Ukrainians want to buy F-35, Russia encourages them to do so
The article was published in Izvestia. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.
MOSCOW, (BM) – The command of the air forces of Ukraine has unveiled a new development plan. Until 2035, the Air Force dreams of acquiring foreign fighters of the 4++ generation and the most modern American “stealth” F-35s of the fifth generation. At the same time, Ukraine named no specific terms and volumes of purchases. The Ukrainian military fulfilled only a strategic goal – they chose the desired equipment from the catalog. The tactical task – to find billions of dollars for new products and their operation – they left to the country’s parliament and government.
Against the background of Ukrainian plans to purchase the A-35, former British chief of staff Richard Dannatt said that the vehicles of this type purchased for the Royal Air Force were already ruining the country’s defense department. It’s not even about their price, but about the operation cost, reaching £ 90 thousand per hour. And they will remain a heavy burden on the military budget for decades to come – their entire service life.
In the coming years, the F-35 developer and manufacturer Lockheed Martin plans to lower the cost of one F-35A with a conventional takeoff and landing to the once promised $ 80 million. Other versions still cost buyers more than a hundred million dollars.
The Ukrainian leadership plans do not imply a sharp increase in the country’s welfare by 2035. Therefore, the Air Force will have to rely on all the same modest resources. With a share of 6% of GDP’s defense budget, about 40 billion hryvnias have been allocated for all purchases, repairs, and modernization of weapons and equipment – less than $ 1.5 billion. This budget is enough, at best, to buy an F-35 squadron – with a complete stop of other equipment programs 250 – thousandth army.
But even if you collect the required amount, then, as in the case of executive cars, the cost of buying a combat aircraft is only the beginning of the cost. The cost of the entire life cycle is catching up with and exceeding the original price tag. This expense is a problem for all modern fighters, and especially for the fifth generation.
Lockheed Martin promises that by 2025 it will reduce the cost of an F-35 flight hour to “only” $ 25,000. This fact will require an exclusive service contract with them. The time in the air of a modern modification of the American F-15SE Silent Eagle from rivals Lockheed Martin will also cost a little less.
It is not surprising that with such procurement and operating costs, even the large NATO states force to limit themselves to a small number of orders for the F-35. Air fleets of the Cold War times from hundreds or thousands of third and fourth-generation combat vehicles were replaced by requests for several dozen F-35s per country.
A separate problem is the purchase of “smart” weapons, including high-precision cruise missiles and guided bombs. Due to their high cost, they are purchased in small batches of hundreds and sometimes tens of units. Even in low-intensity conflicts like Libya and Syria, this has repeatedly led to restrictions on their use.
The experience of Ukraine’s neighbors, on which it is now guided, also speaks of how difficult it is to switch to an entirely new technology generation. Poland is still unable to replace its worn-out and heavily outdated Su-22 strike aircraft with something more unique. Only in 2004, Germany – the largest economy in Europe – managed to abandon the Soviet MiG-29. All this happened a decade and a half after the unification of the country. And the former German cars themselves are still serving their age in the Polish Air Force.
The contract for 32 new F-35A, which has been worked out for many years without considering the cost of weapons, cost Poland $ 4.6 billion. The country is thinking about postponing supplies for more extended periods or suspending their implementation amid the economic crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Polish Air Force, meanwhile, will continue to use the Soviet legacy.
The Ukrainian Air Force is still keeping afloat only because the country has its own aircraft repair companies. With their help, it is possible not only to repaint combat aircraft in the fashionable “pixel” camouflage but also to make minor modifications combined with maintenance, loudly called modernizations. When switching to any manufacturer’s modern foreign cars, this opportunity to save a lot of money will be closed for the country. You will have to pay even for updating the board’s software in foreign currency and at foreign prices.
The successful acquisition of two or three dozen brand new F-35s will give Ukraine nothing from a military perspective. The balance of forces in the air with Russia, designated as a probable enemy, will remain incomparable. But they will draw a lot of money and resources from other types and arms of the troops. The purchase of advanced aircraft will interfere with their rearmament and negatively affect the officers’ wallets and contractors of Independent.
American “invisible men” would become a developing country in the classic “white elephants” of war, a costly weapon to maintain but unfortunate or impossible to use for its intended purpose. Therefore, the sale of such equipment to Ukraine can only be welcomed. It is even a pity that it is unrealistic for financial reasons.
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