Teach Them to Be Fishers of Migs and Send in the F-35s

Opinion by John Liccione

Stop talking about the Damn Migs:  Train and Equip Ukrainian Pilots on the F-35, F-16, and Patriot and They Will Close The Skies for Themselves

“The Sky is Still Open” by Alexander Nikityuk, Drawn in Kyiv, March 28, 2022

Why are we still talking about old Soviet-era Migs in Poland as hand-me-downs for the Ukrainian Air Force when at the pinnacle of the arsenal of democracy stands two of the most lethal fighters ever built: The F-35 Lighting and the venerable F-16, and the Patriot Air Defense System.  This is simply a failure in imagination within the Biden administration and they need to start thinking outside the box that they’ve allowed Putin to maneuver them into with his threats of nuclear war.

F-35s Operational in Norway

F-35 Lightning (Getty Images

Just three months ago on January 6, 2022, the Norwegian Air Force retired some of their old F-16s and declared their new F-35 Lighting fighters to be at full operational capability as they officially took over the NATO Quick Reaction mission.  Just today on March 28, 2022, the Associated Press reported that Canada has just selected the F-35 as its next generation fighter jet.   Per the AP, Defense Minister Anita Anand was quoted as stating that “the decision to pick the F-35 was done without political interference,” and that “We’re living in a new reality” pursuant to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  A new reality indeed. Bravo Canada and President Trudeau, who previously spoke out against the F-35, and then Boom!  All of a sudden, there it is.  Poland is also in line to receive 40 F-35s.  That’s right. Poland.  

Foreign Military Pilot Training

Back when I was 18 and a new enlistee in the US Air Force in bootcamp at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio Texas, I witnessed foreign military officers marching in formation to classes in the strange-looking uniforms of their militaries.  I believe they may have been pilots from Iran off all places back when Iran had its Shah.  It was my first exposure to the notion that America was training foreign pilots at USAF bases in America.  That was 40 years ago.  If we can train Iranian pilots in America who were working for a dictator, certainly Ukrainian pilots flying under a democratically elected president must be first in line: Now.  F-35 deliveries to NATO and other Allied Countries:  On Hold, Now. Divert, shift, and back-fill NATO countries.  And it’s not just NATO.  South Korea, Australia, Japan, Israel, and other allies outside of NATO have received F-35 deliveries.  Every democratic nation on earth has a stake in this fight.  Every F-35-equipped ally should contribute 5 F-35’s as a start.

How long does it take to cross-train and certify a motivated Ukrainian Mig pilot on the F-16 or the F-35?  I don’t know the answer – we’ll find out.  But I do know there is no greater motivation that one feels when one is staring down the face of extermination of one’s people.  Just ask Israeli pilots how that feels.  How many young Ukrainian men and women, already living in the United States, (let alone in Ukraine, Poland, etc.) are between the age of 18 and 40, are healthy, and could be pilot candidates?  Any volunteers?  The USAF should be actively recruiting Ukrainians to be pilots as part of a joint Ukraine-American training program.

Patriots and Video Teleconferencing

Patriot Air Defense System (Getty Images)

Now let’s talk about the Patriot Air Defense System.  We need to be immediately training Ukrainian soldiers on operation of the Patriot.  We don’t have to put boots on the ground inside Ukraine to train them and we don’t have to be there physically to help them operate and fire them.  Can you say video-teleconferencing?  If we can operate drones to take out terrorists in Afghanistan using SatCom links to remote drone pilots operating out of trailers in Nevada, we certainly can figure out how to back-stop Ukrainian soldiers pulling the triggers on Patriot missiles with real-time video teleconferencing systems linked to our experts looking over their shoulders from afar and advising them in real-time.  Ukrainians can operate the fire control radars and pull the triggers without US military advisers physically there.  They can remain in Poland, Germany, or even in the US providing remote, real-time guidance.  Let’s help Ukraine ring their cities and military installations with Patriots on the ground, and F-35’s and F-16s in the skies.  They deserve the best America, NATO, and the free world has to offer them. Not old Migs.

In a perfect world, all of the above is already happening and we just don’t know about it because it’s classified.

At a certain point, however, just the threat of squadrons of screaming Ukrainians shooting down Russian Migs has a quality and psychological impact all its own.  After watching what the Ukrainians have been able to achieve with Turkish-built Bayraktar drones and Stingers, just imagine what they can accomplish with top-of-the-line F-35’s, F-16’s, and Patriots.  It’s not about whether we can close the skies, we can.  it’s just a question of how, imagination, and courage.

If we can’t send our pilots and Patriot operators from NATO soil and airspace into Ukraine, let us teach them to fish Migs and get out of the way.  Instead of coming up with reasons to say no, let’s find some creative ways to say yes.