ROBERT ZUBRIN, DENVER
Continuing to deny Ukraine the tools it needs risks defeat.
US President Joe Biden has called Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine “a war of choice.” That is true. But Biden also now faces a choice. He can choose victory or defeat.
Congress has stepped up to the challenge, passing the Ukraine Democracy Lend Lease Act of 2022, and a US$36 billion Ukraine aid appropriation, including US$20 billion for weapons. This gives Biden all the authority he needs to send Ukraine the arms necessary for the country to prevail. But Biden is not doing so.
The Biden administration has greatly improved its orientation since the prewar period, when following the line advocated by Democratic Party foreign policy defeatists, it refused to send anything more than token arms to Ukraine. It arguably virtually invited the invasion by repeatedly declaring right up to the eve of Putin’s attack that the US would not intervene with its own forces “under any scenario.”
Now, the administration is sending large amounts of small arms and even a modest amount of short-range heavy weapons, including 70 advanced howitzers. Had this level of aid been provided before the invasion it might well have deterred it entirely. It certainly would have prevented it from getting as far as it has.
So, one would think the administration has learned the lesson that it cannot restrain Putin by restraining itself. Unfortunately, this seems not to be the case. While the short-range weapons Biden is providing are enabling Ukraine to put up a stiff fight, they are insufficient to allow it to win. To achieve victory, Ukraine needs long range weapons too. Scandalously, Biden is continuing to deny Ukraine’s desperate plea for these essentials.
I have friends in Ukraine, including some involved in military operations. They are unanimous in backing up the statements of Ukraine’s top leaders regarding the absolute need for getting hold of long-range weapon systems as soon as possible. To be specific, there are two things Ukraine needs if it is to survive and prevail: rocket artillery and fighter aircraft.
Ukraine is begging the Biden administration to send it either the truck-mounted HiMARS or tracked-vehicle Multiple Launch Rocket Systems.
These systems carry the same weaponry, with the HiMARS wielding one weapon pod and the MLRS having two. Each weapon pod can carry either six M31 medium range (70 km) rockets or one GPS-guided ATACM ballistic missile, which can deliver a 500 lb. conventional warhead on targets as far at 300 kilometers away.
Using their M31 rockets, these systems would be able to outrange Russia’s armor and artillery systems and knock them out. Furthermore, they could be used to strike the Russian rear, cutting off Putin’s front-line forces from supply and forcing their retreat.
Using their ATACMs, Ukrainian forces would not only be able smash up all Russian helicopter and fighter aircraft bases within effective operational range of Ukraine (Russians do not use aerial refueling), but strike the port of Sevastopol, breaking Putin’s grain blockade by destroying his Black Sea fleet.
Ukraine’s other critical need is fighter aircraft. While obtaining legacy Soviet MiGs from former Warsaw Pact countries would be useful, it is not enough. Ukraine needs modern fighters. Specifically, the Ukrainians are asking for F-16s. While these are no longer America’s best, they are better than anything the Russians have. Over 4,000 of them have been produced, with some delivered to such questionable destinations as Pakistan and Venezuela.
There is no reason why these should not be provided to Ukraine. The claim that Ukrainians would not be able to fly them is bogus. The F-16 is a famously easy plane to learn how to fly. An experienced F-16 pilot has told me he could teach me how to fly one in ten hours and I am not a pilot.
In contrast, Ukraine’s fighter pilots are top drawer, so much so that they have been giving the Russians a real hard time flying antiquated and inferior models of former Soviet MiGs. Without question they could be rapidly trained to fly F-16s. The war has been going on now for three months. A large contingent of Ukrainian pilots could have been trained on F-16s already. Unfortunately, that has not been done.
That deficiency should be remedied without further delay. With a hundred F-16s at their disposal, the Ukrainians would enjoy crushing air superiority. All Russian bomber and cruise missile attacks could be interdicted, all Russian ships at sea could be sunk, and a quick response providing battlefield superiority everywhere would be assured.
In short, with adequate provision of rocket artillery and fighter aircraft, Ukraine would win the war. Without it, Russia’s great superiority in numbers and conventional artillery firepower, combined with the devastating economic impact of its naval blockade and its constant unanswered air strikes on cities all across Ukraine, could prove overbearing for Ukraine.
It is in America’s vital interest that Ukraine prevails. If Russia wins, Putin’s forces will be positioned to attack NATO countries that the US is pledged under its treaty to defend.
With the exception of Poland, none of these countries have significant forces to defend themselves. That means that American forces numbering hundreds of thousands will have to be deployed to the Baltic States and Romania, at great cost and risk to ourselves. Furthermore, if we allow Ukraine to be defeated, any deterrent we might offer to dissuade China from taking Taiwan will be severely undermined.
After all, if we won’t even send the right arms to save a strategically important country whose territory and sovereignty we are pledged to uphold, would we really risk exposing our Pacific fleet to Chinese anti-ship missiles to defend a nation whose sovereignty we do not even officially recognize? China’s expansionist leaders would surely have their doubts. By failing to enforce deterrence in Europe we would risk inviting yet another war in the far east.
On the other hand, if Ukraine wins, Russia’s capability for aggression against NATO would be permanently paralyzed by the presence of a well-armed and fiercely pro-western nation standing astride its long southwest border. Furthermore, a Ukrainian victory, followed by western-backed Ukrainian economic success, would severely undermine the Kremlin kleptocratic dictatorship in Russia itself, as Russians come to question its utility.
If Russia wins, or even achieves a stalemate with some gain of Ukrainian territory, its threat to NATO will be amplified. Furthermore, China’s power will be multiplied still more because a Putin-led Russian war machine facing off with the West will become totally dependent economically on Beijing.
But if Ukraine wins, Russia will be neutralized, or perhaps even added to the Western alliance, and the ability of America to deter aggression worldwide will be powerfully reasserted.
Biden has called Putin a war criminal and said that he must go. The president was right on both counts. He needs to act as if he meant it. There can be no continuation of the discredited policy of hanging back on delivering the types of weapons Ukraine needs for victory. The stakes are much too high to choose to lose.
Dr. Robert Zubrin @robert_zubrin is an American aerospace engineer. His latest book, The Case for Space, was recently published by Prometheus books.
A version of this article appeared in the Kyiv Post.
“It arguably virtually invited the invasion by repeatedly declaring right up to the eve of Putin’s attack that the US would not intervene with its own forces “under any scenario.” ”
If I knew my invitation was to be delivered by Javelin, I would still consider that a deterrent. It’s political theater to argue it’s an invitation instead.