(This April 19 story refiles to correct Pentagon comments to say no fixed wing aircraft were provided to Ukraine)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ukraine’s military has increased the size of its fleet of fixed-wing aircraft after receiving spare parts and repairing damaged aircraft, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.
Ukraine has defied expectations of allies and military experts by not only keeping its air force operational nearly two months after the start of Russia’s invasion but actually repairing aircraft and, apparently, adding to its inventory.
On Tuesday Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Ukraine had received additional aircraft as well as parts, but clarified on Wednesday that no fixed-wing aircraft had been provided so far to Ukraine’s military.
Kyiv has repeatedly requested combat aircraft to help it repel invading Russian forces.
“I was in error in saying that, in past tense, they have been given whole aircraft. I regret the error,” Kirby said on Wednesday.
“That said, the Ukrainians have received — through United States’ coordination and provision — enough spare parts and additional equipment such that they have been able to put in operation more fixed-wing aircraft in their fleet than they had even two to three weeks ago.” The United States has announced plans to transfer Russian-made helicopters to Ukraine that had once been intended for Afghanistan.
More than 50 days into the war, the skies over Ukraine are still contested in part due to Ukraine’s fleet of aircraft and air defenses, including portable, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles provided by the United States and its allies.
That has allowed Ukraine to wage a much more effective ground campaign than if Russia had air dominance and could defend its invading forces from the skies.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Leslie Adler, Sandra Maler and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)