Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

Sending Old Fighter Jets to Ukraine Is a Terrible Idea

By Blake Herzinger

14 Mar 2022 · 5 min read

As Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine continues, calls to provide crewed aircraft to Ukraine’s military dominate headlines in Washington and other NATO capitals. Russia’s attacks on civilians and unprovoked aggression have understandably prompted calls to do more—but not every idea is a good one. Despite reports from U.S. European Command that the Ukrainian Air Force’s relative effectiveness is unlikely to change with the addition of more fighter jets, demand persists. The desire to support Ukraine in its struggle against naked aggression is laudable. But security assistance is more than just gifting equipment—it is a complex question of creating or supporting capabilities and answering the right questions. When it is done wrong, it can create new problems. And in a powder keg like Ukraine, where the war could explode into a NATO-Russia conflict, it is a question of supporting capabilities without causing a direct clash between nuclear powers.

The politician’s syllogism is in full flight here: “We must do something. This is something. Therefore, we must do this.” The something in question is the idea that NATO’s Eastern European members should donate MiG-29 Fulcrum aircraft to Ukraine, as the airframe is operated by Ukrainian forces. Recently, Poland offered to fly its aging MiGs to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where U.S. forces would facilitate their transfer to Ukrainian pilots, who would fly the aircraft back to Ukraine. Some have descended further down this rabbit hole by suggesting the United States deliver its own A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft to Ukraine—prompted in part by a long Russian jam of vehicles that has now mostly cleared.

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