Weekly megathread for news/updates/discussion of Russian invasion of Ukraine - May 18
This thread is posted weekly on Thursday - please try to post relevant content in here, such as news, updates, opinion articles, etc. Especially significant updates may warrant a separate topic, but most should be posted here.
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Pentagon Says Accounting Mistake Leaves U.S. With $3 Billion More in Arms for Ukraine archived
Happy little accident.
Waaaait, if I'm not mistaken, everyone was talking about that back when we were comparing aid contributions to Ukraine. In the discussion of how (not) to compare dollar values of aid, and whether and how to attribute EU aid to the constituent nations and what all other silliness was going on, I distinctly remember that US aid dollar values were overinflated because they price their used equipment as if it was new. [If I had to hunt for a citation, I'd look first into Perun's videos on the topic.] We knew this for months.
I guess that accounting "error" got inconvenient when they tried to squeeze more aid into an existing budget, huh?
That sounds like a pretty reasonable assumption to me. Or, they might have intentionally set out that way so they had some wiggle room later if needed. Either way, I can imagine a few choice words emanating from the Kremlin when this headline hit.
I'd like to leave two twitter threads here, because I find they highlight a perspective on the whole F-16 debate that I haven't seen expressed as clearly and credibly elsewhere.
TL;DR: F-16s are difficult to maintain, and they're designed to be maintained on the front lines by highly skilled technicians. It's also likely that Ukraine will get maintenance-heavy older aircraft with lesser capabilities. They're not suitable to be operated on ad-hoc airfields, like e.g. Mig-29s are. They require an immaculate airfield, which means Russia will have an easier time identifying their location and disrupting operations. It is also a pipe-dream to think that Ukraine could seriously contest russian air superiority. There won't be a Desert Storm style air campaign; there probably won't even be denial of Russian airspace to Russian aircraft. With clever use of data link, F-16s can still be dangerous in an air-to-air role, but mostly the advantage is in enabling the (better) use of air-launched cruise missiles and HARM. This isn't to say we shouldn't send them, but that we should temper our expectations for when they will have an impact, and how large that impact will be.
Personal thoughts: I'm more and more confident there should've been some Saab Gripens in there as well, at least if air-to-air missions are important. More capable of using improvised airfields, higher-range missiles (MBDA Meteor) and a more modern, presumably higher-performance radar. Having merely the threat of a Gripen in the air would force Russia to fly a lot more cautiously, as they might just be the outranged ones now.[*] For ground strikes, I think nothing beats compatibility with the US arsenal, so F-16 is a decent choice there. Assuming NATO/EU make rational decisions in close coordination with Ukraine, I can only assume that Ukraine isn't particularly interested in air-to-air; or that Gripen training is underway secretly. If we don't assume rational decisions (or assume that the relevant governments know more than me, I guess :D), the fighter coalition could be betting too much money on the wrong horse.
I'm leaning towards the assumption that Ukraine doesn't care that much for air-to-air; their air defenses are solid enough and improving steadily, and actually contesting Russia's air space would entail suppression of Russian air defense, which is just not reasonable. There isn't much to be gained by air-to-air missions that you can't do from the ground. Hence, air-to-ground missions. And hence F-16. I suppose if they had their way, Ukraine would love a plane that maintains and operates like a Gripen and has the weapons compatibility list of an F-16.
Also credit to the reddit user who posted them on a german sub.
[*] To illustrate this, imagine flying a Mig-31 on your regular combat air patrol a good bit behind Russian lines. You're pretty much waiting for a chance target to pop up behind Ukrainian lines. You'd then lob a missile at it without ever being in danger yourself. During these patrols, your radar warning receiver is constantly alerting you to the fact there's a Patriot or IRIS-T or other western SAM system in Ukraine, and it can probably see you. But that's ok, you're far out of range of their missiles. You know where the missiles are, you know their range, you're safe. Now if you have to assume that there might be a gripen in the air, you're in deep shit. The Gripen could keep its radar off, sneak up on you as close as reasonably possible without being detected by your own radar or that of your own SAMs. The Gripen knows where you are, because it's data linked to the Patriot site. Once in range, it'll lob a missile your way. That missile goes marching all the way across the front line, 100, 150km or so. All the while, to you, esteemed Mig-31 driver, it all seems fairly routine. Sure, there's a Patriot site somewhere in the distance, looking for stuff, but it's far enough away. Once the Meteor is close enough to you that you can't reasonably escape anymore, it turns on its own radar to home in on you. Your radar warning receiver screams what can only be summed up as "we're all going to die!". There's seconds left until impact, and no maneuver you do could possibly prevent that. That hypothetical, that threat is why Russia would have to push back its own air activity if Ukraine had Meteor missiles.
