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Biden Clears Way for Ukraine to Get F-16 Fighter Jets

The U.S. will back training of Ukrainian pilots — clearing the way for F-16s from other countries to get to Ukraine.


The U.S. will support an international effort to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets, a senior administration official confirmed to The Messenger, a shift in policy that will clear the way for F-16s and other aircraft to be sent to Ukraine. President Joe Biden announced the change to other world leaders at Friday’s G-7 summit in Japan, Politico reported

The official told The Messenger that Biden’s announcement does not mean the U.S. will send its own F-16s to Ukraine. But several European countries have F-16s in their arsenals, and the shift in policy effectively creates a roadmap for the delivery of F-16s and other fighter jets from those European nations to Ukraine. The decision also comes several days after leaders of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands announced plans to set up an international coalition to help Ukraine obtain the jets.

The training will reportedly take place at a European site outside Ukraine and begin within weeks.

President Volodymyr Zelensky and other top Ukrainian officials have clamored for months for more sophisticated western aircraft to augment their air defenses and offensive operations. Biden has faced mounting pressure to provide advanced American fighter jets to Ukraine, and until now had refused to do so or to agree to the use of F-16s based in other countries.

In a February interview with ABC News anchor David Muir, Biden was asked if he thought Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky needed F-16s.

“No, he doesn’t need F-16s now,” Biden responded.

Fighting Falcon from the Polish Air Force takes part in a NATO air Shielding exercise at the Lask Air Base on October 12, 2022 in Lask, Poland.
(Photo by Omar Marques/Getty Images)Omar Marques/Getty Images

But the U.S. had changed its mind before - refusing initially to send other weapons systems to Ukraine, only to ultimately reverse itself. That was the case most recently with M-1 Abrams battle tanks and Patriot missile interceptors. 

Objections to sending the F-16s included costs, timing (U.S. officials estimated an 18-24-month wait for the aircraft to be operational in Ukraine), risks that sensitive U.S. technology could fall into Russian hands or that the jets could lead to further escalation of the conflict. 

Mark Cancian, a senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, called Friday’s announcement “the first step in a long road.”

“It’s not just pilots that need to be trained, but maintainers and support staff also,” Cancian told The Messenger. Then the logistics chain must be established. All that will take 6-12 months.”

But he noted that even before the F-16s were ready, Ukraine could benefit from more skilled pilots as a result of the training.

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