Long stories short
- The young person at the centre of a BBC controversy said through a lawyer that nothing inappropriate or unlawful happened with an unnamed presenter.
- Vladimir Putin met Yevgeny Prigozhin and other Wagner commanders a few days after their aborted mutiny
- The first week of July was the hottest ever recorded on the planet, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
Western leaders have descended on Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, for a key Nato summit. It started well, with Turkey last night finally agreeing to let Sweden into the military alliance. But on the question of Ukraine, it will be harder for allies to maintain unity.
The big question is when and how Ukraine should join Nato. The easier question should be how to give Kyiv the weapons it needs to defeat Russia. Top agenda item? F-16 fighter jets.
So what? Ukraine has proved itself a fearsome foe on land. But the Russian invaders still have massive air superiority, making it difficult for the counter-offensive to advance much further. Zelensky has been pushing for F-16 fighter jets for months, but Washington is still dragging its feet.
A cadre of Western states is pushing Kyiv’s case in Vilnius. The fightback against Putin’s war may depend on the outcome.
Fighting Falcon. General Dynamics originally designed the F-16 in the 70s to beat the Russian Air Force. The old American jets outperform Ukraine’s Soviet-era squadrons of MiG-29s on almost every level.
They are both supersonic, all-weather fighting machines. But currently, Ukrainian pilots have to fly with no computer-enhanced controls and have to “eyeball” many of their targets in MiG-29s, putting them at serious risk. F-16s would allow Ukrainian pilots to:
– see further with their advanced radar and last longer in the air;
– launch precision bombs guided by laser and GPS;
– defend Ukrainian cities against Russian cruise missiles and Iranian-made Shahed drones; and
– shoot air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles without maintaining a radar lock, including using anti-radiation missiles to destroy ground-based radar systems.
By the numbers:
3,000 – F-16s in service in 25 countries (a third are in the US).
200 – the number of jets Ukraine says it needs.
8 – the number of the F-16s required to take out a radar installation – four aircraft to attack and four to protect them from enemy planes.
$2 billion – estimated cost of sending the jets to Ukraine and training the pilots, according to US officials.
Lessons to learn. The F-16’s avionics are completely different. Ukraine would need all manner of spare parts, software and weapons to function, as well as decent runways. It takes one to three years to train an F-16 pilot to operate its radar, sensors and weapons and up to one year to prepare an engineer.
Several smaller Western powers are lining up to help:
– The Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark are ready to send the aircraft.
– The UK will begin ground and elementary flight training for up to twenty Ukrainian pilots in August.
– Romania is building a training base, and the Czech Republic will supply the simulator.
But the final decision on whether Kyiv gets them – and when – is up to the US.
Sticking points. Ukraine is unlikely to get a fast-track invitation to join Nato in Vilnius – an option pushed by Poland and the Baltic states – as the US and other allies push for enhanced security guarantees instead of membership. There are also clear divisions in other areas:
- The US reportedly did not support Ben Wallace, UK defence secretary, in his bid to become Nato chief because the UK’s push to train Ukrainian pilots was not coordinated with them.
- The UK, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and Spain have all criticised Washington’s decision to send widely banned cluster munitions to Ukraine.
- The US will transfer F-16s to Turkey (announced within hours of Erdogan lifting his block on Sweden’s Nato bid), despite the Bipartisan House group raising concerns about the threat to Greek sovereignty in the Aegean Sea.
The main stumbling block for the US is – and always was – Russia’s “red lines”. Those were mentioned when HIMARS missile launchers, Abrams tanks and Patriot missiles were initially discussed. But none of these decisions led to the “escalation” that the White House feared.
After Prigozhin’s one-day coup attempt last month, it’s clear that Putin’s “red lines” are more flexible than we originally thought.
Also, in the nibs
Photograph Staff Sgt. Jordan Martin/ U.S. Air National Guard