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Analysis – Ukraine conflict: Kyiv's call for Western fighter jets grows louder

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence released concept imagery of an F-16 in Ukraine livery to mark Ukraine's Air Force Day on 7 August 2022, reinforcing the message that this is the Western combat aircraft it wants. (Ukraine Ministry of Defence)

Since the earliest days of Russia's renewed invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Kyiv has asked for one thing above all others – Western fighter jets.

Ahead of the Russian invasion, Ukraine fielded a range of Soviet Union-era combat aircraft that it inherited in 1991, and while theUkrainian Air Force (Povitryani Syly Ukrayiny: PSU)has been able to maintain combat operations over the 14 months of the war so far, it has suffered severe losses.

Initial requests for combat aviation support centred on the Soviet-era types it already has experience of operating, particularly the MiG-29 ‘Fulcum' fighters owned by Bulgaria, Poland, and Slovakia.

While keen to offer support, Western governments baulked at the provision of these outdated Soviet-era types, fearing their supply would initiate a retaliatory response against them from Moscow.

However, Germany's decision in January to release its Leopard 2 main battle tanks (MBTs) to Kyiv prompted other NATO countries operating the type to do the same, such as the UK with its Challenger 2 and the US with its Abrams MBTs. Neither the announcements nor the subsequent commencement of deliveries to Ukraine resulted in any direct escalation from Russia, leading the West to consider the transfer of long-ranged weapon systems.

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