David Baldwin, US General
Ukrainian pilots learn quickly: F-16 is just another type of airplane, not some kind of magic
24.05.2023 13:40

Since 1982, for more than 40 years, Major General David Baldwin has worn the uniform of the United States Army. He has commanded units at all levels, served in Kuwait and Afghanistan, and from 2011 to 2022 was the Adjutant General of the California National Guard, the largest and most functional force in the U.S. National Guard with 23,000 members. During his visit to Ukraine, Mr. General answered questions from the Armed Forces of Ukraine's strike committee.

- Mr. General, more than a year has passed since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and we have not only thwarted the aggressor's plans but also recaptured part of the territory it had conquered. Do you think that Ukraine now has the initiative on the battlefield with Russia?

Ukraine took the initiative long ago, at the beginning of this invasion

- There is no doubt about it, Ukraine took the initiative long ago, at the beginning of this invasion. I am very impressed with the work of the Ukrainian military and special forces. As one of the leaders of the California National Guard, I have been working with Ukraine for thirty years, and I am very proud of the Ukrainian army, its soldiers and its leaders.

- So, the Russian army, which has been called the second army of the world, is not so powerful and not so threatening in the world today?

- Absolutely. And I would say that this was obvious not only now, but also at the beginning of the conflict. I would call the beginning of the conflict not only the full-scale invasion in 2022, but also the invasion that began in 2014.

Of the two armies, the Ukrainian and the Russian, the West believed that one of them was very well equipped, very well trained, very powerful. They believed that the other army was too new, too unprepared. They confused these armies. The Ukrainian army has been performing extraordinarily well, fighting extremely well, and this is the result of a lot of work that Ukrainian leaders have done over the last ten years.

- Can you name an episode, say, during this year of full-scale invasion that impressed you?

- I think I was most impressed by the defense of Kyiv, the liberation of Bucha and Gostomel. These events showed not only how powerful the Ukrainian army is, but also the great will of the Ukrainian people to be free.

I have two more examples that I can also cite. An extraordinary feature of the Ukrainian army is its ability to innovate, to adapt, to adapt new tactics extremely quickly and to implement them on the battlefield. Another remarkable thing is the ability of Ukraine to adapt and manage its troops very well on the battlefield.

And also the decentralization of the initiative, which comes not only from the top but also from the bottom at the level of sergeants and soldiers. These two aspects clearly show that Ukraine is extremely strong.

- Was Russia's large-scale invasion of Ukraine expected for you?

We have trained side by side with the Ukrainian army, with your pilots, with your national guard, and we know their capabilities

- Of course, I expected this invasion. My last visit to Ukraine before the war was in November. Back then we realized that the invasion was coming, but we didn't want to believe it. Many in the West thought that Ukraine would fall very quickly. Especially the Ukrainian air force. But we in California thought differently. Because we trained side by side with your army, your pilots, your national guard, and we know their capabilities. Unfortunately, there are still many difficult battles ahead. We continue to do everything we can to ensure that Ukraine continues to receive support, because this fight for freedom is extremely important.

- Ukrainian military, Ukrainian warrior, what is he like? After all, today teachers, singers, artists, artists of all kinds, IT specialists, businessmen are fighting in the Armed Forces. That is, these are not career military personnel now…

- First, I must say that I am very impressed by how brave Ukrainian soldiers are. These are not only professional soldiers, but also soldiers who came from civilian life. This is a tribute not only to the courage of the soldiers, but also to the talent of the leaders who are now at the head of the Ukrainian army, their ability to train and prepare soldiers from the civilian population quickly and effectively. It is important to continue this training to ensure that the new soldiers are effective on the battlefield.

- I know that you have been visiting Ukraine regularly since 2014. What is the purpose of your visit to Ukraine now?

If there is no help from different countries and private donors, Ukraine will suffer for many years to come

- I have three main tasks - as a businessman and as a retired general - my task is to help Ukraine win this war quickly enough.

When I say "win the war," I am talking about restoring Ukraine's territorial integrity within the pre-2014 borders.

My second goal is to help in the humanitarian sector. This is a big problem now. If there is no help from different countries and private donors, Ukraine will suffer for many years to come. And finally, the third thing is to look for opportunities and find them to help Ukraine, to show the world that Ukraine is open for business. And this is a pretty good place to invest, and we can do that and start making those investments right now.

If we start investing in Ukraine right now, Ukraine will become economically powerful very quickly.

People say that it is too risky because there is a war in Ukraine. Yes, it is a war, but there is always a risk. I believe that if we start investing in Ukraine right now, Ukraine will become economically powerful very quickly. There is a lot of work to be done, legislation needs to be amended, and thinking needs to change. There are still many changes ahead...

- You said "win the war quickly". What do you mean by "quickly"? I mean in terms of restoring territorial integrity. There is some skepticism among American politicians, and even military experts, about Crimea.

- Yes, it was a big problem, and it still is. Because politicians in the West are very concerned about a possible escalation. But when you are faced with such illegal aggression, you have to behave like in school when you are being harassed - you have to come forward and defend your rights, your dignity. Otherwise, you are only encouraging aggressive behavior. In the West, politicians have questions: all these investments that are being made in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, will Ukraine be able to achieve victory with this help and what will happen to Ukraine after the victory?

- What will happen to Ukraine after the victory? That is, what kind of security system should be in place in Ukraine so that Russia does not try to attack us again, at least not so quickly?

