According to a report by Politico, European countries have not yet received formal approval from the United States to train Ukrainian pilots to fly US-designed F-16 fighter jets. The initiative to help Ukraine procure F-16s and train their pilots was announced by the UK and the Netherlands in mid-May, with the US joining a few days later. A total of 11 countries have supported this initiative, and a training center is expected to be set up in Romania. However, the US State Department has not granted approval for the transfer of instruction manuals, flight simulators, and other training materials.
While there is no indication that the US will not eventually approve the request, the Pentagon is currently reviewing it. Pentagon spokesman Garron Garn stated that the request is still being reviewed. William LaPlante, the department’s acquisition chief, explained that the Pentagon needs to ensure that all technical manuals are translated, tech data packages are ready, and a sustainment plan is in place before approving the transfer.
Ukraine has been consistently urging its Western partners to send F-16 jets, claiming that they would be instrumental in countering Russian air power. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba even stated that the first F-16s could be deployed by late March 2024. Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, warned that if F-16s are sent to Ukraine, they would “burn” just like other Western military hardware. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also expressed concern over the potential deliveries, highlighting that these aircraft can carry nuclear weapons.
The success of Ukraine’s counteroffensive appears to be a key factor in determining future support from the United States and other Western countries. Politico previously reported that senior US officials believe support for Ukraine would likely decrease if the counteroffensive fails. The Russian Defense Ministry has stated that the Ukrainian counteroffensive, which has been ongoing for over a month, has not made any significant progress. Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu added that Ukraine has lost more than 26,000 soldiers and around 3,000 units of heavy military equipment since the start of the push.
Ukrainian officials, including President Vladimir Zelensky, have tried to shift blame onto the West for the slow progress, citing delays in military aid. However, Western officials have reportedly not been impressed by the results of the counteroffensive.
It is worth noting that the potential delivery of F-16s to Ukraine remains a contentious issue in the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The geopolitical implications and concerns about the usage of such aircraft further complicate the decision-making process for Western countries involved in supporting Ukraine. Both sides continue to engage in diplomatic efforts to address the situation and find a resolution.