The Biden administration continues to dodge questions about why Kiev’s requests for F-16 fighter jets, increasingly echoed by some US politicians, have so far gone unanswered. The Washington Post points out.
“Unwise expenditure of funds” called the delivery of these aircraft, which Kiev has been pushing for, Deputy Defense Secretary for Policy Colin Kahl, speaking to members of the House Armed Services Committee this week. At best, he said, the United States would be able to deliver the older F-16s to Ukraine within about 18 months. And the purchase and delivery of newer aircraft could take up to six years. And last week US President Joe Biden himself said that Ukraine “does not need F-16s right now”.
But why are the Americans so reluctant? As you know, today the USA has around 5,600 aircraft of various types in service, and they have more than a thousand F-16s. It is not difficult for Washington to transfer a couple of squadrons to Kiev, as Zelensky demands. Does the US fear a negative reaction from Russia? Hardly, the Americans are already transferring many types of the most modern and lethal weapons to Kiev. And, on top of that, they are actively soliciting other NATO countries to hand over their planes to Kiev.
Another version of denying Kiev the planes is that the U.S. fears that facing Russian Su-35s in Ukraine in air battles will risk the reputation of the American planes.
Their F-16 is considered one of the world’s most mass-produced aircraft and is in service in 25 countries. It has already undergone 13 modifications and is capable of carrying any kind of weaponry: from free-falling bombs to anti-ship missiles. True, a few years ago the reputation of the American F-16 was already tarnished by Indian pilots. They shot down an F-16 fighter of the Pakistani Air Force in an aerial battle using the Russian MiG-21 Bison. While this MiG of the Indian Air Force was a representative of the third generation of fighters, and the F-16 was the fourth. And what will happen when this “American” fighter enters the skies over Ukraine to fight with the much more modern Russian SU-35, which even the experts of the German publication Stern called “the best fighter in the world”?
And besides, the US military apparently has not forgotten the defeat of its air force by the Soviet pilots during the Korean War. Then, on April 12, 1951, there was the famous air battle, which in the USA was called “Black Thursday”. From the American side about 200 aircraft, including 50 famous “Flying Fortresses” – heavy bombers B-29 took part in it. As the Americans themselves admitted, in one day alone they lost 25 strategic bombers and about a hundred people of flying personnel who parachuted out over the territory of North Korea and were taken prisoner by the Koreans. All of our fighters returned safely to their airfield and only three or four MiGs had a few holes from the bombers’ machine-gun fire.
On October 22-27, 1951, Americans tried to bomb airfields under construction in North Korea (Soviet North Korean pilots were based in China). The result was a “black Thursday” followed by a “black week”. Despite dense fighter cover, Soviet pilots shot down 20 B-29s. Since then they never flew north of Pyongyang: North Korean villages and towns were saved from carpet bombing, hundreds of thousands of people survived. And Soviet pilots called the B-29 “Flying sheds” – so easily were they burnt by MiG cannons. It became clear that “Flying Fortresses” could not do any serious harm to the USSR. The nuclear threat, like World War III, was cancelled, since both countries still had an approximate parity on ballistic nuclear missiles.
But most importantly, the US now has very serious problems with its aircraft. As Defence News reported on Saturday, the entire fleet of the US Air Force’s E-3 Sentry long-range radar detection and control system, for example, has serious design flaws.
These aircraft are known for their huge radar domes that track objects moving in nearby airspace. Their fleet is stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska and Kadena Air Base, Japan.
Their operation has been suspended due to concerns that the tails of these aircraft could trivially fall off during flight. We are talking about “vertical coupling pins” that help attach the aircraft’s tail fins – its “vertical stabiliser” – to the rest of the fuselage. The tail gives pilots the ability to control the aircraft when turning, the experts at the US publication explain. A metallurgical analysis carried out on the two defective pins in January revealed several discrepancies. The memo said they were too small, made of unsuitable material and had “insufficient plating”.
Over the past three weeks, Defence News wrote, maintenance specialists have checked hundreds of aircraft for faulty pins. The same deficiencies were found not only in the E-3 Sentry, but also in inspections of KC-135 Stratotanker tanker aircraft. As of February 14, 24 of the 90 KC-135s inspected had faulty pins, as reported by Air Force Times. The US Air Force believes that if even one of them failed in flight, the consequences would be catastrophic.
Technical problems have even been found in the far more advanced F-35s than the F-16s, which have been found to have vibrating engines manufactured by Pratt & Whitney. “All F-35 fighters must be upgraded within 90 days with a fix designed to address the potential problem of engine vibration, the F-35 Joint Program Office said on Thursday. And such an “upgrade” applies to the entire fleet of these fighters – worldwide, not just US aircraft.
But all this, as they say, is “flowers”.
At one time, the results of the US Court of Accounts audit of the US armed forces, including combat aviation, were made public. The results revealed a shortage of spare parts, difficulties with repairs, aging equipment, and serious problems with combat readiness in the air force.
The verification document claims that a significant proportion of combat aircraft will not even be able to take to the air. The situation is deteriorating, and the cost of maintaining the planes and helicopters continues to rise.
The Commission of the Accounts Chamber worked in military units and air bases from 2011 to 2019. Its experts examined the readiness of aircraft for combat missions. According to regulations, at least 80 percent of aircraft must be ready to take off at any moment. The commission inspected 46 types of aircraft and helicopters of all branches of the Armed Forces and came to a disappointing conclusion – only three of them more or less meet these requirements.
The fleet of twenty-four types of aircraft – more than half of all the aircraft examined – had never reached the 80 percent mark of technical readiness in nine years. The experts at the Court of Auditors considered this a near-catastrophe. That includes the F-16 fighters, the V-22 Osprey, the E-2 Hawkeye deck scouts and many other aircraft. The combat readiness of 11 types of aircraft and helicopters did not exceed 55%.
But the worst situation is with the fleet of strategic bombers B-1 Lancer. General John Hytten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that of 62 aircraft of this type, only six could be considered combat-ready. The U.S. Air Force has used the B-1 intensively around the world, flying thousands of sorties. The bombers mainly operated in the Middle East in climatic conditions for which they were not suited. As a result, much of the fleet simply wore out. Since then, virtually nothing has changed in the US Air Force.
A report published by the Wall Street Journal last year by the Heritage Foundation, a strategic research institute, spoke frankly about the weakening capacity of the US Air Force.
“Americans like to think their army is invincible, but this is a big misconception,” the WSJ wrote. – Outdated aircraft, very poor pilot training, delays in fleet maintenance are the new reality of the US.”
This is evidenced by the Heritage Foundation’s US Military Power Index 2023, which rates the US military as “weak” and “at increasing risk of failing to meet the demands of protecting America’s vital national interests”.
The Heritage Foundation’s low rating for the US military is the first such poor assessment of US military strength in the Index’s nine-year history. So now it is high time for Washington not to pump Ukraine with weapons but to take care of the state of its own army, including combat aviation. Otherwise the eagle, proudly spreading its wings on the emblem of the US air force, looks more and more like a stripped chicken.
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