The keys to sending fighters to Ukraine: from the yes of Poland and Slovakia to the resounding no of Spain

The debate on the fighter transfer to the kyiv government It is not new. It was open and very much alive during the first weeks of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the allied countries did not decide to take the step forward. It was not clear how long the resistance of the Ukrainians could last before the invaders and it was decided, at that time, for aid that did not include heavy war material.

Last September, with the coup on the table that Ukraine dealt on the battlefield, the debate was back on the table. Volodymyr ZelenskYo launched a campaign to receive Western F-16 fightersa versatile model with easy maintenance but very good performance, which is in service in some European countries but of which, above all, the United States -manufacturer of the device- has a significant number of units in service.

A debate that has been on the table again in recent weeks. It was discussed at the same time as the shipping western main battle tanks. But while the Leopardo or Leopardo 2 tanks, as well as Abrams or Challenger, will begin to reach the Ukrainians in the coming weeks, with the arrival of spring, the allied countries did not give the green light to the transfer of Western fighters to Ukraine.

This week something has changed, although with nuances. Poland announced on Thursday the transfer of fighters to Ukraine. It thus became the first allied country to do so. Initially four units, but could exceed twenty. Slovakia followed him this Fridaywhose president has announced the transfer of 13 fighters, although as he has acknowledged, not all of them are in the best condition, so they would have to be checked by Ukrainian mechanics.

The great nuance behind these ads is that they are old Mig29 fighters of Soviet manufacture that remain in the arsenals of these countries, a legacy of their communist past. Of course, they are units that could be used with good skill by Ukrainian pilots immediatelysince this type of fighters have been and are still in service with the Ukrainian Air Force. The Ukrainians also have the logistics to repair them.

The Ukrainians have asked the West for F-16 fighters, much more modern than the Mig29, but which would require a recycling of their pilots of at least six months -in a very intensive way- so that they could be relatively usable. And all that time wouldn’t even guarantee that later, if they were to meet Russian fighters in the air, they would have any real chance in a one-on-one combat, or would be skilled enough to successfully evade Russian anti-aircraft systems. Not to mention that they do not have a logistics line for its repair and they would have to assemble it from scratch.

Spain It is another of the countries that has spoken this Friday about the possible shipment of fighters to Ukraine. Defense Minister, Daisy Robleshas been very blunt: “Spain’s position has always been very clear, we are not going to send combat planes. The president said in Kiev that we are open to all possibilities, but the planes specifically that Ukraine wants, Spain does not has”.

What Robles said is a reality. Spain does not even have old Soviet-made fighterssuch as those that make up the Ukrainian Air Force, nor American F-16 fighters. The Air and Space Army currently has just over 150 top-tier fighters – not counting the old F-5 Northrop trainers. Of them, just over 80 are F-18 Hornets and the rest, about 70, are eurofighter typhoon. The models from Spain are more expensive and more complicated to operate and maintain than the F-16s.

Logic would say that the most practical thing is to donate to Ukraine combat aircraft that it already knows and that its pilots already control, such as the Mig29 or Su24, Su25 and Su27, and that, given the shortage of Soviet-made fighter units among the countries of NATO -the vast majority are in the process of modernizing their air forces- bet on a single Western-made fighter, to speed up the training of pilots and mechanics and have to create a single logistics chain. And that, in addition, it was as cheap as possible to operate and maintain.


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