And Op Ed by John Liccione: The Lone Democratic Candidate for Congress in FL’s 13th District Currently Running Against Anna Luna
(This op ed is an updated version of John’s original article published on RussiLeaks.com just two weeks after Putin launched his Ukraine invasion on February 23, 2022)
Let’s 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
Why were we still talking about old Soviet-era Migs in Poland as hand-me-downs for the Ukrainian Air Force after Putin invaded last year, 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 General Dynamics F-16 Falcon, and the Patriot Air Defense System? This is simply a failure in imagination within the Biden administration (and in Elon Musk’s mind) 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 All Over
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. On March 28, 2022, the AP 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 Prime Minister 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, I witnessed foreign military officers marching in formation to language classes in the strange-looking uniforms of their militaries. Turns out they were pilots from Iran of 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 45 years ago. If we can train Iranian pilots in America 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? Put them on hold and 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 five F-35’s to the Ukrainian war effort, 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 exactly. I’m heartened to see the recent news that we’re now going to do this very thing here in the US and in other NATO nations. It’s a crying shame it took the Biden administration and Europe a year and a half to get there.
I can imagine that there is no greater motivation than one would feel when one is staring in the face of extermination of one’s people. Just ask some old 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, speak English, and could be pilot candidates? Any volunteers? The USAF in conjunction with the Ukraine Air Force should be actively recruiting Ukrainian Americans here in the US to be pilots as part of a long-term joint Ukraine-American training program.
Patriots and Video Teleconferencing
Now let’s talk about the Patriot Air Defense System. We should have been immediately training Ukrainian soldiers on operation of the Patriot a year and a half ago. 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 over the shoulder guidance 24/7. 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. Not old Migs and Soviet era anti-aircraft missiles.
In a perfect world, all of the above is already happening and we just don’t know about it because it’s classified. (In hindsight, this doesn’t seem to have been the case back in 2022.)
At a certain point, however, just the threat of squadrons of screaming Ukrainians shooting down Russian Migs and attack helicopters and missiles and drones, at scale, has a quality and psychological impact all its own. It will break Russia’s spirit. 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, of imagination, and of courage.
If we can’t send our pilots and Patriot operators from NATO soil into Ukraine, let us teach them from afar to fish Migs, then get out of the way.
Instead of coming up with reasons to say no, let’s find some creative ways to say yes.