Ukrainian pilots face better-equipped Russians and need better planes: could modern F-16s fly?

FILE PHOTO: MiG-29 fighter jets fly at a military air base in Vasylkiv, Ukraine, August 3, 2016. Ukrainian pilots believe that with these fighters they will not be able to overtake Russian jets and believe they could drive an F- 16 with two weeks of training (Reuters) (Gleb Garanich /)

The fighter pilot known as “juice” You usually have a few minutes to get around. When he is on call, which is almost always, he cannot leave his cabin except to go to the bathroom.. When a Russian cruise missile or fighter is detected approaching the area to which Juice is assigned by the Ukrainian Air Forceyou don’t even have time to go through the usual security checks before taking off.

We are prepared to be killed“, said Juice, who only provided his calling code for security reasons. “But we don’t want this of course”, added the 29-year-old. “We want to kill the Russians and shoot down their bombers that are killing our cities and our families.”.

Juice is one of the pilots who is helping Ukraine to give the biggest surprise of this war: its army has kept the airspace over Ukraine contested even though Russian planes are more advanced and outnumbered. But he and other drivers say that’s not enough. While the forces of Kyiv have perhaps surpassed those of Moscow on land, Russia has continued to inflict heavy losses on Ukraine from the sky.

the ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyhas asked USA and other allies of the NATO to establish a no-fly zone over the country, a measure that the leaders of the military alliance refused to take, citing fear of provoking a world war with Moscow. Now Zelensky is pressing to get air defense systems and more advanced aircraft.

But Juice and others have said that the weapons that countries have discussed transferring to Ukraine -particularly fighters MiG-29 Russian-made and anti-aircraft missiles Stinger American-made – will not help the Air Force from Kyiv to tip the scales in your favor. The difference between the weaponry you want Ukraine and what Western countries are willing to supply has become a key tension in nearly two months of fighting.

Nowhere is that division more evident than in the proposed air material transfers. Juice fly with MiG-29which are a staple of the Soviet era in the Ukrainian Air Force. But he said that the Ukrainian pilots are “simple goals” for Russian adversaries, who fly much more advanced aircraft. Getting more antiquated MiGs would not improve Ukraine’s position in the skiessaid.

A Polish Air Force F16 fighter jet flies after a refueling by an Airbus A330 MRTT
A Polish Air Force F16 fighter jet flies after a refueling by an Airbus A330 MRTT ‘Phenix’ in Polish airspace as part of NATO’s enhanced Air Policing (eAP) to ensure the skies of the Baltic allies, on March 29 (Reuters) (BENOIT TESSIER /)

We have losses almost every day in our Air Force”, he added. “You won’t see it on TV because everything is classified right now, but we actually have a lot of losses. That is why we have to be technically even with the Russians. Only our mental advantage is not enough to fight with these technologies”.

Last month, Poland offered to send several planes MiG-29 a Ukraine through a US air base in Germany, which surprised US officials. In return, Poland requested that USA send him replacement planes, presumably F-16 newer American-made ones, which would be a major upgrade. Washington rejected the plan.

On Monday, the Slovak Prime Minister, Edward Hegertold reporters that Slovakia would consider providing Ukraine fighters MiG-29 whether alternative protection of its own airspace can be organised.

But for Ukrainian pilots, more MiG-29 they are not the answer. The planes that Poland offered to transfer to them are even older – some dating back to the late 1980s – than their current stock.

I think the Ukrainians are right: you’re basically a target in the air if you don’t have any of those modern capabilities“, said Herbert “Hawk” Carlislea retired general of the United States Air Force. “It’s not just a plane that’s up there. It has to carry all that fancy equipment to really make it a viable aerial platform.”.

The countries have proposed to send the Ukrainians MiG-29 largely because that’s what the country’s pilots already know how to fly. if they received F-16said Carlislenot only pilots would have to learn a flight system that he described as “significantly different” of the Soviet-style jets; ground personnel would have to train on how to maintain the planes and load them with compatible munitions.

But Juice and another Ukrainian pilot, whose code is “nomadic”, they said that the learning curve is not as important as it is often led to believe. nomadicfound in USA as part of a training program, he said it would likely take the Ukrainians about two weeks to learn the nuances of American-made F-series jets.

Many of the pilots already speak English and have participated in joint exercises with the US Air they are familiar with the terminology of those aircraft’s systems, they said.

Pilots also criticized the effectiveness of anti-aircraft missiles Stingerwhich have been part of the aid packages of USA. nomadic He said it was “almost impossible” to hit a fast and agile Russian plane with the missiles. Carlisle He agreed and added that the Stinger they are not designed to shoot down fighters, but are intended for use against helicopters and other slow, low-flying aircraft.

If Western countries hesitate to give Ukraine modern airplanes with which their pilots have not been trained, Juice he said they should at least consider sending in more advanced air defense systems. He said that it is much easier to learn how to handle them.

Military analysts expected Russia to wipe out Ukrainian air defense systems, airfields and aircraft on the first day of the war, when Moscow still had the element of surprise.. But Rob Leeexpert in the Russian army and member of the Foreign Policy Research Institutesaid Russia didn’t really go for a killing blow”, and in some cases, their missiles hit the airfield but missed the runway.

The Ukrainian pilots were able to improvise from there. Juice said the fight in the sky doesn’t seem fair when he’s up against a more modern Russian plane. He often has to completely avoid his opponent to stay alive. Sometimes he and his teammates manage to trick the Russians into flying into an area where the Ukrainians have an air defense system ready and waiting.

The blog analysts Oryxwhich tracks Russian military losses, documented 20 planes and 30 helicopters destroyed or damaged in Ukraine.

We just try to do something non-standard, and sometimes it succeeds and sometimes it doesn’t.“, said Juice. “Sometimes they are just stupid and the Russians just show their incompetence and underestimate our training. But in general, we cannot achieve true air superiority, unfortunately”.

(C) The Washington Post.-


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