This geopolitics decanted episode from a month ago covers the issues you outline fairly well, as well as a few more.
Apparently a big issue with the F-16s is that the NATO doctrine assumes air superiority, so the anti-air missiles carried by NATO planes assume a massive amount of kinetic energy coming from the aircraft's height/speed. Ukraine will be limited by Russian S-400 and S-300 so they will be flying very low and the missiles will be fired in very dense air so their range will be limited in comparison to what the sticker says. Which probably means giving them later models to be effective at all, which will invariably find themselves in the hands of the Chinese etc. Given that they are going ahead with this, it will be interesting to see what the solution to this problem is.
The contributor also suggests the Gripen because it's specifically designed to fight Russia in a war where it's outnumbered by flying at low altitudes and landing at dispersed air bases, with electronic warfare packages designed to specifically target Russian planes. The limiting factor appears to be the number of air frames available, I think a number of 16 was optimistically suggested.
I think this is the wrong assumption. You should take a look at the podcast above -- Ukraine has been able to mostly sideline the VKS so far in this war, but their involvement has been creeping up and as Ukraine depletes its GBAD stocks their effect on this war will increase. Western solutions like that Patriot are a decent stop gap, but they don't fill the same role as the S-300 and we don't have the supply to maintain them as a fully equivalent solution. The fighters are the solution to this problem, but there are many tradeoffs there as well.
Apologies for the double reply, but it does seem like that Ukraine will also be receiving some Gripens as well:
All good. This is big enough that it deserves the thread bump. Good news. More where that came from, please.
US signals to allies it won’t block their export of F-16 jets to Ukraine (CNN)
Sorry for the german source on a matter of US politics...
Apparently, the US is joining the "fighter
mafiacoalition". Current partners: UK, NL, DK, FR, US. No one has volunteered fighters yet, as far as I can tell. But even if any partner is willing to send their fighters, I doubt we'd hear about it, if the pilots aren't even trained yet. Once the pilots are ready, I don't think the problem is going to be that we can't find a few planes.
On the topic of german participation, our MoD has said that Germany can't help all that much, as both Tornado and Eurofighter aren't really what Ukraine needs right now. The tornado because it's aging (at this point it's apparently a maintenance nightmare. 20 years ago, it required 80 man-hours of maintenance per hour of flight. I've heard the number of 300h thrown around for these days, but can't confirm.) and the Eurofighter because it just isn't what Ukraine needs. (I assume that's because the Eurofighter is predominantly an A-A platform, not A-G.) Quote: "We are experts in armor and air defence - and it'll stay that way."
For anyone who's been napping and not really following things too closely:
Something is happening - I'm not exactly sure what, and the signal/noise ratio is bad right now. It could be mostly psyop, but it seems like something is going on at the least. Ukraine-aligned Russian partisans/deserters are occupying Russian territory near the border, it seems?
This is, as far as I can see right now, a very minor development as far as the hard facts go. It could be a Ukrainian-sanctioned incursion into Russia, which is something we haven't really seen before in such an overt way. But beyond that: it's very local, and unlikely to affect the situation all too much. It might develop into something bigger, or these guys might disappear into the woodwork and wreak havoc on Russia behind the front lines. Who knows, at this point.
If there's one thing I can say for certain, it's that /r/noncredibledefense is having a blast right now.
Pro-Ukrainian Russian partisans advance into Russia’s Belgorod region in surprise raid (Yahoo News)
And where did they get the tank?
This is the first time I've looked at that sub and I probably won't look back often. But I must say, I liked the meme of Putin saying "I need a ride, not ammo."
It certainly isn't for everyone. It is however a surprisingly good place to find the latest news, as far as defense topics go. Considering it's a shitposting sub, you'll not learn what the news is, just that there is news. Doesn't mean it's a good place to get your news, but the fact that it works at all is interesting.