Following the footsteps of the United States and the United Kingdom, France could eventually train Ukrainian pilots to fly western military aircraft.
In an interview with the local daily newspaper Le Parisien on February 18, 2023, in which he confirmed that a number of AMX-10 RC light tanks would be delivered to Ukraine by the end of the month, the French Minister of the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu said the authorities had not ruled out also supplying fighter jets.
“There is no taboo and our analysis criteria are well known,” Lecornu said, adding that “the transfer of planes poses very complex logistical and practical questions.”
Said criteria were previously explained by French president Emmanuel Macron when the delivery of Leclerc main battle tanks was studied (and eventually excluded):
- The platform must be primarily defensive to avoid an escalation of the conflict
- The platform must be relevant to the needs of the Ukrainian armed forces
- The delivery must not weaken the defense capabilities of France
In light of these criteria, the Dassault Mirage 2000C fighter jet appears as the most suitable contender. On June 23, 2022, France bid farewell to this early single-seat version of the fighter, primarily used for air defense.
Though of limited value against modern Russian fighters, the Mirage 2000C could help intercept the Iran-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drones and the Kalibr cruise missiles that Russia uses to target Ukrainian cities.
Questioned whether France could train pilots and technicians to fly and maintain fighters, Lecornu said that “nothing is ruled out.”
Creating a bubble of protection around Ukrainian cities
The minister explained that the priority for France was, for now, to reinforce Ukraine’s air defense.
“The Ukrainian request [for fighter jets – ed. note] reflects a need to protect their skies, with ground-air defense systems – on which France is at the forefront – and is part of the same logic: creating a bubble of protection around the battlefield or cities,” Lecornu said.
In partnership with Italy, France is in the process of delivering a SAMP/T [also called MAMBA – ed. note] anti-air system to Ukraine.
Developed as part of a collaboration between the two countries, the MAMBA system can track 100 trajectories and engage 10 simultaneously, with up to 48 missiles ready to fire. It is the only European system designed to counter ballistic missiles. The training of Ukrainian operators started taking place in January 2023.