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US and allies plan to provide Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets, official says


May 20, 2023

HIROSHIMA, Japan — The United States and its allies plan to provide F-16 jets to Ukraine — though the fighter jets may not necessarily come directly from the United States — as part of a long-term effort to strengthen the country’s security, he said. a senior official in the Biden administration. he said Friday.

When Ukraine will receive the fighter jets, and which countries will provide them, remains unclear, but the official said the planes will not be used for Ukraine’s upcoming counter-offensive against Russia. In the coming months, the US and its allies «will decide when to provide planes, how many to provide and who will provide them,» the official said. The news comes as President Joe Biden informed the leaders of major industrialized nations on Friday that the United States will support efforts to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s.

«Discussions about upgrading the Ukrainian air force reflect our long-term commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense,» the senior administration official said.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly called on the US to provide F-16s, but Biden has so far turned down the requests. In February, Biden said in an interview with ABC News that US military advice showed Ukraine did not need F-16s at the moment.

“I rule it out for now,” he had said of sending F-16s to Ukraine.

A US Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon makes a flash pass at RAF Fairford in the UK on July 18, 2019.Rob Edgcumbe/Stocktrek images via AP file

Officials from France and Poland had previously expressed their readiness to provide Ukraine with the advanced fighter jets. But any transfer of US-made planes requires permission from the US government.

News of the decision to provide Ukraine with F-16s comes as Biden is attending a Group of Seven summit in Japan.

The joint effort by the United States and its allies to train Ukrainian pilots on the planes could begin in the coming weeks, the official said. The training “will take place outside of Ukraine at sites in Europe and will require months to complete,” the official continued.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan later told reporters in Japan that Biden had shared plans with G-7 allies to supply the fighter jets.

«Over the past several months, we and our allies and partners have been really focused on providing Ukraine with the systems, weapons and training it needs to be able to conduct effective offensive operations this spring and summer,» Sullivan said. «We delivered what we promised, we gave Ukraine what it needs based on close consultations between our armed forces and yours, and now, we have moved on to discussions on upgrading the Ukrainian Air Force as part of our long-term commitment. with the self-defense of Ukraine». .»

Sullivan suggested that the fighter jets were part of that commitment and that as training unfolds in the coming months, the United States would work with allies to determine details about the delivery of the planes, including how many would be sent.

Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s top policy official, previously told Congress that training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s could take «about 18 months.» Other US defense officials have said the training could be shortened to just six to nine months depending on the pilots’ prior training and knowledge of fighter jets.

Appearing before the House Armed Services Committee, Kahl said revitalizing Ukraine’s military with F-16s could cost as much as $11 billion. The G-7 leaders have not announced who would pay to provide the planes to Ukraine.

In March, NBC News reported that two Ukrainian pilots were in the US undergoing evaluation to determine how long it might take to train them to fly attack aircraft, including F-16s. Washington has also approved bringing up to 10 more Ukrainian pilots to the US for further evaluation.

zoe richards contributed.