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Germany and UK say US must decide on fighter jets to Ukraine

May 17, 2023

Britain and Germany's defense ministers have ruled out directly supplying Ukraine with fighter jets. The decision, they said, would have to be taken by Washington.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius and Britain's Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace
Wallace (r) and Pistorius said the decison on fighter jets wasn't theirs to take for practical reasonsImage: Nadja Wohlleben/REUTERS

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said on Wednesday that any decision to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine would be "up to the White House" after a meeting with his British counterpart Ben Wallace.

US-made F-16s are at the top of Kyiv's wish list because of their destructive power, cost-effectiveness and versatility. The Ukrainian military says they would be four or five times more effective than its current Soviet-era jets.

What the defense ministers said

Pistorius said the supply of the planes needed to be US-led. "It depends on the White House... to decide whether the F-16 fighter planes can be delivered."

He explained that Germany, which does not have the F-16 jets that Ukraine wants, would be unable to contribute to the coalition because it did not have the capabilities.

"We cannot play an active role in such an alliance, in such a coalition, because we have neither the training capacities, the competencies, or the planes," Pistorius said.

Britain has said it is working with the Netherlands to create an international "jet coalition" to help Ukraine obtain F-16 warplanes.

What difference would fighter jets make for Ukraine?

However, Wallace pointed out that Britain also has no F-16s and stressed that it was not planning to send anything from its Typhoon fleet — also touted as a possible option.

"It's up to the White House to decide if it wants to release that technology," Wallace said but added that London would support in whatever ways it could any nation wishing to supply Kyiv. "We don't have F-16 pilots, but we can help the pipeline," he said.

"What's really important here is to signal to Russia that we as nations have no philosophical principle objection to supplying Ukraine capabilities that it needs depending on what is going on, on the battlefield," he added.

Ukraine is also keen to acquire Sweden's Gripen fighters and is still discussing what other jets could meet its needs. 

Washington has ruled out sending F-16s to Ukraine for the time being and no Western-designed jets have yet been donated. Poland and Slovakia have provided 27 MiG-29s to supplement Ukraine's current fleet.

What weapons are Germany and the UK providing?

The UK has often been the first country to provide Ukraine with new capabilities ahead of similar offers from its allies.

Britain last week announced it was sending air-launched Storm Shadow cruise missiles, with a far longer range than Western weapons sent previously, to Ukraine. NATO members previously had been reluctant to supply arms that can strike deep behind Russian lines.

Ukraine to get Soviet-era MiG-29 planes

The UK has been among Ukraine's largest suppliers of military aid, providing 2.3 billion pounds (€2.65 billion, $2.9 billion) worth of support last year and promising a similar amount for 2023.

Germany was initially slow to provide military aid, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz hesitating to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons, fearing it would put Germany at risk of being drawn into the conflict.

Berlin has since become one of the main arms providers to Ukraine, approving the delivery of modern battle tanks like its own Leopard 1 and 2.

It has also contributed sophisticated anti-aircraft systems needed to ward off attacks by drones and missiles.

The most recent package, first reported by the German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel, includes 30 Leopard 1 A5 tanks, 20 Marder armored personnel carriers, and more than 100 combat vehicles.

It also provides 18 self-propelled Howitzers, 200 reconnaissance drones, four advanced IRIS-T SLM anti-aircraft systems, and other air defense equipment.

The latest aid packages came as Ukrainian military commanders said their troops had recaptured more territory from Russian forces near the eastern city of Bakhmut. It also came ahead of speculation about a wider counteroffensive by Kyiv.

rc/jcg (AFP, Reuters)