'We will get F-16s': Ukraine aims for NATO's fighter jets after winning battle for Western tanks
- The dust has barely settled on the decision by the U.S. and Germany to supply battle tanks to Ukraine.
- But talk has already turned to the possible supply of other firepower, namely, fighter jets.
- Having received news on the tanks, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday he had asked NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg for more assistance.
- Kyiv appears confident that, as with Western tanks, it will eventually be given F-16s too.
The dust has barely settled on the decision by the U.S. and Germany to supply battle tanks to Ukraine, but talk has already turned to the possible use of other firepower, namely, fighter jets.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed his gratitude to Kyiv's allies Wednesday regarding the sending of tanks, but said he had asked NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg for more assistance.
"We have to unlock the supply of long-range missiles to Ukraine, it is important for us to expand our cooperation in artillery, we have to achieve the supply of aircraft to Ukraine. And this is a dream. And this is a task," he said in his nightly address.
Ukraine has made no secret of the fact that it would like to receive fighter jets — such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon, a multirole fighter aircraft developed for the U.S. Air Force — from its allies to help it fight Russia.
Kyiv appears confident that, as with Western tanks, it will eventually be given F-16s too.
"We will get F-16s," Yuriy Sak, an advisor to Ukraine's Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, told CNBC Thursday.
Sak said Kyiv expected there to be a similar approach to the tanks issue — essentially allies reluctant to give Ukraine fighter jets before an eventual agreement to do so, but said there was a hope that, in this case, the decision will be faster. "We hope that there will be no same mistakes, because we will get the F-16s," he said.
"At the moment more than 50 countries around the world have this platform. I don't see a reason, or any rational explanation, why Ukraine shouldn't be getting F-16s or other fourth generation jet fighters," he added.
The U.S. has been tight-lipped about giving Ukraine F-16s, or allowing other countries to re-export their own U.S.-made fighter jets to Ukraine (National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said he had no announcement to make on the issue Wednesday). But there has been some receptiveness to the idea in Europe with the Netherlands stating last week that it would look into supplying F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine if the government in Kyiv submitted a request.
How helpful fighter jets would be to Ukraine is a matter for debate, and depends on the aircraft, its weaponry and flying conditions, experts note.
Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow for Airpower and Military Technology at the RUSI think tank in London, said on Twitter Monday that Ukraine's Air Force "would absolutely benefit greatly from Western fighters in terms of air-to-air and (potentially) air-to-ground lethality. But there are caveats," he noted:
"Any Western fighters that could plausibly be sent would still be at high risk from Russian SAMs [surface-to-air missiles], so would have to fly at very low altitudes within several tens of kilometres of the frontlines. This would dramatically reduce effective missile range and limit strike options," he noted.
This meant, he said that while Western fighter jets "would offer Ukraine an improved capability to destroy fixed Russian targets near the frontlines from a safer distance, they would be adding to existing strike options like HIMARS and drawing from limited stockpiles."
Germany said Wednesday it would send 14 of its own Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine — and will allow others to send their own German-made tanks to the country — while the U.S. then announced plans to send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. Russia has expressed anger at the decision, calling it "extremely dangerous."
Germany arrived at its decision to send tanks after months of pressure and deliberation, making any question over fighter jets a very distant prospect, according to Carsten Nickel, deputy director of research at analysis firm Teneo.
"I think we're definitely not at this stage yet but, in terms of those demands being made then, yes, I would expect that," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe."
"What I would look at going forward is further contestation around precisely those questions in domestic politics, and perhaps in the domestic politics in other western countries as well," he noted.
Having just achieved a diplomatic victory in achieving tanks, Ukraine's focus is now on practical matters, with Zelenskyy saying Wednesday evening that the key questions for Kyiv right now are just how many tanks Ukraine would be receiving from its allies, and how fast they would be delivered.
Ukraine sees itself as fighting a war against Russia on behalf of the West, and for other countries that it believes will be vulnerable if it doesn't push Russian forces out of the country.
"If Russia is not stopped in Ukraine they will go further West, they are dreaming about reinstating [the] Soviet empire," Sak said. As such, for Ukraine, time is of the essence when it comes to receiving weaponry.
Sak said "there should be no hesitation in terms of supplying weapons to Ukraine. We just need to be given everything we need to defeat the enemy because the enemy is a threat not just to us, it's a threat to everybody," he said.
"This is ultimately a war that will determine the future of the world, not just Ukraine, not just Crimea, not just Donbas, and everybody understands that. In this war, in this world that will determine the future of all of us, why should we even discuss things like whether Ukraine needs fighter jets or not?," Sak asked.