A Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee suggested a significant escalation in the U.S. role in the war for Ukraine on Friday, urging the Biden administration to give Ukraine U.S. military aircraft to attack a Russian convoy.
“We should all be concerned about the Russian convoy heading toward [the Ukrainian capital] Kyiv,” Rep. Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania said in a statement. “And give Ukraine the tools to destroy it. Today I’m asking the Biden Administration to consider transferring additional military systems to Ukraine such as A-10 aircraft to counter Putin’s armored assault.”
But such a move faces significant political hurdles, and the Defense Department appears not to have even held any high-level discussions on the idea.
Houlahan, an Air Force veteran in her second term representing a suburban Philadelphia district, acknowledged the difficulties of giving U.S. planes to Ukraine.
“There is widespread agreement that providing direct air support puts us at war with Russia, but we can provide aircraft as [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy has asked,” Houlahan said. “This requires solving for trained pilots, crew and mechanics among other complexities. But time is not on our side. All options must be aggressively and creatively considered and on the table.”
Houlahan was part of a congressional delegation that traveled to Ukraine in January. After returning, she told the Reading Eagle newspaper that she felt the threat to the young democracy in Ukraine was a threat to democracy worldwide.
She described Ukraine as “the tip of the spear” in a broader contest between democracy and authoritarian regimes.
She also told the newspaper that she felt a personal connection to the Ukrainian cause because she believes her father, born in 1942 in a Jewish family, was born in part of what is now Ukraine and not Poland, as is listed on his birth certificate.
On Thursday, top Air Force officials, including Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, told reporters at the Air Force Association 2022 Warfare Symposium in Orlando that they were not aware of any plans, or discussions of plans, to provide Ukraine with A-10s.
The A-10, designed for close air support to ground troops and capable of raining down punishing ordnance from low altitudes, makes a tempting option for dealing with the 40-mile convoy, which was stalled about 15 miles outside of Kyiv as of Friday afternoon.
On the one hand, the Air Force has tried to retire portions of its A-10 fleet, meaning the service likely has aircraft it would be happy to part with. But Congress specifically blocked the Air Force from getting rid of any A-10s in the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, which suggests that it might take additional congressional action to authorize such a transfer.
Additionally, President Joe Biden has specifically committed to not involving U.S. troops in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Seeing American combat aircraft in the skies over Kyiv could be interpreted by Moscow as U.S. involvement and could lead to further escalation.
The United States has provided Ukraine with munitions, including Stinger and Javelin anti-tank missiles. A senior defense official said Friday that the U.S. has distributed $240 million of the $350 million in emergency military assistance authorized last month, largely “anti-armor capability.”
In the meantime, Ukrainian forces were doing their best to disrupt and slow down the convoy. The senior defense official told reporters Friday that Ukrainian forces had blown up a key bridge and struck several vehicles in the convoy, which has also suffered fuel shortages as it tries to make its way to the Ukrainian capital.