A top Ukrainian air commander said Ukraine was in dire need of F-16 fighter jets, which he described on Thursday as “four or five times” more effective than the Soviet-era planes currently used by Ukraine.
Serhiy Holubtsov, one of the most senior commanders in the Air Force, said that while donations of Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets by allies were an “important step,” the planes did not fully meet Ukraine’s battlefield requirements.
NATO members Poland and Slovakia recently began to hand over MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, as Kyiv prepares for a much-vaunted counter-offensive to retake territory occupied by Russia.
But Holubtsov said that while Soviet-era warplanes were better than nothing, they would not be able to fully counteract Russia’s vast air force.
“The F-16 is a fighter that has become a multirole aircraft which can fulfil the entire spectrum of airborne tasks. The MiG-29 unfortunately, is (an aircraft) from the last century,” he said on national television.
On a visit to Warsaw on Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he believed Poland would take a leading role in forming a “coalition” of Western powers supplying warplanes to Ukraine. Warsaw helped galvanise support for supplies of tanks earlier this year.
During Zelenskiy’s visit, Poland pledged 10 further MiG-29s to Ukraine on top of the four already provided.
Any coalition of F-16 donors would likely be reliant on backing from the U.S., by far the largest operator and builder of the planes.
Washington has ruled out sending F-16 jets to Ukraine for now, and U.S. officials have estimated the most expeditious time needed for training and delivery at 18 months.
Holubtsov said there was a possibility of having foreign pilots fly Ukrainian jets, but that they would only be useful when flying aircraft which they have already been trained on.
He also said that two Ukrainian pilots had undergone tests in the U.S. to assess their skills, which he said were “successful” and could lead to a “significant shortening” of the training time required for Ukrainian pilots.
He did not say how long that revised training time might be.