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Merits/risks pros/cons of supplying Military Aircraft to Ukraine

S.BenjiApr 4, 2022 (0)


After nearly 5 weeks, there does not appear to be an end to the Russian-Ukraine war. Both sides have been claiming partial victories but what is clear is that Ukraine is not faring well. To date, at least 10 million people have been displaced and 4 million refugees have moved into neighboring countries. Several Ukrainian cities on the Eastern side have been demolished and this is perhaps one of the biggest humanitarian crises since the 2nd World War. 

As the conflict rages, Ukraine has been repeatedly asking for military assistance from the West- especially military aircraft to counter the Russian air force. Unfortunately, most nations have denied this request for fear of upsetting the already unpredictable and unstable Putin, who may resort to even more devastating weapons, including nuclear weapons. So far, both NATO and the USA have only provided defensive weapons including stinger anti-aircraft missiles and shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles. Both these weapons are meant to push back Russian tanks and other mobile vehicles.

However, recently President Zlensky of Ukraine has become quite vociferous demanding that both NATO and US provide offensive weapons including military aircraft to counter Russian aggression. Recent articles in the US strategic affairs and defense media outlets have called the US to ramp up military air assistance to Ukraine with the A-10 Thunderbolt. 

The A10

The A10 Thunderbolt also referred to as the Warthog is a single-seat, straight wing, twin turbofan subsonic attack aircraft that entered service nearly 45 years ago. The A10 was developed to provide close air support to ground troops and It immediately earned a fierce reputation because of its devastating attacks on ground targets including tanks and other armored carriers. 

Unlike the 20mm guns carried by most other US jet fighters, The A-10 comes equipped with a 30mm Gatling gun that is significantly more powerful and more damaging. Besides the Gatling gun, the A10 also carries numerous other missiles that give it an extraordinary capability to destroy not only enemy tanks but also bunkers and other fixed targets.

The A10 is a sturdy aircraft built with titanium armor to protect the aircraft systems is one durable jet fighter capable of absorbing significant damage and yet being able to fly. Another advantage of the A10 is its ability to land and take off from short runaways or airstrips on several types of terrain. The simple design of the A10 also makes it easy to maintain and keep it airworthy. 

The warthog has served in many wars including Desert Storm and other conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and the Middle East. Over the years, the A10 has seen several minor revisions including all-weather night capability flying and modern avionics for use in precision weaponry. 

US experts

Former Assistant Secretary Of the US Navy, Everett Pyatt said recently that the US should supply at least 60 A10s- since they will soon be retired from the American fleet. The A10 was initially designed to operate from poor terrain and inhospitable environments in Europe and would be ideal for Ukraine. The training required to operate an A10 is minimal and all the Ukrainians would need to do is repaint the aircraft with their insignia.

The other benefit of giving the Ukrainians A10 is because of prior military exchange programs, there are already pilots in Ukraine who know how to fly this particular aircraft. For maintenance, the Ukrainians could hire private contractors so that no US personnel are directly involved.

What are Ukraine's aircraft capabilities?

At the moment, Ukraine only has a few subsonic air support aircrafts- the Sukhoi Su 25, relics from the soviet era. The Su 25 is much smaller than an A10 and also carries a lesser number of weapons. Not much is known about the Su25 in wars except for what has been released by the Russians. The Ukrainians have claimed much success with the destruction of Soviet tanks with this aircraft but real hard data remains elusive.

The US Government

Despite all the reports of A10s going to Ukraine, the US government has denied any solid plans to supply the Ukrainian air force. Plus superiors in the US air force think that training a pilot to fly an A10 requires time.

While the US ponders on giving the Ukrainians dozens of A10s, some military experts also claim that this may not be a good idea. Up to now, the Russian air force has been pretty sedate in the Ukrainian war and no one knows the exact reason. Could it be that the Ukrainians have set up an excellent air defenses system or perhaps the superiority of the Russian air force is nothing more than hype? 

The final point

There is no question that the A10 is a formidable close support aircraft with the capacity to sustain severe damage to tanks and loiter over a battlefield for long periods.  However, despite its fierce reputation, critics of the A10 argue that the aircraft has never been battle-tested where the enemy has advanced air defenses and sophisticated fighters.

US aerospace expert Richard Aboulafia, recently stated that  “Many people, understandably, see that Russian column heading to Kyiv and hear that distinctive A-10 BRRRT noise. But training crews isn't a two-hour or two-day process. Making them proficient, and therefore helping them survive against targets that will be shooting back, takes weeks, and more likely months. And if the Russians actually get serious about committing their air force, and achieve total air superiority, these A-10s would simply be destroyed not long after they took off.”

At the moment, delivery of A10 to the Ukrainians is not a guarantee; but as far as the F16s are concerned it is a topic that is completely off the table. 

S.Benji is a grad with an advanced degree in the sciences with an interest in avionics. He is a prolific writer with a wide range of publications.


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