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US to back training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s

May 19, 2023

One key development at the G7 in Hiroshima: US President Joe Biden decided to allow Ukrainian pilots to train on American-made F-16 jets. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other leaders welcomed the move.

Polish F-16
Ukraine has long asked its Western allies for F-16 jetsImage: Lukasz Glowala/File Photo/REUTERS

US President Joe Biden will allow Ukrainian pilots to train on American F-16 combat jets, a senior US official said on Friday on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan.

A decision on the delivery of the US-made jets to Ukraine is to follow at a later date, according to the official.

Biden told the other G7 leaders the United States would support the training of Ukrainian pilots on fourth-generation multirole fighter jets, including the F-16, the official said.

While the training is ongoing, the coalition of countries participating in the effort would decide at a later date when to provide jets, how many to provide and who would provide them, he said.

The training will take place outside Ukraine at sites in Europe and would run for several months, he said. Training would start in the coming weeks.

What difference would fighter jets make for Ukraine?

Zelenskyy hails Biden's decision

The US move marks a major breakthrough for Kyiv, which has repeatedly, and until recently unsuccessfully, urged its Western allies to provide the modern jets to repel the Russian invasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised a "historic" Biden' decision. "I welcome the historic decision of the United States and [the US President] to support an international fighter jet coalition. This will greatly enhance our army in the sky," Zelenskyy said on Twitter.

The Ukrainian president added that he expected to discuss the practical implementation of this decision at the G7 summit in Hiroshima, where he is expected to arrive later.

Western leaders to support training

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also welcomed the move. "The UK will work together with the USA and the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark to get Ukraine the combat air capability it needs," Sunak wrote on Twitter. "We stand united."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also hailed the decision, saying that "modalities will be worked out in the coming weeks."

And Danish Defense ministry said it was ready to support the training of Ukrainian pilots for the use of F-16 fighter jets, following a US decision to back the training.

"Denmark has been working for this together with close allies," said the ministry. "Denmark is ready to support this. We will with close allies work on the details with priority."

Germany, with a small air force subject to major limitations on the kinds of missions it can fly ever since the second World War, is unlikely to play much part in any aerial donations.

Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said earlier this week that Germany's military had neither "the capacity nor the competence" when it comes to jets capable of offensive operations, and that Germany would continue to focus on its stronger areas such as air defense and armored vehicles.

Why Ukraine is pleading for Western fighter jets

Long-awaited decision

Ukraine has been calling for the US-made jets for some time, saying they would be more effective than the Soviet-era jets it currently has.

No Western-designed jets have yet been donated. Poland and Slovakia have handed over 27 MiG-29s to supplement Ukraine's current fleet.

Western countries have often said a prerequisite for any deliveries would be first training Ukrainian pilots to operate them. Some such initiatives are already in the works.

Some other NATO members have already begun training Ukrainian pilots, but US involvement in such schemes could be a positive sign for Kyiv's hopes of using F-16s in the field some day.

dh/msh (AFP, Reuters)