WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has agreed to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine from Denmark and the Netherlands to defend against Russian invaders once pilot training is completed, a U.S. official said on Thursday.
Ukraine has actively sought US-made F-16 fighter jets to help it counter Russian air superiority.
The official said Washington had given Denmark and the Netherlands formal assurances that the United States would expedite approval of requests to transfer the F-16s to Ukraine when the pilots were trained.
“We welcome Washington’s decision to pave the way for sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine,” Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said via messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
“Now, we will discuss the matter further with our European partners.”
Denmark also said supplying the jets to Ukraine would now be discussed.
Danish Defense Minister Jakob Elliman Jensen stated: “The government has said several times that a donation is the natural next step after training. We are discussing this with close allies, and I expect that we will soon be able to be more realistic about it.” Ritzau news agency on Friday.
An 11-nation coalition was due to start training Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets this month in Denmark. Denmark’s acting defense minister, Trols Poulsen, said in July that his country hoped to see “results” from the exercises in early 2024.
NATO members Denmark and the Netherlands are leading an international effort to train pilots and support personnel, maintain aircraft and eventually enable Ukraine to acquire F-16s for use in its war with Russia.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in May that the Netherlands is seriously considering supplying the F-16s to Ukraine, as it is currently phasing out combat jets from its armed forces.
According to figures from the Dutch Ministry of Defence, the Netherlands currently has 24 F-16s that will be phased out by mid-2024. A further 18 are currently for sale, 12 of which have been temporarily sold.
The US official said Secretary of State Antony Blinken had sent messages to his Danish and Dutch counterparts assuring them that the requests would be approved.
“I am writing to express the full support of the United States both for the transfer of F-16 fighter aircraft to Ukraine and for the training of Ukrainian pilots by qualified F-16 instructors,” Blinken said in a letter to the officials. Reuters has seen a copy of it.
“It remains important that Ukraine be able to defend itself against Russia’s continued aggression and violation of its sovereignty,” Blinken said.
He said approving the applications would allow Ukraine to “take full advantage of its new capabilities once the first group of pilots completes their training”.
US President Joe Biden approved training programs for Ukrainian pilots on F-16s in May. In addition to training in Denmark, a training center was to be set up in Romania.
Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat told Ukrainian television late on Wednesday that Kiev will not be able to operate US-made F-16 fighter jets in the coming fall and winter.
U.S. officials have said privately that the F-16s will not help Ukraine much in its current counter-offensive and will not be a game-changer when they do eventually arrive, given Russian air defense systems and the contested skies over Ukraine.
The F-16 is manufactured by Lockheed Martin (LMT.N).
Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Idris Ali, Bart Meijer and Louise Rasmussen in Copenhagen; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Toby Chopra
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