Senate Armed Services Chairman Raises Doubts About Transferring US Aircraft to Ukraine
Since the onset of the current conflict, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has requested F-15 and F-16 fighter jets built in the US, in addition to leftovers from the Soviet era. Earlier this year, US officials said Ukraine should prepare to operate on US fighter jets and NATO-standard equipment.
In a Wednesday interview at the Defense News Conference,
the chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) expressed uncertainty about the delivery of American aircraft to Ukraine.
According to the outlet, Reed declined to support a provision that would have authorized $100 million to start training Ukrainian pilots to fly American fighter jets in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act, casting doubt on whether the clause would survive negotiations with the Senate when Congress drafts the final legislation.
"It’s a question we have to seriously debate with the House," the senator is quoted as saying. "We would get the best advice from the Department of Defense about [whether this is] the most effective weapons system, or one of the most effective weapons systems, that they could use."
This July, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown reportedly asserted that eventually, Ukraine's military will need to transition away from Soviet-era aircraft toward more contemporary equipment compatible with NATO standards.
However, earlier during his panel at the Defense News Conference, Kendall reportedly stressed that his comments from July, in which he did not shut the door on delivering older airframes to Ukraine, were not meant to imply the Air Force plans to transfer aircraft to the country.
"There is not an active effort, at this point in time, to give them aircraft to replace their MiGs, for example,” Kendall said. "We’re not looking at that right now. That’s not what they’re concerned about."
According to the report, he added that in the short term, the US is concentrated on giving Ukraine the basic necessities to continue the fighting. The military expert also suggested that a Ukrainian counteroffensive, which failed, according to the Russian military, and an artillery-driven conflict have essentially taken control of the combat situation.
Prior to the arrival of the winter weather, which will make the combat conditions more difficult, Kendall reportedly anticipates that the current stabilized front will last for the upcoming few months.
But he nonetheless rejected claims that the Air Force may provide Ukraine with one of its A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft. The A-10 has "some very attractive capabilities," but they are outdated and have limitations, according to Kendall.
"It would be pure speculation to talk about at this point what the Ukrainians might decide they need for the future and whether we can make it available,” he explained.
The Biden administration has also resisted sending some of its more technologically advanced military equipment to Ukraine out of fear that it may end up in the hands of Russian servicemen. Should Ukrainian forces employ sophisticated US technology to launch an attack on Russian territory, the White House has expressed serious worries about Moscow's potential reaction.
"This raises the obvious question of containing the fight within the confines of the current situation with aviation,” Sen. Reed said.
He nevertheless praised Ukraine for using American equipment, such as the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), to launch attacks behind Russian defenses without American planes.
"What we’ve seen so far is the extraordinary capability and courage of Ukrainians, together with sophisticated weaponry like HIMARS … to really negate Russia’s supposed advantages,” he claimed. “In fact right now, the Ukrainians are conducting an offensive. They seem to have developed an ability to strike behind Russian lines, an ability to strike Russian command and control."
By a vote of 329 to 101, the House approved its defense authorization, which included a clause allowing for the training of Ukrainian pilots. Although the Senate has not yet passed its version of the bill, Reed told the outlet he is pressing for a vote on the measure this month.
"I’m personally engaged with [Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY,] to try to get it before we reach the election,” Reed said. “I’d like to say it’s a certainty, but I can say that there are other issues we have to pursue. We have to have a continuing resolution, obviously, to keep the government operating."
Additionally, $2.7 billion is allotted by the Senate's defense authorization to support munitions development, including the restocking of American inventories of Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.
Thus, Reed is reportedly hoping that the additional funds will assist in addressing the ongoing workforce and supply chain limitations that have impeded the military-industrial bases' capacity to build a variety of weapons systems. He pointed out that this financing was based on earlier initiatives in earlier defense authorizations to support the submarine industry.
US Political Polarization Hurting Military Readiness Badly
The senator also cautioned in his speech that an increase in political attacks on military personnel is harming both soldier morale and force readiness.
"There is a long tradition within the American military of being apolitical, which is essential for our democracy and civilian control of the military,” he said. "Yet some have chosen to publicly disparage our military leaders for political purposes by generating a sense of outrage and indignation. While such attacks may serve a short-term political agenda, in the long run, it damages our national interest by eroding trust within the ranks, sowing doubt within our civil society, and benefiting our adversaries."
The issue, according to Reed, is a reflection of the country's current, growing political divisiveness, but he also expressed fear that the military would become embroiled in these bitter disputes.
For instance, in recent years, military authorities have advised soldiers to refrain from actions that would politicize the service.
They include new guidelines on attending political events and participating in contentious online debates. But there has not allegedly been much progress in those endeavors.
The senator reportedly stated that the "growing proportion of military personnel who are second, third and even fourth generation volunteers" is another issue that worries him. According to Reed, recruitment efforts must be increased to accommodate applicants from diverse backgrounds and opinions.
"As fewer Americans are exposed to the military and service becomes narrowed to a family tradition, we could see the force become more isolated from the broader population," he added.