Not only F-16s are extremely necessary for victory: The Pentagon has been reminded of 50 MQ-9 Reaper drones, which are being phased out of service

The issue of obtaining aircraft for Ukraine from the US is already being called critical, and the MQ-9 Reaper drones may help overcome the shortage of pilots.

The importance of Western aircraft for Ukraine’s survival

The Executive Director of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, Douglas Birkey in the article with an unambiguous title “Don’t want to lose Ukraine? Empower Kyiv with airpower” directly points out that the acquisition of Western aircraft by the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is already a matter of Ukraine’s survival.

In particular, the Kremlin is currently implementing the following scenario — waiting for the depletion of Ukraine’s stocks of anti-aircraft missiles for Soviet air defense systems.

As an analyst writes in a publication for Breaking Defense, this will allow Russia to begin a deliberate air offensive and gain an advantage in the air: “Russia can win by bloodying Ukraine, so it is time for the United States and its allies to change this balance of power by providing Ukraine with combat aircraft.”

All photos provided by US Dod

On the side of Defense Express, we will further explain what the scenario in which the Russian army gains an advantage in the air over the battlefield means. This is a situation that occurred in Mariupol when Russians sent Tu-22M3 bombers with FAB-3000 bombs to drop them from an altitude unreachable by man-portable air-defense system.

 See also: Iranian kamikaze drones Arash-2 – what is known about them, their capabilities and characteristics

It is extremely concerning that the Kremlin understands very well that with each launch of a Soviet-era anti-aircraft missile, their quantity in Ukraine decreases, and the supply of new Western-made anti-aircraft missile system is significantly lower than the real needs. The last part is not surprising, as in NATO countries, the main role in air defense is played by fighter aircraft, rather than anti-aircraft missile systems.

“Supplying significant amounts of Western-made combat aircraft wouldn’t just help suppress Russian air power and close the air defense gap, it would also allow Ukraine to strengthen its offensive prowess and break out of a highly defensive struggle,” said Douglas Birkey.

Douglas Birkey also emphasizes that all of this is simply axiomatic and common sense because the war in Ukraine is increasingly resembling the First World War with brutal battles of attrition. And Russia, for which life has no value whatsoever and has more resources, is in a more advantageous position. That is why Western aircraft in Ukraine allow for changing the outcome of this mathematical equation.

The Role of MQ-9 Reaper UAVs in enhancing Ukraine’s air power

However, currently, the Pentagon is talking about the need for 18 months to train Ukrainian pilots. As Defense Express has already reported, the only logical explanation for this is that they are referring not to combat pilots, but to cadets. Because in the Pentagon they may well believe that it is necessary to train not 10-20 pilots, but a hundred. And to take such a large number of pilots off combat duty is simply impossible, as it would leave Ukraine without any aviation at all, since all pilots would be in training.

At the same time, there is an option that would reduce the number of conditional F-16 fighters for Ukraine, the donors of which are European countries such as Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands, which are decommissioning and replacing them with F-35s anyway. It consists of adding the MQ-9 Reaper strike UAVs from the United States.

F-16 fighter

“The US Air Force is proposing to decommission 48 MQ-9s as part of its fiscal year 2024 budget request. These drones are already in storage containers and can be quickly redeployed. Training pipelines for these systems exist in many locations, and Ukrainian specialists could easily be involved in this process. The logistics and maintenance could start with contractors already operating in Europe, and then be handed over to Ukrainian technicians after they are trained. This will take time, so permission must be given immediately,” the publication states.

In this case, the role of the MQ-9 Reaper UAVs will be to conduct reconnaissance, provide target designation, and guide high-precision weapons. It is worth considering the possibility of using these drones for air patrol thanks to the modern AN/APY-8 Lynx II radar and AIM-9X air-to-air missiles. Of course, not to combat airplanes, but for targets such as cruise missiles and kamikaze drones like the Shahed 136.

At the same time, the training of operators for the MQ-9 Reaper UAVs can be conducted faster, as it does not rely on the availability of combat-experienced pilots. Moreover, Ukraine has a more than extensive history of operating and employing reconnaissance-strike UAVs, including the Bayraktar TB2.

MQ-9 Reaper drone

In another case, as stated by Douglas Birkey, the Executive Director of the Institute for Aerospace Studies: “in the absence of a serious change in the situation, Russia will ultimately win this war. The consequences of such a result will be truly devastating not only for the people of Ukraine but as a signal to other ‘bad actors’ that the United States and its allies ultimately lack resolve. It’s time to arm Ukraine with modern aviation. Too much is at risk to consider another course.”

MQ-9 Reaper with AIM-9X Block 2 air-to-air missile

Originally posted on Defense Express. Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

See also: Western wings. What kind of aircraft does Ukraine need and why is the West in no hurry to supply its fighters?


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