A senior Division of Protection official supplied the clearest clarification but for why the U.S. has declined Ukraine’s requests to restock their air pressure with American-made fighters: It might take too lengthy and value an excessive amount of.
Colin Kahl, undersecretary of protection for coverage, mentioned F-16s would price an excessive amount of, particularly given how lengthy it could take earlier than Ukraine may use the plane in fight.
“We don’t see F-16s as the highest precedence proper now,” Kahl testified Feb. 28 at a Home Armed Providers Committee listening to. Air protection, artillery and long-range precision fires, and armored autos and tanks are extra essential proper now, Kahl mentioned.
Offering F-16s may take three to 6 years for brand new plane and value as much as $11 billion to equip Ukraine, Kahl mentioned. However he additionally acknowledged that older, used F-16s could possibly be supplied for as little as $2 billion, and fielded in as little as 18-24 months.
The price depends on the quantity, age, and kinds of F-16s supplied. Kahl mentioned the lengthy lead time on supply negates any potential benefit of getting Ukrainian pilots into F-16 coaching proper now, as they wouldn’t have planes to fly as soon as they accomplished coaching.
“It’s a precedence for the Ukrainians,” Kahl mentioned of Western plane. “However it’s not considered one of their high three priorities.”
In an interview broadcast Feb. 24, President Joe Biden mentioned Ukraine “didn’t want” F-16s, at the very least for now. Biden mentioned the matter with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskky face-to-face when he visited Kyiv earlier in February.
Kahl mentioned Ukraine requested “as many as 128 fourth-generation plane—a mixture of F-15s, F/A-18s, and F-16s. However the U.S. holds a distinct view of what Ukraine wants proper now. Kahl mentioned over the long run, Ukraine will doubtless get Western jets.
“Our Air Power estimates that over the long-term, Ukraine would most likely want 50-80 F-16s to switch their present air pressure,” Kahl mentioned. Such a pressure would price $10-11 billion, he added.
Lawmakers from each events and each the Home and Senate have known as on the Biden administration to supply F-16s. In testimony, Kahl’s most in depth solutions got here in response to Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Penn.), an Air Power veteran who signed a bipartisan letter supporting the availability of F-16s to Ukraine.
There may be additionally opposition within the Home. HASC Rating Member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) agreed with Kahl, suggesting that pledging F-16s to Ukraine proper now wouldn’t be probably the most prudent use of American assets.
The F-16 was designed and launched greater than 4 a long time in the past, however new variations are nonetheless in manufacturing. Now made by Lockheed Martin, the present Block 70/72 fashions in manufacturing first flew this previous January and are way more superior than different fashions, that includes AESA radars and high-tech concentrating on pods. Lockheed Martin says it has a backlog of 148 new jets on order, all for abroad prospects.
Kahl mentioned the U.S. may presumably supply Ukraine older Block 30/32 F-16s, however it’s not clear the place precisely these jets would come from. The Air Power has 935 F-16C and F-16D jets in its stock, plus an extra 66 QF-16s, that are used as remotely piloted aerial targets.
If the U.S. halved the variety of plane it thought Ukraine wanted, to round 36 older fashions, that may nonetheless price $2-$3 billion, Kahl mentioned. A U.S. F-16 squadron consists of round 24 plane.
Older F-16s may be taken from the Air Power’s retired boneyard at Davis-Monahan Air Power Base, Ariz., however how lengthy it could take to make any of these plane flyable is unknown. They’re in various situation and lots of have already been cannibalized for components.
The Air Power can also be loath to half with present plane in its stock, as a result of its capability is already stretched skinny.
U.S. officers have sought to stability offering Ukraine with army capabilities with out harming America’s personal protection, which has been a very difficult situation with munitions provides.
Nationwide Safety Advisor Jake Sullivan mentioned Feb. 26 that the U.S. was targeted on augmenting Ukraine’s Soviet-designed air pressure, and that whereas Ukraine could ultimately shift to Western plane, that was a query “for an additional time.”
Kahl left open the likelihood that Ukraine may get different Western plane, akin to British Tornadoes, Swedish Gripens, or French Mirages.
“It doesn’t make sense to begin to prepare them on a system they could by no means get,” Kahl mentioned.
The U.S. has supplied Zuni rockets, Joint Direct Assault Munition (JDAM) guided bombs, and AGM-88 Excessive-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARM) to Ukraine, and helped allow its air pressure to launch these weapons.
As well as, U.S. protection and army officers mentioned throughout a number of Congressional hearings Feb. 28 that unmanned aerial techniques (UAS) had been more and more essential. The U.S. pledged a variety of new American UASs in February however has up to now declined to supply long-range MQ-9s.
What the U.S. offers stays a subject of evolving selections and debate. “These are the tradeoffs we’re making in real-time,” Kahl mentioned.