Raising funds through cash or in-kind gifts from citizens to pay for military equipment is nothing new. But the request of “buy me a fighter jet” made by Ukraine air force for crowdfunding a jet is unconventional.
Instead of waiting for NATO to transfer foreign fighter jets, enterprising Ukrainians seem to have started the #buymeafighterjet initiative to crowdsource the replenishment of the country’s fighter force. It is unclear whether or not the endeavor is legal.
On April 14th, a cleverly constructed video depicting what appears to be a Ukrainian jet pilot, wearing a helmet with the visor down and striding in front of a shot-up MiG-29, started spreading online. The pilot is philosophical on what the Ukrainian Air Force can achieve if resupplied with functional jets, as he observes the remains of at least two wrecked MiGs.
Donated fighters will “help me to protect my sky, filled with Russian planes that bomb my land, kill my friends and destroy our homes and everything I have ever known,” he says in Ukrainian. “Give us wings to fight for our sky.”
“Buy me a fighter jet!” he exclaims, boarding a MiG that looked to be in good condition. The video concludes with a glimpse of a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-27 taxiing and throttling up its engines.
Watch the video below:
Inside the six weeks since Russia commenced its operation, Ukraine has lost scores of jets, however it is unknown if the jet in the video was recently damaged or was one of numerous unrepairable jets downed during the battle. On the ground, the country’s pilots are constantly targeted while battling hordes of Russian jets in the air.
“I will fight with my whole heart to destroy the tanks, armored vehicles and war criminals — occupants,” the pilot concludes. “They would not escape neither from me and you nor from the anger of the Ukrainian people and God.”
The #buymeafighterjet effort estimates the average price of an aircraft at $25 million on its website, however this figure is open to interpretation. The Ukrainian Air Force presently operates the Su-25, Su-27, Su-24, and MiG-29 combat fighters, according to the report. According to the page, a new MiG-29 Fulcrum can cost $25 million, whereas a Su-27 Flanker can get up to $40 million per piece.
The site also says that Ukrainian pilots would be prepared to “quickly master and successfully protect our skies on the following aircraft,” which is an overly ambitious assertion. F-15, F-16, F-18, F-22, F-35, JAS-39 Gripen, Rafale. It is ridiculous to believe that pilots or the swarms of maintainers who would be required to support them can be swiftly educated to pilot unfamiliar aircraft. Western-built warplanes are also substantially more costly and sophisticated than Ukraine’s present fighters. The F-22 and F-35 are particularly absurd to mention, but either of these aircraft would be impossible to transfer for a variety of reasons.
The stats are connected to a comprehensive chart — maybe a wishlist — of aircraft type, location, and availability, albeit the source of the data is unknown. Supporters are not invited to make direct contributions to the fighter jet fundraising campaign on the internet. They are instead invited to send an email for further details. “Experts will advise you on technical and legal issues,” the site claims.
As shown by the incorporation of artillery and ammunition in the most recent $800 million military aid package authorized on April 13, the US opposition to sending modern weaponry suited to offensive uses to Ukraine may be weakening. Only rotorcraft have been provided to the Ukrainian war effort so far by the United States and other nations. The Pentagon has no objections to Slovakia transferring its arsenal of Soviet-era MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets to Ukraine, according to US sources.
The Polish government’s plan to send 28 MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine via the United States was foiled in early March when US officials objected.
According to the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the proposal included trying to transfer Fulcrums to the US Air Force’s Ramstein Air Base in Germany, as well as requesting that American authorities assist the Polish Air Force in acquiring an equal amount of “used” fighter jets to compensate for the loss of aerial combat capability.
Nevertheless, the Pentagon and US intelligence officials concluded that providing MiGs to Ukraine would not only “not significantly change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force relative to Russian capabilities,” but would also be viewed by Moscow as escalation of the conflict.
