US to Lead “Capability Coalition” to Develop Ukraine’s Air Force
In an announcement on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stated that the United States will lead a “capability coalition” tasked with developing Ukraine’s air force. This coalition will also involve the training of Ukrainian pilots on flying F-16 fighter jets. Austin made this statement during a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, emphasizing the importance of American leadership in international affairs.
Austin acknowledged that Denmark and the Netherlands would be co-leading the coalition with the US. He mentioned that these two countries had initially launched the F-16 initiative in July without the involvement of the US. However, once the United States joined the effort, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan clarified that Ukraine would not be directly receiving F-16s from the Pentagon. Instead, the jets would likely come from European countries that possess surplus F-16 supplies.
Despite some delays, the US finally granted permission to Denmark and the Netherlands to donate F-16s to Ukraine in August. A total of 11 countries have committed to training Ukrainian pilots. The US is planning to commence training classes at the Morris Air National Guard Base in Arizona later this month, subject to the candidates passing an English exam.
The F-16, originally designed in the 1970s by General Dynamics and currently limited in production by Lockheed Martin, is in high demand by Ukraine. The country requested these fighter jets as it had depleted its stock of MiG-29 fighters, which were donated by Slovakia and Poland, during the intense conflicts with Russia.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed concerns about the potential delivery of F-16s to Ukraine. He warned that these aircraft would face the same fate as other Western hardware supplied to Kiev, stating that they would “burn.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also condemned the prospective shipments, seeing them as an escalatory move, especially considering the capacity of F-16s to carry nuclear weapons.
According to Austin, Ukraine can expect to receive the donated Danish and Dutch jets as early as next spring. Additionally, Belgium has committed to donating some of its F-16s to Ukraine by 2025, pending approval from the US and the winning government in the June 2024 election.
This initiative showcases the US’s commitment to supporting Ukraine’s development and strengthening its defense capabilities. By leading the “capability coalition” and facilitating the training of Ukrainian pilots, the US aims to bolster Ukraine’s air force and provide much-needed assistance in its ongoing conflict with Russia.