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This is purely about military doctrine. Much effort has been made to avoid using US-made fighter planes in the Ukrainian theater because that would be seen as "escalation" and lead Russia to try and target the US directly, we are told. However, the supply of Javelins and Stingers direct from the US, are clearly not taken as escalatory. Could someone explain what is different here? Or is it simply that Russia declared terms beforehand that Jet fighters are an escalation, but the rest is OK? Is there some war doctrine governing escalation?

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    Does this answer your question? politics.stackexchange.com/questions/71199/…
    – Allure
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 0:06
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    First of all, this is too similar to the linked question. And second, escalation of what? "Escalation" is an increase in the level of hostilities. The only parties in the hostilities are RF, Belarus and Ukraine. A party can't escalate hostilities without first commencing hostilities.
    – wrod
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 0:17
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    "Much effort has been made to avoid using US made fighter planes in the Ukrainian theater because that would be seen as "escalation"" No it hasn't - not a word of that statement is correct. -1 because your question relies on an entirely false assumption.
    – Graham
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 8:43
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    A general note: theater means something extremely specific in the context of war so unless you believe the conflict in Ukraine is part of a much larger conflict, "Ukraine Theater" is nonsensical. Not to mention, 100% of the fighting is taking place in Ukraine from pretty much one direction so there isn't even more than one front.
    – uberhaxed
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 15:43
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    The Javelin is not a MANPADS. It is a LAW. MANPADS = anti aircraft (MAn Portable Air Defence System), LAW = anti tank (Light weight Anti tank Weapon)
    – slebetman
    Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 3:34

6 Answers 6

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You can't easily attack another country's territory using only man-portable missiles and infantry.

  • movement speed is foot speed. If you have a localized breakthrough, exploitation speed is... foot speed.

  • you are exposed to any and all infantry fire: snipers, squad and heavy machine guns. Also artillery fire.

  • your supply lines would be put at risk if you are just using light-skinned trucks.

  • they don't help very much against fortifications or trenches, though Javelins have a secondary capability to be used against those.

  • Artillery is good at pounding from a distance, once stationed, but not so good to initiate combat on its own.

What those Javelins and Stingers allow you to do is to shrug off counterattacks by armor and aircraft, but they are not that helpful going in. They are very useful from cover and concealed positions though, which is why Ukraine has taken out so much Russian armor. But cover and concealed positions means defense, rather than offense.

On the other hand, if you had heavy tanks, AFVs and jet aircraft, you could theoretically try out a WW2 style blitzkrieg assault on your opponent's territory. Remember, that is after all the pretext for the special military operation, "Russia getting invaded by Ukraine". And, that is the gear Russia is indeed trying to use.

I say "theoretically" because, right now, all the militaries are frantically trying to figure out how the doctrine of armored breakthroughs can still be used in a situation where the defense - via SAM/ATMs - has at least temporarily found the upper hand. This was theoretically a problem before, now it has been confirmed to be the case.

I wouldn't necessarily say we are back to WW1, with machine guns + trenches + barbed wire makes offensive near-impossible. But we are at an interesting inflection point, especially when drones get added to the equation.

Still, none of this really adds up to SAM/ATM/drones being a particularly good mix to go on the offensive.

Also, while the US and NATO may say it is not escalatory, that is not at all Russia's position and claim: Russia's position is very much that it should be left alone while attacking its neighbor and any assistance is escalatory. During the initial years of the 1980-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the US considered the supply of small arms escalatory enough to go out of its way to keep plausible deniability.

p.s. Symbolically, at least, the Mig29s also had the problem of Ukrainian pilots initially flying them out of NATO airfields. Or NATO pilots flying them into Ukraine for delivery. That's a different look than a crate of gear getting offloaded at train station.

Some more reading, specifically taken to be before the "special military operation":

A crisis of confidence in armor?

The modern battlefield is covered by fire, and to advance forward requires armor protection, or else casualties will mount, as we saw in both World Wars, Vietnam, and more recently in Somalia

Note that, written in 1998, it's missing an ingredient of military thinking about armor that came to light in Iraq: the vulnerability of unarmored vehicles to IEDs.

Could Ukraine’s anti-tank missiles hamper a Russian invasion? Economist Jan 2022

Ukraine’s large and growing armoury of ATGMs would thus be most effective in urban or woodland areas, where defenders could hide among buildings or trees and get close without being detected. Russian commanders, though, mindful of their bitter urban battles in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, in the 1990s, will want to sap Ukraine’s anti-tank defences long before they get in such close proximity. “In simple terms, the Russian way of war is to destroy enemies with massed artillery fire and mop up the survivors with infantry and armour,” says Mr Kotlarski. “The Russians hope to kill most of the anti-tank gunners with artillery long before their tanks get in range of the missiles.”

