International Support Bolsters Ukrainian Air Force Fighter Capability

As the conflict in Ukraine continues to drag on and the Ukrainian Air Force suffers attrition and wear-and-tear to its combat aircraft component, help is pouring in from NATO member states in the form of spare parts.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby originally stated that Ukraine had been supplied with actual aircraft on April 19, before walking these comments back to emphasize instead that the support has come in the form of parts. This transfer of much-needed parts and components cannibalized from legacy airframes has enabled the Ukrainian Air Force to refurbish and repair 20 mothballed fighters, thereby bringing them back up to a serviceable standard.

While past discussions involving the transfer of MiG-29s from Poland’s legacy Cold War stocks to Ukraine were muted by the U.S., the supply of key components from the airframes of Soviet-designed MiG-29 and Su-27 combat aircraft remaining in the inventories of NATO-European partners (namely Bulgaria, Poland and Slovakia) appears to be the stop-gap solution.

The idea of whole-scale combat aircraft transfers – including U.S.-sourced F-16s, Romanian MiG-21 Lancers and Slovakia’s own MiG-29 fleet – continues to be discussed, but has yet to gather any momentum.

Instead, providing the Ukrainian Air Force with elements of platforms it is already familiar with is the preferred method. Still, the Russian military offensive has made targeting Ukrainian air depots, defense facilities, aviation enterprises, and resupply points a priority, thereby hampering the capacity and capability of the Ukrainian Air Force’s fixed-wing fighter arm and limiting its ability to sustain heavy (rather than limited) operations.

Prior to the opening stage of the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian Air Force fielded around 50 MiG-29s and 39 Su-27s, plus a small inventory of old Su-25 Frogfoot close air support combat aircraft. Another 30-odd MiG-29s remained in the Ukrainian inventory in various needs of repair.

About Daniel Darling

Dan Darling is a senior analyst covering both the Europe and Asia-Pacific regions for Forecast International's International Military Markets group.

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