It doesn’t cost $100 million to train 30 Ukrainian fighter pilots

Representative Adam Kinzinger (Rino-IL) introduced an amendment to H.R. 7900, the National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) for fiscal year 2023, that reduces by $100,000,000 operations and maintenance funding to the U.S. Air Force’s Flying Hour Program. That funding will instead go to a program touted as training Ukrainian pilots to fly our F-16s. The House passed the NDAA on Friday. I’m sure OpEds are in draft right now discussing both why this is crucial to our safety and security and why it’s a really bad idea. I would just like Congress to acknowledge the truth: that this is, de facto, their agreement to declare our full participation in the Ukraine war.

Yes, Ukraine has about 30 fighter pilots with sufficient English language skills to be trained to operate our military jets. Thomas Medwick over at The War Zone has a thorough article describing the thinking behind this plan.

Why do we need this extra $100 million on top of all the other funding headed their way? You remember H.R. 7691, the special appropriation for Ukraine from a couple of months ago? That contained $9 billion for military operations and maintenance including for things like training. Has that all been budgeted away? It certainly hasn’t been spent by now, not even a little bit.

The Kinzinger (R-eally glad he’s not running again-IL) amendment includes training, potentially on all our air combat platforms. But let’s get down to brass tacks—what happens when you give a mouse a cookie? He’s going to want a glass of milk. There’s no sense in training pilots if we’re not going to give them the jets.

Do we have a bunch of surplus jets, in good condition, just sitting around that we can send to Ukraine? And a bunch after that, and then another bunch? Because, you know, if we do send them then Russia is going to up her air game. As recently as a couple of months ago, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander didn’t think this was such a good idea.

Image: Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor (edited) by Rob Shenk. CC BY-SA 2.0Ukraine flag (edited) by wirestock.

Kinzinger (R D-IL) also included training using potentially all our munition types. Funding is there to cover becoming better friends. Training Ukrainians to become trainers of pilots in Ukraine and elsewhere is also in there, as well as training on the air combat platforms of NATO countries. We’re picking up NATO members’ tabs once again. And sorry to bring this up but, after incident upon incident in Afghanistan, will we be vetting these Ukrainians for loyalty to Ukraine and the West?

So, we’re just going to be training pilots? Nope, that’s not the half of it. It’s not the tenth of it.

To keep a bird in the air you need a flock on the ground. If we train pilots who then go off to war, we will need to have trainers on the ground in the field of operations to do follow-up, problem-solving, and remedial work with those pilots. We will need to establish warehousing and logistics for routine and specialized maintenance of the aircraft and munitions. That will require our logistician types and a set of interpreters and support staff. It will also necessitate training their mechanics, who probably don’t have sufficient English language skills to come here for that training without a technically proficient translator or two. Then we’ll provide in-place supervisory oversight for those operations, as well as the security operations necessary to safeguard our people and material.

We’re going to be on the ground in Ukraine. Or will all this be based in and operated from some nearby NATO country, one that’s willing to take the hits should Russian ire be raised? And do we care if our planes are shot down over Russia? Are there any components in there that we might not want Russians to get their hands on?

Communications equipment may have to be modified in the jets to be compatible with Ukrainian military systems. More jets will require more fuel and other lubricants. Jet fuel is already a very tight market in Europe. So, will we be drawing down our Strategic Reserve even further and sending it to be spent against the Russians?

I hope and pray the Senate, and House members again in committee, will thoughtfully consider all this as this bill is negotiated to its final form.

Anony Mee is the nom de blog of a retired public servant.

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