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The Next Debate Over Arming Ukraine Is Here—and It’s About Fighter Jets

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is adamant that Berlin will not provide fighter jets to bolster Ukraine’s war efforts just days after Germany agreed to send battle tanks to Kyiv.

Speaking in an interview with German newspaper Tagesspiegel published on Sunday, Scholz said he was focused on delivering the promised tanks. “The question of combat aircraft does not arise at all,” he said. “I can only advise against entering into a constant competition to outbid each other when it comes to weapons systems.”

The Chancellor also said that having a debate about fighter jets “seems frivolous” when the country only decided Wednesday to send 80 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. It also allowed other European nations to send their own supplies of the German-made tanks to Ukraine.

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Andriy Yermak, the head of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, said Germany’s decision to supply tanks was a welcome “first step.” But focus has turned to increasing the number of military aircrafts to defend against Russia’s invasion, which approaches its one year anniversary in February.

Below, what to know about Ukrainian calls for Western fighter jets in the conflict, and who is likely to provide them.

Why does Ukraine need fighter jets?

Ukraine currently relies on its Soviet-era fighter jets, which were made before Kyiv declared independence from the Soviet Union over 31 years ago. These aircrafts have been overpowered by Russia’s heavy duty jets that can fire missiles from a long range without entering Ukrainian airspace.

Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andrii Melnyk has asked allied nations to create a “fighter jet coalition” to match Russia’s supply. This would see Ukraine equipped with F-16s and F-35s from the U.S., Eurofighters, Tornados, French Rafales, and Swedish Gripen jets. Ukraine is also in need of helicopters, former Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko told Euronews.

Eurofighter Typhoon And Spitfires Join Forces For RAF Celebration
Christopher Furlong—Getty ImagesAn RAF Eurofighter Typhoon taxis before an aerial display on Sept. 2, 2008, in Sleaford, England.

Justin Bronk, a researcher at the RUSI think tank in London, tweeted that the Ukrainian Air Force would “absolutely benefit” from Western fighter jets “in terms of air-to-air and (potentially) air-to-ground lethality.” But, Bronk added, these jets would still be at high risk from Russian Surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and therefore would need to fly at low altitudes within “several tens of kilometers of the front lines.”

Why is Germany reluctant to provide “kampfjets”?

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky, said that talks about fighter jets were taking place with allied nations but some held “a “conservative attitude” that he said was “due to fear of changes in the international architecture.”

Podolyak did not single out Germany, which has been seen as more reluctant to arm Ukraine since the war began.

On Wednesday, Moscow slammed Berlin’s decision to supply tanks to Ukraine and accused Germany of abandoning its “historical responsibility to Russia,” an apparent reference to Nazi crimes in World War II.

Scholz defended his cautionary approach to sending tanks on Wednesday, saying that it “was right and it is right that we did not allow ourselves to be rushed” into a decision. The news followed weeks of diplomacy between Germany, the United States, and Western allies—which saw a concurrent announcement that the U.S. would send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine.

Leopard tank
Morris MacMatzen—Getty ImagesA Leopard Tank during a presentation by a German unit on May 20, 2019 in Munster, Germany.

The Chancellor also told Tagesspiegel that he would continue to maintain communication with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“For me it’s important that the conversations keep coming back to the main point: how does the world get out of this terrible situation?” Scholz said. “The condition for that is clear: the withdrawal of Russian troops.”

Which allies are likely to supply fighter jets?

Military officials are persuading the U.S. Pentagon to issue F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine to defend against Russian attacks, Politico reported. Ukraine has reportedly long-sought the American-made jet but the U.S. has instead favored artillery, armor, and ground-based air defense systems.

The Biden administration has resisted calls for heavier weapons in the past, over fears that such a move would be confrontational with Russia. Washington had been lukewarm to calls to send the sophisticated but maintenance-heavy Abrams tanks before Wednesday’s announcement.

While the U.S. is yet to reach a formal decision on whether to provide fighter jets, an anonymous senior DoD official told Politico, “I don’t think we are opposed.”

F-35 Aircrafts Were Relocated By The Kingdom Of The Netherlands To The Republic Of Bulgaria
Georgi Paleykov—NurPhoto via Getty ImagesLockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II jet before take off at Graf Ignatievo Air Force Base near Plovdiv, Bulgaria, on April 14, 2022.

Additionally, over half a dozen Western military officials and diplomats confirmed to the publication that fighter jet debates were underway and that there was notable support from the Baltic states, which have been some of the most ardent Western backers of Kyiv.

As the year unfolds, Ukraine could also be set to receive modern aircrafts as Finland, Germany, and the Netherlands upgrade to U.S. F-35 fighters, Politico reported.

What about the frigate Lübeck and Type 212A submarine?

Ukraine’s asks were not confined to the skies.

On Sunday, Melynk also called for Germany to send a decommissioned frigate Lübeck and Type 212A submarine, to strengthen its military positions in the Black Sea.

Frigate "Lubeck" returns from Mediterranean mission
Carmen Jaspersen—picture alliance via Getty ImagesThe frigate “Lubeck” arriving to the Wilhelmshaven Naval Base, Germany, on Nov. 10, 2017.

“Hi guys, I know I’m gonna get a new shit storm, but I have another creative idea. Germany (ThyssenKrupp) produces one of the world’s best submarines HDW Class 212A. The Bundeswehr has 6 such U-boats. Why not to send one to Ukraine?” Melynk tweeted, saying that it would allow Ukraine to control the strategic body of water.