- I talked to Mr. Zaluzhnyi about this, and I agree with him that the Armed Forces of Ukraine need to be reformed, and that the size of the Armed Forces needs to be optimized and kept within the budget. I think Ukraine should reform such an aspect as the division of responsibilities between the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff. It should define what the military should do and what civilian administrations should do. In this way, Ukraine will be able to improve its logistics system, repair facilities, and training organization. And at the level of the ministry, to improve the defense industry.

I would like to see more defense companies in private ownership. As I have seen, your leaders are already thinking about these future steps even now, during the war.

I believe that Ukraine will be able to implement NATO standards and reach a standard where they can join NATO. But joining NATO is still a political decision.

- What does the US army learn from the Ukrainian army?

- There are many such aspects. First and foremost, how to quickly adapt on the battlefield and innovate on the battlefield. The Ukrainian soldiers learned very quickly and showed us which tactics work best on the battlefield and which ones don't work at all. I think American soldiers can look to Ukraine as a model for how people can bravely fight for their independence.

- Russia is actively using its missile capabilities not only on the battlefield, but also to simply terrorize the civilian population, often cynically shelling residential buildings. But as the last such massive missile attack on Kyiv, when Russia fired so-called "Kinzhals," showed, Russian missiles are not so terrible if there is something to shoot them down. And the Patriot system has shown this very successfully. We even had a joke on social media that the Patriot manufacturer owes us for advertising. What other defensive weapons should Ukraine receive to protect itself and the civilian population from these massive missile strikes from Russia?

- I'll answer your question in a moment, but I would like to point out that such missile attacks on civilians are a war crime on the part of Russia. And all those involved in these crimes will be brought to justice.

The Russians said that it was not a Patriot that shot down a Russian missile, but a Russian missile that shot down a Patriot... (Laughs).

Now we see that there are such powerful weapons as HIMARS, Javelin, Patriot on the battlefield, and Ukraine is using them very successfully. Next, and this is already in the news, we must provide Ukraine with military aircraft. I said this a year ago that no single system, no matter how good it is, is not significant on the battlefield, but only in combination will these systems give the desired result. And providing Ukraine with modern military aircraft will allow you to defeat the enemy in the air. But Ukraine also needs some basic things. More trucks and more tractors, more ammunition, more spare parts... All this is also needed to achieve results. And the West understands that Ukraine needs to buy time so that it can strengthen its defense industry and its ability to produce ammunition. As for military aircraft, we need to provide Ukraine with F-16s right now.

- Why is it taking so long for Ukraine to get these coveted F-16s?

- These are all political decisions. Going back to the topic of escalation: first, politicians were afraid to provide Javelins, then they were afraid to provide HIMARS, and now we are talking about F-16s...

If Ukraine had received these aircraft a year ago, the situation would have been much better. There would have been much fewer civilian casualties, children, and much less destroyed infrastructure. So politicians draw these red lines for themselves to prevent escalation. And then they still cross those lines.

- President Joe Biden said that F-16s would not have helped us in Bakhmut anyway. Why?

- I don't know why he said that. As a military commander, I understand that when I have such powerful aircraft as F-16s in the air, they will help me both in the air and in ground strikes. So I think that with such weapons, the Ukrainian army would feel much more confident on the battlefield.

- Do the American army and American politicians realize that the Russians can only be stopped by force, otherwise nothing works?

- We have already tried all possible means. We have tried diplomatic means, we have tried negotiations. When a person attacks, he understands only the language of force. He does not understand any other language.

I would like to return to the F-16 and say three arguments that I hear against providing Ukraine with F-16s. The first is that Ukrainian airfields have suffered significant damage and are too short to use F-16s. The second is that Ukrainian craftsmen will not be able to maintain the technical condition of these aircraft at the proper level. And the third is that Ukrainian pilots would not be able to handle these powerful machines very well.

None of this is true. Especially the third one. We have seen Ukrainian pilots fight skillfully in the air. They fought against more modernized Russian aircraft. Now try to imagine what they could do with such powerful machines as the F-16. I hope that Ukraine will get these planes in the near future. I know that Ukrainian pilots are currently undergoing training.

- I was just wondering if we already have Ukrainian pilots ready to fly F-16s.

- The pilots are now starting training. It will take some time, but they are doing very well. I don't think it will take much time, the pilots are very well trained, very well prepared. And it's still just another type of airplane, not some kind of magic.

- What is your assessment of whether Russia could use nuclear weapons?

- Only a very evil tyrant can make such a decision. And I don't think Russia will cross that red line, even if it loses.

- Russia is also waging an information war in the world. How does Ukraine behave in the information war? Are we winning, are we losing?

One of the reasons why the Ukrainian army is so successful is that you empower your soldiers to think and make decisions

- I see that Ukraine is very skillful in conducting its information warfare and countering Russian information warfare. We see progress in the West, and what Ukraine is doing in this aspect is showing results. But from the Russian side, it looks more like a comedy. I think you should show how powerful Ukraine is and how much economic opportunity there is for investment here, so that people from all over the world can come here and see that it is possible to invest in Ukraine.

- When I was preparing for the interview, I read how much you studied and how you started with microbiology at Stanford University. To become a general in the American army, is it necessary to study so much?

- Yes, not only generals, not only colonels, but also sergeants are now in charge of the army in America, many of them have bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, and some of them even have doctorates. So I recommend to Ukraine that Ukraine should also follow this example. Because it is just as important that our soldiers not only fight well, but also think well. And that's one of the reasons why the Ukrainian army is so successful, because you give your soldiers the opportunity to think and make decisions.

Oksana Klymonchuk, StratCom of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

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