Ukraine Gets More MiG Parts. But Kyiv’s Old Fighters Won’t Last Forever. – Forbes

The Ukrainian air force could get another influx of MiGs—potentially keeping the air arm in the fight as Russia’s wider war on Ukraine grinds into its fourth month.

The German government on Tuesday confirmed it has donated to the Ukrainian government a stock of MiG-29 parts, apparently left over from the period following the Cold War when the German air force operated ex-East German MiGs.

When the Ukrainian air force last got a shipment of MiG parts, back in April—presumably from Poland, which bought Germany’s old MiG-29s in 2002—the Ukrainians were able to return to service 20 fighters, more than making up for recent losses.

The Ukrainians apparently have written off a few MiGs since then. The German parts could compensate for those losses. It’s not a permanent solution to the air arm’s long-term problems, of course—it still could run out of airplanes, eventually.

But for now, the Ukrainian air force has enough pilots, planes, weapons and fuel to launch up to 30 sorties a day, according to recent reporting by Foreign Policy’s Jack Detsch.

The Ukrainian air force went to war with three brigades of the supersonic, twin-engine MiG-29s—one each in the western, central and southern regions of Ukraine. It’s unclear how many jets the brigades’ six squadrons possessed. Between 37 and 70, most likely—all of which Ukraine inherited from the Soviet Union back in 1991.


Russian forces have destroyed at least seven Ukrainian MiGs in the air or on the ground, reducing Kyiv’s pre-war MiG fleet to as few as 30. But it’s possible the Ukrainians have, or had, dozens more MiG-29s in storage. Spare parts not only help to keep in-service jets flightworthy—they also allow engineers to restore grounded planes.

It’s obvious the Ukrainians are fixing up every old MiG they can get their hands on. There’s photographic evidence of at least two MiG-29s flying combat missions while wearing the livery of the Ukrainian air force’s defunct aerobatic team, which disbanded back in 2002.

More MiG losses are inevitable as the war rages on. Parts can keep old airframes in flying condition—but, realistically, they can’t make new airframes. Kyiv’s MiGs won’t last forever. And there aren’t many potential sources of fresh planes.

Poland had offered Ukraine its ex-German MiGs, but insisted on America’s help getting them into Ukraine. The U.S. government decided that would be too provocative, and the Polish MiG deal apparently collapsed.

Slovakia’s offer to donate its dozen MiG-29s reportedly still is on the table. The Slovak government demanded NATO’s help protecting its air space as a precondition for sending the MiGs to Ukraine. Poland and the Czech Republic reportedly are considering extending their own air patrols over Slovakia in order to free up the Slovak MiGs.

It’s hard to project how long the Ukrainian MiG force might last. German parts and Slovak jets could sustain it for a few months—barring a sharp escalation in the fighting, of course.

But if the war drags into 2023, Kyiv probably is going to need more fighters. It’s not for no reason that Ukrainian pilots have been begging for surplus American F-15s and F-16s. But if merely shipping Polish MiGs was too provocative, in the U.S. government’s assessment, then donating whole F-15s surely would be a non-starter.

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