Last April 19th, Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby announced that Ukraine had received more fixed-wing fighter aircraft through its allies. However, they did not specify which fighter jets were sent, how many units were donated, and which country gave them to the Ukrainians.
“I mean, they right now have available to them more fixed-wing fighter aircraft than they did two weeks ago. And that’s not by accident; that’s because other nations who have experience with those kinds of aircraft have been able to help them get — get more aircraft up — up and running,” Kirby said.
When pressed further on details regarding the donations, Kirby dodged the questions and plainly just said that they have more operable fighter aircraft than they had two weeks ago.
“I would just say without getting into what other nations are providing that they have received additional platforms and parts to be able to increase their fleet size — their aircraft fleet size, I think I’d leave it at that,” he explained.
“They have received additional aircraft and aircraft parts to help them, you know, get more aircraft in the air. Yes,” Kirby added.
This report comes days after President Biden announced his administration’s $800 million military support package for Ukraine, which reportedly included additional Javelin missiles, Switchblade drones, heavy artillery systems, and Mi-17 helicopters, to name a few.
According to an unnamed defense official, at least 20 fighter jets were sent to Ukraine, including whole helicopters. However, he also did not state who gave these aircraft and what type of fighter jets were sent.
When asked why the sudden shift in sending heavy offensive weapons, Kirby said that the fighting had now changed due to the Russian’s focus on Donbas.
“The war has changed because now the Russians have prioritized the Donbas area, and that’s a whole different level of fighting, a whole different type of fighting,” Kirby said. Training of Ukrainians to use some of these western-made weapons is also underway for the Ukrainian Armed Forces to be able to use them effectively against the Russians. According to a senior defense official, four more flights filled with weapons for Ukraine are headed for an undisclosed location.
Ukraine Says They Did Not Receive Fighter Jets
According to a Facebook post by the Air Force Command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, they claim that they did not receive any new fighter jets from any of their allies. They stated that they only received spare parts and components for the maintenance and restoration of their existing fighter jets.
“Ukraine did not receive new planes from partners!” they said.
“With the assistance of the United States Government, the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine received spare parts and components to restore and repair the fleet of aircraft that are on the Air Force aviation armament, which will allow putting more equipment into service,” they added.
Following the statement from Ukraine, John Kirby then redacted his claim that Ukraine had been supplied with more fighter jets. He backtracked and said that he had made a “mistake.”
“I was mistaken. They have not received the whole aircraft from another nation,” Kirby explained.
“That said, Ukrainians have received through the United States coordination and provision enough spare parts and additional equipment such that they have been able to put in operation more fixed-wing aircraft in their fleet than they had even two to three weeks ago.”
However, this does put United States officials in a sticky situation as they claim different narratives regarding the donation of the planes. This leaves us to question, who is telling the truth?
If Ukraine Did Receive Fighter Jets, Where Did They Come From?
It is rumored that the fighter jets that were possibly donated to Ukraine were MiG-29s, which is not surprising as there were reports that Poland proposed to give their units to Ukraine earlier last month.
Only three NATO countries operate MiG-29s, Poland, Bulgaria, and Slovakia. Previously, the Polish proposed to the United States that they would donate their MiG-29 Fulcrums (around 29 units) if the United States were to replace them with American F-16s.
The proposal involved the Polish giving the MiG-29s to the US (Ukraine was not explicitly named in the proposal), with the aircraft being sent to Ramstein Air Base in Germany. This left the US to deal with the logistics of how to deliver it to Ukraine.
“The authorities of the Republic of Poland, after consultations between the President and the Government, are ready to deploy – immediately and free of charge – all their MIG-29 jets to the Ramstein Air Base and place them at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America,” said the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The US rejected this proposal, saying that it was not pre-consulted with the States and could potentially drag the US (and NATO) directly into the conflict as the MiG-29s would have to depart from a NATO airbase.
