Indeed. A few thoughts on this.Woodchopper wrote: ↑Sun Mar 05, 2023 4:53 amhttps://www.nbcnews.com/investigations/ ... -rcna73426cut for brevity
Seems to be a useful summary of some of the trade offs
How many pilots can Ukraine afford to be away from the battlefield while training?
What will Ukraine not get if instead the US allocates a large part of its aid to providing F-16s?
Ukraine are requesting jets. They know how many pilots they have, how many they can spare. In addition, if the lead time's eighteen months, that's the sort of time it takes to take a proficient non-military pilot and turn them into a combat pilot, so the option of training more pilots not necessarily from scratch, but from outside the pool of existing combat jet pilots should be considered.
As for funding, if jet funding comes from the existing pool of presidential drawdown, as it would for jets currently in US military inventory, then it would conflict with other needs, and it is quite likely those other needs are more urgent. However, longer term acquisition includes the possibility of funding via other funding streams, as is (probably) happening with Abrams tanks. Additionally, jets are a symbolic and emotive issue that might persuade congress to release funding specifically.
The issues, as I see it, are what are the jets going to do, and how are they going to survive doing it? There's three main threats to Ukrainian jets. Firstly, there's Russia's long range SAM systems. These are dangerous and capable, and similar systems in Ukrainian hands have kept the areas held by Ukraine largely free of Russian jets. Flying high near the front line is not safe without an extremely competent and comitted SEAD campaign. Can we enable Ukraine to do that much SEAD? It's rather more than just supplying some anti-radiation missiles. That threat can be largely avoided by flying very low, below the radar horizon of such systems. That brings the second threat into play - MANPADS. These are extremely common, and dangerous to jets. They can be avoided by flying high - but that brings the long range SAMs back into play, or by staying behing the lines, as Ukraines helicopters and Su-25s currently do. The third thread is MiG-31s operaring the very long range R-37 air-to-air missile. These can be evaded sometimes, but evading them means abandoning the current mission, and sometimes they do reach their targets.
That leaves Ukraine's jets having to fly low and behind their own lines - though they can fly a bit higher when further behind the lines as the further they are from ground based radars, the higher the radar horizon is. What can they usefully do there? Well, several things, depending a great deal on what munitions are provided for use with the jets. The first is to counter cruise missiles well away from the frontlines. Cruise missiles fly very low, meaning ground based systems, regardless of the quality of their missiles, have very short ranges against them. Jets with decent look-down/shoot-down radars - as all US combat jets have - radically improve the chances of shooting down incoming cruise missiles. Secondly, jets can stay low and launch weapons across the lines from their own side. This requires appropriate weapons, though. Bombs aren't going to do much good. Glide bombs, like the ER-JDAM and the SDB, might stand a chance, especially if released from an upward climb. The real key though is to provide weapons that can be fired over the horizon without line of sight to the target. The best option for frontline support is the Brimstone, which can hunt for targets on its own, or have targets indicated to it by laser designator, and the designator doesn't necessarily have to be on the launching aircraft. At present, though, US aircraft don't carry Brimstone. The other option is to use longer range standoff missiles. There's been some talk of sending Storm Shadow, which would be relevant to Typhoon or Tornado provision, but not to US jets. The USA has an equivalent munition, the AGM-158 Joint Air To Surface Standoff Munition (JASSM). This is a lot like the Storm Shadow, in that it is an accurate low-radar cross section cruise missile with a warhead weighing roughly half a tonne. JASSM's range is a bit shorter than Storm Shadow, 370km vs 560, but 370km still covers all of occupied Ukraine when launched from safe launching locations well behind the lines. However, if the USA is too timid to provide ATACMS, will they provide the more modern and capable JASSM?
Then there's the MiG-31 with R-37 threat. There's three ways to reduce this threat, but the USA is very unlikely to support two of them. The one they might support is sending long range air to air missiles to shoot back at the MiG-31s to force them to abandon their attacks or just directly shoot them down. The USA's long range air-to-air missile is the AIM-120 AMRAAM. AIM-120C variants have a range of about 100km, which is rather inferior to the R-37, while the AIM-120D has a range somewhere in the region of 160km, but the D-variant AMRAAM is quite new, and America's selfish a..eh.le policy when it comes to exporting high end equipment may come into play. The best western air-to-air missile to supply would be the MBDA Meteor, which starts to rival the R-37 in range, but that isn't integrated onto any American jet, and would instead need to operate from Typhoons, Gripens or Rafales.
The second way to deal with the R-37 threat would be to send F-35s. There's so many reasons why the F-35B would be the best plane for Ukraine, however, it's very unlikely it will be sent. The F-35 (and F-22, B2, F-117 and various planes in development) have a low enough radar cross section to stop the MiG-31s from being able to lock on and launch their R-37s.
The third approach would be to use long range missiles or suicide drones to destroy the MiG-31s on the ground, or at least force them to operate from bases far further from Ukraine's borders. The recent attack on a Beriev A-50 demonstrates that Russian planes are vulnerable on the ground in Belarus, but the US is unreasonably paranoid about cross border attacks, so if this is going to happen, Ukraine will have to figure it out on their own.