The Ukrainian administration has made no apologies for requesting high-performance tactical jets. Along with calling for a no-fly zone above his country, President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged NATO allies to provide recognizable aircraft such as the MiG-29 or more advanced western models. Ukraine paying for planes is not exactly a novel concept. If somebody was ready to sell them to the nation at a respectable cost, Kyiv would most probably be prepared to pay something for them.
Raising funds through cash or in-kind gifts from citizens to pay for military equipment is also nothing new. Consider the United States government’s war bond campaigns during World Wars I and II, or the Confederate Ladies Gunboat Association’s $115,000 fundraising goal to construct the impenetrable CSS Georgia during the American Civil War in 1862.
Recently, the Czech government organized a military and equipment crowdsourcing campaign on behalf of Ukraine, garnering $29.6 million in a single month. That more than covered the cost of the $18.3 million in equipment purchased with donated funds by the Czech Ministry of Defense. The money was sent to the Ukrainian Embassy in Prague, which had opened its own fundraising drive in the country just days after Russia began its complete offense.
The National Bank of Ukraine is not above seeking outside financing to help pay for the military effort. According to Reuters, as of mid-March, it has generated $40 million to fund the country’s armed forces and humanitarian aid. Anybody can contribute straight to the bank via mobile payment apps, credit cards, and other methods via the bank’s website.
Antonov, a Ukrainian aviation manufacturer, has even launched a crowdfunding campaign to help resurrect the now-destroyed lone flying An-225 Mriya cargo jet. The An-225 was destroyed previously in the conflict during fighting at Hostomel Airport outside of Kyiv.
Watch the video below:
It is a little more complicated when it comes to crowdsourcing combat jets. There are not many flyable and well-known Soviet models of relevant capability available for Ukraine to purchase. Even though many other political impediments exist, NATO nations who have the aircraft Ukraine requires may consider cash as a method to help mitigate the loss of airframes. In reality, the United States could be a good source of a few of these planes.
In the United States, there are MiG-29s for sale, at least one being flyable. Don Kirlin, owner of rival air contractor Air USA, has been seeking to sell his flyable two-seat MiG-29UB, as well as three additional MiG-29s, for years. According to previous ads, one of them is a two-seater-UB model that might be made flyable rather easily, while the other two are single-seaters that function as spare parts donor airframes.
Although the UB versions lack a radar, they do have an infrared search and track (IRST) system and can still be used in combat if properly re-equipped. Kirlin possesses spare radars and IRSTs, according to previous postings. Raptor Aviation is still selling the flyable MiG-29UB for $4.65 million. Surprisingly, the Fulcrum for the 1986 model year arrived from Ukraine and was refurbished by the Lviv MiG-29 depot, which is now mostly wrecked.
Jared Isaacman, an entrepreneur who is now an astronaut, owns another MiG-29UB.
The US government maintains a small clandestine fleet of the same combat aircraft that Russia uses, mostly MiG-29s and Su-27s, some of which were acquired from Ukraine. However, sending these planes to Ukraine would, at the very least, bring light to the covert operations that keep these planes flying against their American counterparts for advanced training, testing, and developmental assistance.
Attempting to get deeply improved MiG-21s along with modern electronic warfare pods may be the best option, however it may not be optimal. While this may appear to be a severe mismatch versus the latest Russian fighters, when coupled with the appropriate tactics, these improved MiG-21s have shown to be quite deadly, even against the world’s greatest 4th generation fighters. The MiG-21s are also relatively easy to maintain and cost less to buy and maintain over time than medium-to-heavy Soviet fighters.
The main issue is that while the idea of crowdsourcing fighters for Ukraine’s rapidly depleting air force seems appealing, putting it into practice is a different thing altogether. And irrespective of whether you have money in the bank or not, you will need to buy suitable planes to have any kind of influence. Aside from that, Ukraine requires more experienced fighters, but they must also begin training on a fourth-generation western type. The training of pilots and support workers on these new planes will take months. Every day that Ukraine waits increases the time it takes to achieve an increased, long-term tactical fighter capability.