According to US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Ukraine is likely to receive F-16 fighter jets from European countries that have an excess supply. While several NATO countries have offered to train Ukrainian pilots, no country has committed to sending actual airplanes until now.
Speaking to Good Morning America host George Stephanopoulos from Vilnius, Lithuania, where he is attending the NATO summit, Sullivan stated that President Joe Biden made the decision to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 jets after consulting with allies. He mentioned that the training will take some time, and the transfer of F-16s will likely come from European nations with surplus supplies.
The F-16 fighter jet, designed by General Dynamics in the 1970s and currently manufactured by Lockheed Martin, is known for its advanced capabilities and versatility.
This announcement comes after Denmark announced a coalition of countries that will be responsible for training Ukrainian pilots on the US-made jets, starting in August. Led by Denmark and the Netherlands, the coalition includes Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the UK, and Sweden. Notably, half of the countries involved do not operate the F-16 themselves, and no country that does operate them has publicly committed to sending any to Ukraine.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba mentioned in an interview with US government outlet Radio Svoboda that the training is expected to commence in August or possibly early September. Ideally, the first F-16s piloted by Ukrainians would be flying by the end of the first quarter of the following year. However, Kuleba emphasized that there are several factors to consider, such as training engineers and technicians and preparing the necessary infrastructure, which could potentially cause delays in the schedule.
Russia has repeatedly expressed its concerns over the arming of Ukraine, stating that it won’t have a significant impact on the conflict’s outcome but will increase the risk of direct confrontation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov previously noted that sending F-16s to Ukraine would be considered an unacceptable escalation and warned the West against playing with fire.
In a recent statement, President Vladimir Putin predicted that F-16s would face the same fate as the Western tanks provided to Ukraine, and he expressed his country’s determination to strike at sites outside Ukraine if the jets were based there. It is worth mentioning that Ukraine lacks the pristine runways required for operating the single-engine fighters, leading to speculation that neighboring NATO countries may serve as bases for these aircraft.
The provision of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine by European countries demonstrates a show of support for Ukraine’s defense capabilities amidst its ongoing conflict with Russia. The training and transfer of these advanced aircraft will likely strengthen Ukraine’s airpower and further complicate the security dynamics in the region.