Zelensky Lobbies EU Leaders as Russia Escalates Attacks: Live Updates

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As Britain announced that it would train Ukrainian pilots on NATO fighter jets — a sign that some Western allies’ reluctance to provide Kyiv with advanced jets might be cracking — Ukraine’s military said on Wednesday that the country was already preparing to integrate Western aircraft.

Work crews have used asphalt to pave over runways made of concrete blocks, which was the Soviet standard for military airfields, according to Yuri Ihnat, a spokesman for Ukraine’s air force. The older runways cannot be cleared of pebbles and other debris that could be sucked into the engines of F-16 jets, which are mounted lower than those on Soviet fighter planes.

Supplying Ukraine with fighter jets, sometimes seen as the apex weapon on the modern battlefield, would signal a deeper level of Western commitment in the war against Russia’s invasion. No country to date has promised to provide Western jets.

Neither side in the war has achieved air superiority, despite Russia’s large and once-vaunted fleet of fighter jets and other military aircraft. While Ukraine has repeatedly pleaded for Western fighter jets, it is far from clear that warplanes alone would shift the tide in the conflict.

Deploying warplanes would require training pilots and those servicing the craft in painstaking skills. Ukraine’s Air Force has already prepared a list of pilots who would qualify for training on Western jets, Mr. Ihnat said. This team of Ukrainian pilots are still flying Soviet jets on dangerous combat sorties.

In January, one pilot, Maj. Danylo Murashko, died when his Su-25 crashed. “Unfortunately, we are losing people on the old Soviet equipment,” Mr. Ihnat said. “We want the airplanes faster, so the boys can train on them, fly them and attack the occupiers.”

Fierce dogfights were fought over Ukraine in the first weeks of the war, with both sides flying Soviet- or Russian-designed jets. But soon, air defense missiles cleared the skies.

Military analysts and Ukrainian officials have said a lesson of the Ukraine war, at least so far, has been the superiority of ground-based air defense missiles over airplanes, drones and cruise missiles. Along the front line, both sides fly only short sorties into enemy territory and even then, planes are routinely shot down.

“This war showed that in a war between two more or less equal armies, the role of aviation plays only a tiny role,” Roman Kostenko, the chairman of the defense and intelligence committee in Ukraine’s Parliament, said in an interview.

“Antiaircraft weapons are too effective,” he said. “Neither side has air superiority. War has changed. Flying piloted airplanes under threat of antiaircraft weapons is fading.”

“Pilots are afraid to do it,” he said. “Unpiloted airplanes and anti-aircraft systems are the future.”

Gen. Viktor Nazarov, an adviser to Ukraine’s military commander said in an interview on Wednesday that the training and possible delivery of fighter jets would be a lengthy process. Military analysts have said decisive battles are expected within months.

Jets will not arrive in Ukraine in “the near future,” General Nazarov said. In the meantime, he said, as Russia has massed newly drafted soldiers in occupied territory for a feared new assault, long-range precision rockets would be more useful. Warplanes, he said, “are not for the midterm perspective.”


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