The US government is speaking to NATO allies about an offer by the government of Poland to transfer some of its fighter jets to Ukraine, as back-and-forth on the potential transaction continues.
Poland on 8 March offered to immediately deliver its fleet of 23 MiG-29 aircraft to Ramstein air base, a US military facility in Germany, to be transferred to Ukraine. In return, it asked for “used aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities”.
The announcement caught the US government by surprise, with a Department of Defense official calling it “not… tenable”, and saying the offer “raises serious concerns”.
“We were not made aware of their plans to make that announcement yesterday,” says White House press secretary Jen Psaki on 9 March. “There are operational and logistical questions that are important ones that are being discussed.”
The back-and-forth began on 6 March when US secretary of state Antony Blinken said the USA was in active discussions with Poland related to the transfer of combat aircraft to support Ukraine’s beleaguered air force. At that time, reports suggested Poland would receive Lockheed Martin F-16s from the US Air Force inventory to replace aircraft transferred to Kyiv.
Two days later, Poland publicly offered its MiG-29 jets to the USA, presumably for ultimate delivery to Ukraine. Poland said other NATO allies who operate the type – Slovakia, Croatia and Bulgaria – should do the same.
The contentious point, however, seems to be the method of delivery.
Poland said it would fly the aircraft to Ramstein, the biggest US airbase in Europe. There, the USA could hand them over to the Ukrainian armed forces.
“It doesn’t require a military expert to understand that having planes fly from a US airbase to parts of a country that are at war is not in NATO interests,” Psaki says. “There are operational and logistic challenges to discuss. It isn’t that easy to move military planes around and those are conversations that are happening between military experts.”
“The logistical questions here are things like how to get planes into Ukraine in a way that is not escalatory,” she adds. “What are the logistical details on that?”
Prior to the conflict, which began when Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, Ukraine had 43 of the type. It is unknown how many, if any, remain airworthy.