May 28, 2023

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US opens door to supply F-16s to Ukraine

US opens door to supply F-16s to Ukraine

He didn’t say it outright. But US national security coordinator Jack Sullivan said at a press conference on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Hiroshima that the US has authorized its allies to supply Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets.

First, Sullivan announced that the Americans supported a plan to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s. “While training will take place in the coming months, we will work with our partners to determine when the flights will be delivered, who will deliver them and how many,” he added.

With those words, the US is implicitly giving other countries the green light to send F-16s to Ukraine.

It’s been a while coming, says Peter Wijninga, a defense expert at The Hague Center for Strategic Studies, but it brings the delivery of F-16s one step closer. “The Americans have already indicated that it will go this way. In July of last year, Congress approved the budget to train Ukrainian pilots,” he says. we are going And in November last year, Ukrainian pilots were already selected for training. Those are all preliminary steps, but with a report like that, it seems that the final step has now been taken.

Some allies, including the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, have indicated for some time that they want to support Ukraine with fighter jets. Last week, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced the formation of an international coalition to work toward this goal.

But until now there has been one major hurdle: countries are not allowed to export American weapons to other countries unless the United States agrees. These include the F-16 aircraft manufactured by US arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin. That ban seems to have been lifted now.

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It may take some time

Ukrainian President Zelensky, who has been calling for the West to send F-16s for months, welcomed the news. Shortly before leaving Saudi Arabia for Japan – where he was attending an Arab League meeting – he called the choice “historic” and said he looked forward to “discussing practical implementation”. If the delivery actually takes place, the Americans will demand that it not be used for attacks on Russian territory. Ukraine has already committed to this, Sullivan said Saturday morning.

Although the Americans have now opened the door to the delivery of F-16s, the question is when Ukraine can expect fighter jets. Although several countries have expressed their support, no country has so far openly said it wants to supply fighter jets from its own stockpiles.

Although deliveries will begin soon, it is expected to take some time for them to be used; The first Ukrainian pilots had to be trained in the use of F-16s, which were very different from Soviet-era fighters.

“Training an experienced pilot can be done very quickly in three or four months. But when it comes to training new pilots, it takes more time; Flight training takes at least a year, after which they learn how to fly the F-16,” Wijninga explains. “In addition, Ukraine still does not have the proper infrastructure for F-16s, for example, runways ready for takeoff or landing. However, something like this can be fixed very quickly – if it takes some time to train enough pilots, Ukraine can already do it.

Russia: Biggest Risks

Meanwhile, Russia is reacting with irritation to the latest developments. According to Russian news agency TASS, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Khrushko responded that Western countries are “sticking to an escalation situation” that he says exposes them to “great risks.”

According to some international media, the F-16s could be a game-changer in the war, but Vigninga cautions against certain restrictions. “No, I will be careful with such words. Ultimately, this increases the capabilities available to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Definitely an improvement over F-16s, MiG-29s and Su-27s. But ultimately it is about the ingenuity of the Ukrainian leadership, their creativity and tactical intelligence: how do they deploy the equipment at their disposal? Ultimately, that was the game changer.”

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