said.