The proposal would have been beneficial to Ukraine and Poland as Ukraine desperately needed the aircraft, while Poland had already ordered 32 units of the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter last 2020, worth over $4.6 billion. They were also open to buying more F-16s from the United States if the proposal was accepted.
Slovakia had also expressed its interest in donating its fleet of MiG-29s (rumored to be about 12 units) to Ukraine. The country had been emerging as one of Ukraine’s strongest allies in the region as it had sent its S-300 air defense system to Ukraine to help them “close the skies” and defend against Russian cruise and ballistic missiles. In exchange, the US sent a Patriot missile system to their country.
According to Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger, he was open to talking about providing MiG-29s to Ukraine and said that “This is what we talk about,” when asked.
“After how the Russian Federation has behaved now, Soviet-made equipment is becoming very risky. Therefore your question is in place and comes into consideration,” said Heger.
He also expressed how he wanted to lessen his reliance on Soviet/Russian equipment as it was not “sustainable” given NATO’s diplomatic relations with the Kremlin. It would also not be a problem for Slovakia as they are waiting on their US-made F-16s to arrive in 2024. They bought 14 F-16 Block 70/72 Fighting Falcon jets worth $1.6 billion to replace the MiG-29s in 2018.
Bulgaria, on the other hand, outright stated that it did not have enough serviceable aircraft or parts and that its fleet of MiG-29 fighter jets was not merely enough to secure its skies. The country reported having 15 MiG-29s in active service, with four units as reserves.
“We currently have few flying planes, and they cannot be delivered to another country,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said.
A Possible Scenario
The SOFREP team sat down a few days ago to discuss potential scenarios regarding the donation of MiG-29s to Ukraine.
On the issue of delivery and the US’ fears that delivering aircraft to Ukraine from a NATO-allied base, SOFREP has earlier stated that this could easily be solved by repainting the fighter jets with Ukrainian markings after the NATO-allied countries formally transfer ownership. This would then allow the Ukrainians to send their fighter pilots to pick the fighter jets up without any hitches. This would fall under the US’ ability to posture of “Qualified Neutrality” as stated in the DoD Manual of War.
“[A]fter treaties outlawed war as a matter of national policy, it was argued that neutral States could discriminate in favor of States that were victims of wars of aggression. Thus, before it entered into World War II, the United States adopted a position of “qualified neutrality” in which neutral States had the right to support belligerent States that had been the victim of flagrant and illegal wars of aggression.”
On the issue of electronics and guns, it’s no secret that MiG-29s from different countries may feature certain equipment fitted onto the MiG-29s that would serve their respective country’s purposes (i.e., radios, radars, etc.). In that case, Ukrainians would have to be trained to use the subtle differences in technology, which should not be too hard to do. They could also opt to swap out this equipment for ones they are more familiar with, but that would take precious time from them.
Another possible scenario during our roundtable discussion came about when SOFREP Editor-in-chief Sean Spoonts gave the team a bit of a history lesson. He recalled a time during World War II when US fighter pilots once flew for the Chinese Air Force, but not officially serving under the US but came to China as paid volunteers (sometime around 1941 to 1942).
This would later be known as the First American Volunteer Group (AVG), also known as the Flying Tigers. They were comprised of pilots from the United States Army Air Corps, the US Navy, and the Marine Corps, all commanded by Claire Lee Chennault. Military buffs would remember that they flew in unique Curtis P-40B Warhawks but were painted in Chinese colors. The AVG was officially part of the Republic of China Air Force during that time and had a salary ranging from $250 to $750.
That being said, if Poland, Slovakia, or Bulgaria wanted to help Ukraine with flying their squadrons in Ukrainian skies, they could “give” their MiG-29s and, along with it, have some “volunteers” from “former” fighter pilots (who are now considered civilians since they had already resigned from their posts), and let them fly under the Ukrainian International Legion. This way, NATO would not be directly involved since the fighter pilots are volunteers, and the jets were donated to Ukraine.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter. Join the discussion during our town hall sessions, or comment down your thoughts on our social media pages!