If the U.S. can’t give Western jets to Kyiv, it’s got a plan B.
In the last few months, the U.S. Air Force has modified Ukrainian MiG-29s to carry Western anti-radar missiles, turned U.S. strategic bombers into cargo carriers, and transformed airlifters into long-range strike aircraft, officials said this week, as Russia and the changing Indo-Pacific security environment have forced the service to think outside the box.
The modifications to the Soviet-era MiG-29s, which were done by an undisclosed Air Force contractor, will allow Ukraine to wield U.S. AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles. It’s one way to get Kyiv Western-compatible capabilities without the policy decision on whether to provide Ukraine U.S. fighter aircraft, and the Air Force is interested in seeing what else can be done, said Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown Jr.
“These are the conversations I want to make sure we are having,” Brown said at the Air & Space Forces Association’s annual conference outside Washington, D.C.. “Whether we decide to do it or not, I think we actually need to have the conversations on some of these to see what options there are.”
Air Force Special Operations Command and the Air Force Research Laboratory are testing another option: palletizing U.S. cruise missiles so they can be dropped out of the back of a cargo airplane. Last fall, a pallet was pushed out the back of an MC-130J during flight. After parachutes stabilized the descending pallet, a mock AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile – Extended Range (JASSM-ER) was successfully released.
It could be a way to get cruise missile capability to NATO allies and other countries whose smaller militaries lack bombers but do have some type of cargo plane.