Oh, btw, the byline under the title on that article looks a bit dated now:

They could make it harder for Russia’s army to enter cities, but they won’t halt it

All Glory Is Fleeting Insights from the Second Lebanon War

Other Hizballah weapons included AK-47 rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled–grenade launchers, and anti-armor capabilities that included Saggar, Kornet-E, and Metis-M antitank guided missiles.13 It was these missiles that would prove the insurgents’ most effective killers during ground combat. They would, in the end, destroy 14 Israeli tanks; mines would ravage another six.14 Even the IDF’s most advanced model, the Merkava 4, proved vulnerable.

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    Great answer, +1! The one adjustment I'd make is that the pretext was Russia's allies LNR and DNR being invaded.
    – Therac
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 3:41
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    “In simple terms, the Russian way of war is to destroy enemies with massed artillery fire and mop up the survivors with infantry and armour,” says Mr Kotlarski. - isn't that, more or less anyone's way of war today? When, for example, Americans (with/without NATO) invade other country/ies they also first bomb the hell out of a country (predominantly airstrikes because Americans don't have good artillery) and only after that they mop up the rest with infantry and armour. So I guess, that would be more of a general war doctrine in today's world, not just specifically Russian way of war.
    – dosvarog
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 11:24
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    @dosvarog it depends on what is bombed: enemy positions, sure, not cities, that's a huge difference! Airstrikes are, compared to artillery, more precise and less "area destroying": artillery will fire for hours while airstrikes rather serve for a single, massive, targeted strike.
    – Mayou36
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 12:05
  • @dosvarog Considering end of WWII: Yes, Americans flattened civil Germany. Before that, the landing in Normandie was a disaster, letting their own people openly run against heavy MGs. :( Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 12:19
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    @dosvarog if the Russians had stuck to the above script then there would be considerably less talk of war crimes. Mariupol's blocking of civilian evacuations and Bucha's executions are not required to destroy enemy ATM teams. We might be talking about not avoiding civilian casualties which is a very different thing from deliberately killing civilians. Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 0:47
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TLDR: Because, quite literally, it is not escalatory.

The US began supplying Ukraine with significant amounts of military equipment beginning with the "Little Green Men" incursion that began in 2014.

At first this was almost exclusively non-combat equipment:

https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2014/11/21/fact-sheet-us-assistance-ukraine

Security Sector Capacity Building and Reform

  • The U.S. government has committed over $118 million in equipment and training to Ukraine’s security forces to help Ukraine better monitor and secure its border, operate more safely and effectively, and preserve and enforce its territorial integrity. Ukraine’s security forces include their Armed Forces, State Border Guard Service, and National Guard.
  • This assistance includes the provision of body armor, helmets, vehicles, night and thermal vision devices, heavy engineering equipment, advanced radios, patrol boats, rations, tents, counter-mortar radars, uniforms, first aid equipment and supplies, and other related items.
  • The United States has also begun a process led by U.S. European Command and Department of Defense civilian and military experts to work with Ukraine to improve its capacity to provide for its own defense and set the stage for longer-term defense cooperation. This includes medical and security assistance advisory teams.

Since then, starting around 2015, the US began also including combat weapons, such as anti-tank Javelin's and missiles. The official messaging was that these were "defensive lethal weapons" and the sales were designed to deter a full invasion of Ukraine:

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-admin-approves-sale-anti-tank-weapons-ukraine/story?id=65989898

The Trump administration has approved the $39 million sale of defensive lethal weapons to Ukraine, according to two U.S. officials and another source familiar with the plan.

U.S. arms sales to Ukraine have become embroiled in a controversy over President Donald Trump's dealings with Ukraine, after the White House ordered nearly $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine to be withheld and Ukraine's new president raised arms sales with Trump on a controversial July 25 call.

A more detailed timeline of the aid provided can found at https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/lethal-weapons-to-ukraine-a-primer/ .

Essentially, in 2014 congress passed legislation allowing for lethal weaponry. The Obama administration was uncomfortable about doing this, fearing escalation, but weapons started showing up in Ukraine through private backchannels, European partners, and limited direct sales starting in 2015. The Trump administration furthered this policy, and in 2017 started directly supplying Ukraine with Javelins, Stingers, etc.

Thus, still supplying Ukraine with this and similar weaponry cannot be considered escalatory, because it started long before the current invasion. More serious weapons systems that can be used offensively, such as planes, have yet to be sold to Ukraine and would be an escalation in both the level and kind of military aid the US has been supplying.

