Western countries could provide the Ukrainian air force with jets and pilot training, the U.S. Air Force’s chief of staff said Wednesday, an idea that would significantly ramp up Western assistance to Ukraine as it fights off invading Russian troops—but military officials say no firm decisions have been made yet.
Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown said during an interview at the Aspen Security Forum “there’s a number of different platforms that could go to Ukraine,” including jets made by the United States, Sweden, France or the multi-country Eurofighter consortium.
Brown added any warplanes transferred to Ukraine—whose current air force mostly consists of Soviet-era jets—will probably be “something non-Russian,” because getting spare parts for Russian-made fighter jets could prove difficult.
Earlier Wednesday, Brown told Reuters U.S. officials are discussing whether to begin training Ukrainian pilots to fly Western jets, a process Ukraine claims is possible within a matter of weeks but Brown and other experts think could take months.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday the military hasn’t decided whether to start training Ukrainian pilots yet, but “we do examine a wide variety of options, to include pilot training.”
The United States has ramped up its military support to Ukraine in recent months, as Russian troops slowly gain ground in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region. But the Pentagon has been hesitant to fulfill Ukraine’s requests for fighter jets, citing logistical challenges and fears Russia could view the move as direct NATO involvement in the war. Poland suggested a three-country deal in March: The Polish military would give Ukraine some of its Soviet-era MiG-29 jets (a model also flown by the Ukrainian air force), and the United States would repay Poland with used American-made aircraft. However, the U.S. military quickly scuttled the idea, with then-Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby arguing Ukraine is unlikely to see a large return on the jets and Russia may see the trade as an escalation.
$7.6 billion. That’s how much military assistance the United States sent to Ukraine from the start of the Russian invasion to early July, according to the Department of Defense. This aid includes thousands of anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems, hundreds of Switchblade drones, several Russian-made helicopters and HIMARS precision-guided rocket systems.