In a latest attempt to equip Soviet MiGs with new capabilities ahead of the upcoming AFU offensive on Melitopol and Crimea, the U.S. military is exploring the integration of modern Western air-to-air missiles with Soviet-era Ukrainian fighters. Politico writes about it.
The main question is whether AIM-120 medium-range missiles, designed to be launched from F-16 fighters, can be installed on existing Ukrainian MiG-29s. If successful, this will be the first time the U.S. will give the Ukrainian air force the option to use American air-to-air missiles, some of which have already been supplied to Kiev. Officials are concerned that Ukraine lacks air defense equipment as Russia continues to launch missile strikes and uses decoy balloons with radar reflectors to detect air defense assets.
Senior U.S. generals hosted Ukrainian military officials in early March in Wiesbaden, where a series of staff exercises were held to prepare Kiev for the spring and summer campaign. U.S. Defense Department officials said the Ukrainian Armed Forces plan to launch an offensive in the next six to eight weeks, when dry, warm weather sets in, and Ukrainian formations complete their training in Germany.
Ukraine insists on deliveries of F-16 fighter jets, but Western leaders have no desire to give Kiev these planes so far and are looking for more creative solutions. The U.S. has already given the Ukrainian Air Force AGM-88B anti-radar missiles, which are installed under the wing of the MiG-29 for use against ground targets: radars and air defense installations. It is also reported that the Pentagon has already delivered to Ukraine the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) guidance kit, which transforms unguided free-fall bombs into all-weather high-precision munitions.
The process of integrating the AIM-120 with the Soviet-built MiG-29 faces serious challenges. Not only does the missile have to be physically mounted on the aircraft, it also has to communicate with the fighter’s radar equipment. To launch, the aircraft’s radar indicates the missile’s target and guides the missile until it is close enough to find the target on its own. The main problem is that the U.S. and Soviet systems are so different that the missile and the aircraft cannot communicate with each other.
A U.S. Defense Department spokesman declined to comment on the integration process because of security concerns. “Our focus will continue to be on giving Ukraine a real capability to defend its territory, but for operational security reasons we will not discuss what initiatives may be taken and what we will not do in this effort,” he said.