US and its allies to provide F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine
The US and its and its allies will provide F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, a Whitehouse spokesman has announced.
President Biden told G7 leaders in Japan of the decision, according to the official.
It is not clear when the jets will be supplied or from which country they will be sourced.
President Biden has also told G7 leaders on Friday (19 May) that Washington supports joint allied training programs for Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets.
A White House official said nations will “decide when to actually provide jets, how many we will provide, and who will provide them”.
The added the aircraft will not be used by Ukraine in its upcoming offensive against Russia.
Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelensky said the decision would “greatly enhance our army in the sky”.
It comes after Mr Biden previously refused declined requests from Mr Zelensky for the aircraft.
The US has instead focussed on providing artillery, armour, and ground-based air defence weapons t Kyiv
Training on the U.S.-made jets will take place in Europe and will require months to complete, officials said.
US officials have estimated the most expeditious time needed for training and delivery of F-16s at 18 months.
“As the training takes place over the coming months, our coalition of countries participating in this effort will decide when to actually provide jets, how many we will provide, and who will provide them,” the official said.
Although the official did not say which countries would participate, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the UK would work with the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark “to get Ukraine the combat air capability it needs.”
Denmark’s defence ministry said it was ready to support the training.
The U.S. hopes to begin the training, which will be conducted on fourth-generation fighters including F-16s, in the coming weeks, the official added.
Ukraine is seeking the jets, made by Lockheed Martin , as it presses on with its biggest advance for months against invading Russian troops before a planned counteroffensive.
Ukraine, which does not possess any Western-designed jets, says the F-16s are far more effective than the Soviet-era fighters it still uses. Poland and Slovakia have handed over 27 MiG-29s to Ukraine.
Western governments have been wary of leaving their own countries undefended by giving away too much equipment. They have also avoided sending anything that could strike deep into Russian territory and give Moscow a reason to attack.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy received pledges this week from Britain and the Netherlands to help build a “jets coalition”, although leaders from both countries stopped short of saying they will send planes.
On Friday, Zelenskiy welcomed the news. “This will greatly enhance our army in the sky. I count on discussing the practical implementation of this decision at the #G7 summit in Hiroshima,” he said on Twitter. (Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub, Phil Stewart, Mike Holden in London and David Ljunggren; editing by Doina Chiacu, Bill Berkrot and Grant McCool)
The Ukrainian president frequently asks world leaders for fighter aircraft, which until now have been rebuffed.
On a visit to London he even presented the speaker of the commons with a Ukrainian air force helmetto reinforce his point.
Western leaders have argued that training on the aircraft would take too long. It would also be some of the most sophisticated hardware provided for Ukraine, raising the stakes between Russia and the West.
It is understood the F-16s may not necessarily come from the US.
The move is part of a long-term effort to strengthen the country’s security, the official added.
“Discussions about improving the Ukrainian Air Force reflect our long-term commitment to Ukraine’s self-defence,” the senior Biden administration official said.
Mr Biden said in an interview with ABC News in February that US military advice showed Ukraine did not need F-16s at the time.
“I’m ruling it out for now,” he said.
However, Mr Biden informed G7 leaders on Friday that the US will support efforts to train Ukrainian pilots how to fly F-16s.
The effort to train Ukrainian pilots on the jets could start in the coming weeks, the official said.
The training will “take place outside Ukraine at sites in Europe and will require months to complete”, the official added.
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said: “Together with my British, Danish and Belgian colleagues we welcome the news that the United States stands ready to approve the training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighterjets.”
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 defence officials have said the training could be shortened to only six to nine months based on pilots’ previous training and knowledge of fighter aircraft.
Mr Kahl has previously said that it could cost up to $11bn (£9bn) to revitalise Ukraine’s military with F-16 jets.
G7 leaders have not announced who would pay to provide Ukraine with the planes.
In March, NBC News reported that two Ukrainian pilots were in the US undergoing an assessment to determine how long it could take to train them to fly attack aircraft, including F-16s.
Washington had also approved bringing up to 10 more Ukrainian pilots to the US for further assessment.
Additional reporting by Reuters.