The US has approved the transfer to Ukraine of American-made F-16 fighter jets from Denmark and the Netherlands when Ukrainian pilots are fully trained to operate them.
“This way, Ukraine can take full advantage of its new capabilities,” a US state department spokesman said. Ukraine praised the decision it had been pushing hard for since last year. But it is expected to be months before Kyiv will be able to use F-16s to try to counter Russia’s air superiority. The Dutch are thought to have about 24 operational F-16s which are scheduled to be taken out of service and replaced by more advanced war planes. Denmark is also planning an upgrade of its fleet of some 30 F-16s.
The US and its allies had earlier ruled out providing F-16s to Ukraine, fearing that this would lead to further escalation with a nuclear-armed Russia. Russia – which launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 – has so far made no public comment on the issue. Both Denmark and the Netherlands had been given “formal assurances” for the transfer of their multi-role F-16 war planes, the US state department spokesman said. The spokesman added that this would happen “as soon as the first set of pilots complete their training”. Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra welcomed the US decision, saying that “this marks a major milestone for Ukraine to defend its people and its country”. “Now we will further discuss the subject with our European partners,” he wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. Danish Defence Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen echoed his words.
“The government has said several times that a donation is a natural next step after training. We are discussing it with close allies,” he told Denmark’s Ritzau news agency. In Ukraine, Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov described the US decision as “great news”. “Our military has proven it is filled with fast learners. We will soon prove that Ukraine’s victory is inevitable. Thank you to all our partners and friends in the United States, the Netherlands and Denmark. Onward to Victory!” he wrote on X. An 11-member coalition of Ukraine’s allies in the West is due to start training Ukrainian pilots later this month and they are expected to be ready next year.
Earlier this week, Ukraine’s Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat admitted that Kyiv would not be able to operate F-16s this coming autumn and winter. The F-16 Fighting Falcon is widely considered one of the world’s most reliable fighter jets. It can be armed with precision-guided missiles and bombs and is able to fly at 1,500mph (2,400km/h), according to the US Air Force. The F-16’s targeting capabilities would allow Ukraine to attack Russian forces in all weather conditions and at night with greater accuracy. Ukraine is believed to have dozens of combat aircraft – mostly MiGs – all dating from the Soviet era, and the country is currently badly outgunned by Russia in the air. Kyiv needs modern war planes to help protect its skies from regular deadly Russian missile and drone attacks, and also to support its counter-offensive in southern and eastern Ukraine that has so far yielded limited results.