The United States is signaling its support for its allies to send their F-16 jets to Ukraine

The United States is giving its allies the green light to supply F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine and helping train Ukrainian pilots to fly the aircraft, paving the way for one of the most significant upgrades to Kiev’s military capabilities since Russia’s full introduction. last year’s invasion.

President Joe Biden told G7 leaders on Friday that Washington would support a joint effort to train Ukrainian pilots and later equip the country’s air force with F-16s and other fourth-generation fighter jets, a US official said.

The US switch is a diplomatic victory for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is pushing his case for additional military support at the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan.

Zelensky welcomed the “historic decision” of the White House. “This will greatly increase our military in the sky,” he said on Twitter.

Washington sees the effort as part of ensuring that Ukraine has what it needs to strengthen its capabilities and defend itself over the long term. The US is unlikely to supply its own F-16s to Kiev.

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“As training takes place in the coming months, our coalition of countries participating in this effort will decide when we actually provide aircraft, how many and who provides them,” said a senior administration official.

Speaking to reporters at the G7 summit, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan rejected suggestions that the US had changed its policy. He said the United States had decided at different stages of the conflict which weapons were most appropriate.

“We’ve come to a point where it’s time to look down the road and say what Ukraine will need as part of its future path to deter and defend against Russian aggression,” Sullivan said. “F-16s and fourth-generation fighter jets are part of the fix.”

For months, Zelenskyy has been urging his allies to bolster Ukraine’s depleted air force, which relies on aging Soviet-made fighters that are inferior to Russian jets, with modern fighter jets. Kiev targeted the F-16, a multirole fighter jet built by Lockheed Martin and used by many Western militaries.

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But Washington has long resisted the delivery of the F-16s, arguing that they are not a priority for Ukraine and could prompt Moscow to escalate the war.

But Ukraine’s push to build a coalition of countries willing to supply F-16s gained momentum this week when Britain, France, the Netherlands and other allies announced they would begin training Ukrainian pilots.

Training is now expected to take place in Europe, with the United States and potentially several other partners participating. The process could take several months, and Western aircraft are unlikely to take to the skies over Ukraine anytime soon, meaning they will not support an imminent counterattack against Russian forces.

The US official said: “President Biden is sending a strong signal of how united the United States, our allies and partners are in ensuring that Ukraine remains sovereign, independent and secure, and able to defend and deter future attacks.”

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznyikov said that Zelenskyi’s main topic in Japan would be the aircraft.

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“The aerial platform should be the air defense of Ukraine,” Reznikov told the Financial Times. “Air defense is our number one priority.”

The F-16s would bolster Ukraine’s air defense capabilities and allow it to support ground operations while challenging Russia’s tactical air superiority over the front line. Much depends on what kind of weapons systems the Western partners are willing to supply.

The Netherlands is phasing out its F-16s and could potentially be one of Ukraine’s biggest suppliers. Denmark and Belgium also have F-16s.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte welcomed the US announcement on Friday, saying “the modalities will be worked out in the coming weeks”.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who led the fighter jet coalition and pledged to train Ukrainian pilots, said his country was working with the United States, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark “to get Ukraine the combat air capability it needs.” .