Zelensky’s Arms Tour

New missiles and Western-style warplanes are the minimum that the Ukrainian president has managed to ask for.

In early May, the head of the Ukrainian junta, Vladimir Zelensky, left Ukraine and showed up in Finland, where he took part in a summit of Ukraine and the Nordic countries. This was followed by Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. During the trip, Zelensky returned to Kiev literally for a couple of days, where he met with the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and Czech President Petr Pavel. The goals of the trip were obvious – continued seeking of various forms of assistance for Ukraine, including political and symbolic support.

Such tours are nothing new. We can recall 1971, when during the civil war in Pakistan, the prime minister of neighboring India, Indira Gandhi, who supported the independence of East Pakistan (Bangladesh), visited both the Soviet Union and the countries of the capitalist camp, including the United States, which was a military ally of Pakistan. And since there had been already a strong pacifist movement in the United States itself because of the Vietnam War, it was not difficult to get support for Bangladesh.

Vladimir Zelensky acts in a more straightforward way, pursuing those political elites who have initially adopted a hostile stance toward Russia. And it seems that Vladimir Zelensky’s year-long whining about military aircraft deliveries has had an effect on Western elites.

The Netherlands and Britain announced the creation of a fund for the purchase of warplanes for the needs of Ukraine. Such a complicated scheme is evidently connected with some corruption cases, since the F-16s will first be bought from certain countries, which are ready to provide them, and then transferred to Ukraine. It is supposed that it will be performed not without the U.S. interest – instead of the outdated F-16s the new aircraft fleet will be replenished with more modern platforms of the F-35.

Zelensky with Nordic leaders in Helsinki
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, center, during a news conference with Nordic leaders in Helsinki, Finland, on Wednesday

Probably the proposal of Josep Borrell to increase the fund for military assistance to Ukraine by 3.5 billion euros is connected with this. This is for the time being. And further there will be new budgetary expenditures for the next tranches and deliveries of military equipment. Since the current behavior of the collective West has not changed and clearly demonstrates an interest in continuing the conflict.

The boss gives the green light

The US has long refused to supply Ukraine with American-made aircraft, stating that the AFU is not ready for their operation. For this reason old Soviet equipment was being assembled in Eastern European countries. But there was evidently not enough of them. And now when there was nothing to scrap the barrel for in Europe (by the way, like in case of Holland, the aircraft fleet will have to be replaced, and for sure the US military industrial complex will make a good hand on it), Joe Biden pompously announced a new decision. At the beginning of the G7 summit in Japan it became known that the US gave the final approval for supplies of F-16 fighters to Ukraine and for training of Ukrainian pilots to fly these planes in Europe. The only thing that is not yet known is when exactly the planes will be provided, their number, and who exactly will deal with the transfer of equipment.

Given the rather poor performance of the current Ukrainian pilots, as well as the transfer of Soviet equipment from Eastern European countries in previous months, it can be assumed that training on the F-16 will be practically from scratch, as those pilots with skills to fly on the Su and MiG models will continue to operate them at the moment, while new personnel will be sent to fly on the F-16. This will require months of intensive training.

According to the Pentagon, it takes 18 months to complete a standard training course on these aircraft. But just the other day there were reports that this period could be reduced to four months. There is clearly a political decision behind this, which is out of military and technical competence. But even if so, this means that until at least mid-autumn we can hardly expect to see F-16s on the front.

Though even in this case there is a catch: the pilots may be mercenaries from NATO countries, especially from the USA where there are many retired air force officers with appropriate experience. Here another question remains to be solved – who and how much will pay them for participation in the Ukrainian conflict.

There are options that in addition to the F-16s, other types of combat aircraft may come to Ukraine. Back in February, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak formally asked British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace to consider which Royal Air Force combat aircraft could be delivered to the Ukrainian air force. At the same time, the intention was stated that London might start training Ukrainian pilots.

Course for escalation

In addition to aircraft and pre-announced armored vehicles from NATO countries, it was announced that Britain would give Ukraine long-range Storm Shadow missiles. The range of Storm Shadow is about 200 km – more than three times as much as the range of the longest range weapon HIMARS, which at the moment is delivered to Ukraine from the USA. The principle of operation of the missile is as follows. After being dropped from an airplane, it descends to a low altitude to avoid hitting the air defense radar networks. Storm Shadow uses an infrared seeker head in its terminal phase, comparing what it “sees” as it approaches the target coordinates with images of the target location itself that were loaded into the missile on the ground from a satellite or other reconnaissance and reconnaissance platform. If what the seeker sees and the images match, the missile proceeds to its final phase and hits the target. Since the coordinate data are entered into the missile while it is still on the ground, in this case there is no need to coordinate its flight from the aircraft’s onboard computer. The pilot can launch the missile without entering the danger zone and return to base. In general, this is how the aircraft of the Air and Space Forces of the Russian Federation operate now.

Consequently, the availability of such weapons could change the current “rules of the game”, as it would allow Ukrainian forces to strike in Crimea and deep into other regions, such as Belgorod, Bryansk and Kursk, which have recently been subjected to intensive shelling and drone attacks. It is doubtful that the Kiev junta will be conditioned by London to restrict the use of these systems, since the command posts, supply bases and logistics centers that will be the targets of these attacks are located in different regions of Russia from the south to central Russia.

And given that the Ukrainians recently managed to shoot down Russian combat helicopters and aircraft directly in the airspace of the Bryansk region, the appearance of these missiles could pose a serious threat. And not only for the military, but, taking into account previous incidents, for civilian objects as well.

At first glance, the use of Storm Shadow may become a technical problem for the AFU, as it requires a Western platform. But the integration of Western weapons onto Soviet-designed aircraft in Ukraine has become almost standard practice. For example, Boeing’s Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) missile and Raytheon’s AGM-88 HARM high-speed antiradar missile were adapted for launch from the MiG-29.

It is assumed that a Su-24M fighter-bomber could be used for Storm Shadow, since Ukraine is now restoring old planes using a constructor method, combining suitable parts. And if the F-16s and other planes arrive, the Storm Shadow could become the main missile of the Ukrainian Air Force.

Obviously, Russia will be forced to use deterrence measures in response. Among them increasing the intensity and depth of strikes on logistics centers, warehouses and airfields of Ukraine; expanding the access denial area (increasing the power of air defense and EW).

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