Ukraine to Receive F-16 Fighter Jets as US Relents, Boosting Defense Capability

Date 20.5.2023

In a significant development, the United States has agreed to allow its Western allies to supply Ukraine with advanced fighter jets, including American-made F-16s. This decision marks a major boost for Kyiv in its ongoing conflict with Russia. President Joe Biden informed his G7 counterparts of this historic decision during the bloc’s summit in Japan.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense has expressed hope that U.S.-made F-16s could be operational in Ukrainian airspace as early as this fall. Yuri Sak, an adviser to Kyiv’s Ministry of Defense, stated that if decisions are made quickly and all parties contribute their efforts, the first F-16s could be flying by the end of September or early October.

The sudden reversal by the Biden administration comes after over a year of refusals to provide F-16s to Ukraine. However, persistent pressure from allies, Congress, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who recently visited European capitals and is now attending the G-7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, has led to this change.

The move to supply Ukraine with advanced fighter jets comes at a time when concerns are mounting about the effectiveness of Ukraine’s upcoming counteroffensive against Russia. While the F-16s may not be available for the initial phase, their inclusion in Ukraine’s armed forces is seen as crucial for deterring and defending against Russian aggression.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken played a pivotal role in pushing for the approval of F-16 transfers among NATO countries. The administration has granted European allies, including the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and Poland, permission to coordinate the transfer of F-16s once training and logistical arrangements are in place.

Ukraine’s request includes at least two squadrons, each consisting of 12 planes, with the hope of expanding to three or four squadrons in the future. The F-16s are highly desired due to their versatility, advanced payloads, radar range, and missile capabilities. Ukrainian officials emphasize the need for air cover to support their combined arms maneuvers and to strike command posts, supply lines, and ammunition depots.

Congress must still be formally notified and given the opportunity to object to the third-party transfers of F-16s. However, the shortened response time for NATO member countries and close defense allies expedites the process.

The decision to supply Ukraine with F-16s demonstrates a long-term commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense and signifies a shift in the international response to the ongoing conflict. As the training and delivery plans unfold in the coming months, the international community will closely monitor the progress of Ukraine’s enhanced air force and its potential impact on the overall situation.

With the prospect of F-16s becoming a reality, Ukraine’s President Zelensky praised the decision and expressed gratitude for the international fighter jet coalition forming in support of Ukraine. This move is expected to greatly enhance Ukraine’s defensive capabilities and shape its military landscape for years to come.

While concerns about escalation remain, the provision of advanced fighter jets to Ukraine signifies a decisive step in addressing the country’s defense needs and bolstering its position in the ongoing conflict with Russia.

By Katerina Urbanova
Photo credit:  Flicker image: An F-16 in flight at sunset.

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