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    I think this is the stronger answer. You can't talk about escalation solely in terms of "military doctrine," since military doctrine serves political and policy aims. Nothing says a country at war can't purchase weapons on the global market. Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 18:15
  • Yes, the question is moot with respect to MANPADS, because those MANPAD weapons were already in Ukraine prior to Russian Troop invasion.
    – Kiers
    Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 14:59
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"US made fighter planes" would require US (or maybe NATO) pilots. You can't put a Ukrainian pilot in a current F-16 and hope he is successful.

Javelin/Stinger missiles would be fielded by Ukrainian troops, with minimal training. Little different than giving them a few pallets of bullets.

The other concept that was fielded was ex-Polish AF MiG-29s given to Ukraine. While Ukrainian pilots know this jet, that has its own problems. NATO warplanes flown from NATO air bases, into the current warzone. That would be seen as NATO forces entering the conflist.

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    Why fly the MiG-29s in? Their wingspan is just over 11 metres, hardly impossible to put on a trailer if the will was there. Might have to build an improvised airstrip on either side of the Poland-Ukraine border as I can't find a suitable highway in the region, but again, that doesn't sound that hard to do.
    – TooTea
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 8:53
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    @TooTea: Improvised military-plane-grade airstrip construction on the Polish-Ukrainian border would be suspiciously close enough to looking like a military operation. It's the type of operation that, had Russian been seen doing that before their invasion of Ukraine, would've looked like military preparation to invade Ukraine. Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 20:09
  • @TooTea - And that is still flying a NATO aircraft (Polish MiG-29) from NATO airspace (Poland) into Ukrainian airspace.
    – WPNSGuy
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 20:39
  • @WPNSGuy I meant that Poland could just leave the planes on their side of the border with the keys in the ignition,so that Ukrainians could come, pull the planes across the line,jump in and fly off into the sunrise. That would be hilarious, don't you think?
    – TooTea
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 20:49
  • I don't think jets taking off and landing WITHIN Ukraine was ever a viable option: the runways have all been shot up.
    – Kiers
    Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 15:00
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Using US fighter planes (with US pilots in them, because Ukrainian pilots aren't trained to use them) would mean you have to deal with Russian SAM and other anti-aircraft systems.

The S-400 has a range of up to 400 km. That means they can be stationed on Russian or Belarus soil and yet cover a vast area of Ukraine's airspace. If you want to operate US planes over Ukraine, you have to take out those AA systems, which means hitting a target INSIDE either Russia or Belarus - at which point you've not defended Ukraine, you've attacked Russia/Belarus.

Everyone wants to avoid that scenario, because it would give Russia all reasons to strike back, covered by international law and all. It also has a considerable risk of escalating into a full-out war between NATO and Russia.

THAT is the escalation we're talking about.

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There is a very simple fact that has not been mentioned that I believe is the real answer.

But first the setup. It has been brought up a couple times that Ukraine pilots could not just hop into any US fighter and hope to fly it, much less use it as an effective weapon. This isn't like getting into a car, adjusting the seat and rear view mirrors and then driving off. Using US fighters in Ukraine in a useful timeframe (IMMEDIATELY) would require US or NATO pilots to fly them. ALSO, a lot of infrastructure and a large contingent of highly skilled techs is needed to support each aircraft. These would be remain based in NATO countries, so aircraft would need to operate out of those locations. THIS IS THE END OF THE SETUP.

Here is the simple point. Ordering ANY (even just 1) US military or NATO military personnel directly into Ukraine combat would mean US/NATO has joined the fight. With US/NATO 'now in the war' it would no longer be a proxy war but a full-on US v Russia shooting war. This would most certainly mean WWIII.

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  • @Mast I disagree. There is a profound difference between providing JUST WEAPONS to aide one side and actually ORDERING YOUR OWN TROOPS (even just 1) into the war. During the early years of WWII America was known as Freedoms Arsenal because even though America (at that time) was neutral about WWII it was providing huge amounts of weaponry and other supplies to fight Hitler. Later America DID send troops and AT THAT TIME did join the war formally.
    – BradV
    Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 14:04
  • @Mast I believe I need to apologize. It seems we said the same thing but I misread your comment. Sorry. Please re-read my answer. Providing just weapons is not crossing the line but ordering US troops into Ukraine would be reason for Russia to go all in.
    – BradV
    Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 14:19
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Stinger and Javelin are used to destroy arms of an invader. Surely if lots of Russian tanks, helicopters and fighter planes are destroyed, that will de-escalate the war, so these arms are exactly the opposite of escalatory.

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    Nuking Moscow would also end the war (within a few days at most and with extremely heavy civilian casualties on all sides) but would still be considered escalatory. Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 12:24
  • That’s why the west doesn’t send nuclear weapons to the Ukraine.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 20:35
  • @gnasher729 it's just Ukraine, not "the Ukraine"
    – Nick T
    Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 2:11
  • surely you're kidding right? in war, destruction is escalation, not dimuntion.
    – Kiers
    Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 15:03

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