Get additional MiG-29s to Ukraine now

Alik Keplicz / Associated Press

Ukraine’s Air Force has been effective in denying Russia air superiority in the skis over Ukraine. It is likely because of a combination of lack of planning, preparation and training on the part of the Russian Aerospace Force — and the tenacity, dedication and effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force. It is critical to the survival of Ukraine to deny Russia air superiority over Ukraine because control of the air is a prerequisite for both freedom to attack and freedom from attack.

Flying fighter aircraft in combat and stressing them to max performance, as Ukraine’s air force is doing today, wears down these special machines. Parts tend to break, and the jets require maintenance. Of course, the Ukrainian Air Force is also under direct attack by Russia. The MiG-29 is the primary air defense aircraft in Ukraine’s air force inventory. Several of these Ukrainian fighters have been disabled or destroyed, and without resupply Ukraine is likely to run out of serviceable fighter aircraft before they run out of pilots to fly them. So, the Ukrainians need additional MiG-29s for the sustainment of their air force to continue their air defense against Russian aggression. Simply put, this is why the transfer of Mig-29s to Ukraine is so vital.

{mosads}Poland has offered to provide Mig-29s similar to those flown by Ukraine; acquiring those aircraft would instantly expand Ukraine’s air force, add vital capacity, and sustain their ability to defend themselves from Russian air attacks.

By contrast, transferring fighter aircraft built in the U.S., France or Britain would require long lead times to familiarize Ukraine Air Force personnel both in flying and maintaining those jets. Ukraine doesn’t have the luxury to think in years when its future could be determined in weeks. It is imperative that Ukraine receive aircraft that they can rapidly incorporate seamlessly into their air force.

The claim by some U.S. and NATO officials that sending Polish Mig-29s to Ukraine will not likely change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force against the Russians is simply not accurate. It is an unfortunate example of just how effective the Russians have been in deterring U.S. and NATO actions that would contribute to Ukraine’s defense. Russia wants the West to believe that overt acts to aid Ukraine will prompt a Russian response — this is literally Russia’s deterrence strategy to keep Western assistance from Ukraine. Of course, Russian President Vladimir Putin will object to any Western assistance to Ukraine. If we transfer a pocketknife to Ukraine, Putin is going to object. But that doesn’t mean the West should not provide that assistance.

NATO is giving Ukraine rifles and missiles. Both are designed and intended to defend Ukraine against Russian aggression and to destroy Russian military assets. If providing aircraft will aid in that defense, NATO has an obligation to provide those aircraft. The humanitarian disaster unfolding throughout central Europe demands action.

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Today, Ukraine’s air force has about 56 operational fighter aircraft. Adding 28 Mig-29s from Poland represents a 50 percent increase in capacity. That is not an insignificant supplement and would provide Ukraine a means to sustain their air force’s efforts to defend their people who are being attacked from the sky in their homes, schools, churches and hospitals.

However, events of the past week evidenced U.S. leadership frozen in its tracks, fearing Putin’s unpredictable wrath. Encouraging Poland to transfer those aircraft is hardly unprecedented and is fully in line with historical norms. While the 28 Polish Mig-29s already should have been moved quietly and behind the scenes, an option is still available that parallels how the U.S. circumnavigated the Neutrality Act in its run-up to World War II in 1940. Because of that act, the U.S. declined to directly deliver armaments to Britain. As a result, Winston Churchill called President Roosevelt and pleaded for the delivery of aircraft. The U.S. acted but informed Britain that it was not possible to fly the aircraft directly to Canada. So, the U.S. moved the aircraft to the U.S.-Canadian border and Britain took delivery of them by pulling them into Canada by horses and trucks. Similarly, the Poles could move their MiG-29s by transporting them to roads next to Ukraine, and Ukrainians could then tow them over the border.

{mossecondads}Putin, meanwhile, is demonstrating the Russian way of war with his intentional attacks on civilians and civilian institutions. His scorched-earth campaign is fundamentally immoral and in violation of the international laws of armed conflict. He must be stopped. Sanctions did not deter Putin, and even with their unified implementation they will not compel him to negotiate. What does have potential for affecting Putin’s behavior is how well the Ukrainian air and ground forces are fighting. Putin respects only power. Adequately supplying arms to the Ukrainian military to enable them to defend their country is a prudent and necessary step prior to considering or being thrust into NATO direct engagement with Russia, since Putin most likely will not stop his aggression in Ukraine.

America and NATO have stood toe-to-toe against brutal Russian leaders before — throughout the Berlin Airlift and the Cuban Missile Crisis, America did not bend to Russian will. Presidents Truman and Kennedy were not cowed by the Russian bullies opposing them; they took action to negate their aggression. Their examples should be emulated today.

Deferring to Putin’s perception management and failing to stand up to his saber-rattling threats will have grave consequences. The U.S. and NATO must demonstrate resolve and support Poland’s offer to transfer MiG-29s now. The West must not wither in the face of Russian aggression and threats.

David A. Deptula is a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant general who planned the air campaigns over Iraq in 1991 and Afghanistan in 2001. He has twice been a joint task force commander. He is dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies and a senior scholar at the Air Force Academy’s Center for Character and Leadership Development.

Tags MiG-29 fighter jets NATO Russian invasion of Ukraine Ukrainian crisis Vladimir Putin

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