U.S. to Provide Poland with F-16s to Replace MiG-29 Squadron Being Sent to Ukraine

The United States is reportedly planning to supply Poland with F-16 fighters as aid, or possibly at a much reduced cost, as the eastern European country moves to donate its squadron of Soviet built MiG-29 jets to neighbouring Ukraine. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on March 6 that his country was “working actively” on such a deal, informing reporters: “Can’t speak to a timeline, but I can just say we’re looking at it very, very actively. 

We are looking actively now at the question of airplanes that Poland may provide to Ukraine and looking at how we might be able to backfill should Poland decide to supply those planes.” Poland, Bulgaria and Slovakia are all NATO members which operate the MiG-29, a fourth generation medium weight fighter which entered service in 1982 and was designed to be able to tackle F-16s in air to air combat. 

Other countries such as Germany and Hungary formerly deployed the fighter, which was widely exported to Soviet defence clients in the 1980s and represented a lighter and cheaper counterpart to the heavyweight Su-27 which was developed in parallel and formed the elite of the Soviet Air Force. 

Ukraine inherited both the MiG-29 and the Su-27 from the Soviet Union when the superpower collapsed in 1991, but its air units have taken heavy losses both on their runways and in the air since Russia began military operations on Ukrainian territory on February 24. 

While F-16s and other Western fighter designs would likely take years to integrate into the Ukrainian Air Force, and the elite Su-27 is not deployed by Western-aligned states other than Ukraine itself, MiG-29s could replenish heavy Ukrainian losses if offered as military aid. 

The MiG-29 may well be better suited to current combat conditions in Ukraine due to its ability to take off from relatively short and poorly maintained runways, which is a result of it being designed deployments near the frontlines in Eastern Europe in mind. 

While the MiG-29 was initially considered a much more capable fighter in air to air combat than the F-16 when it entered service, variants deployed by European NATO states and by Ukraine are ageing MiG-29As from the 1980s which are considered largely obsolete today - particularly compared to modern F-16 variants such as the F-16 Block 70/72 which Slovakia and Bulgaria are set to acquire to replace them. 

European MiG-29s are notably less capable still than those in Ukrainian service, having been downgraded for export where those in Ukraine were built for the Soviet Air Force itself. 

While Poland is set to be a prime beneficiary of an agreement to phase out its MiGs for F-16s, although it may well only lease the American jets until its pending order for more advanced F-35 jets is met, the value of the MiG-29 to the Ukrainian Air Force remains highly questionable with Russian control of the skies appearing increasingly unchallenged. 

The ageing aircraft are expected to pose a negligible challenge to modern Russian jets which are not only much heavier and higher end, but also more than 30 years ahead technologically. With much more capable Ukrainian Su-27s having suffered overwhelming defeats in the air, more MiG-29s are not expected to do much to impede Russian advances. 

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