WASHINGTON, Aug 17 (Reuters) – The United States has approved sending F-16 fighter jets from Denmark and the Netherlands to Ukraine to defend against Russian invaders after pilot training, a U.S. official said on Thursday.
Ukraine is actively seeking US-made F-16 fighter jets to counter Russian air superiority.
The official said Washington had given official assurances to Denmark and the Netherlands that the US would expedite exchange requests for F-16s to go to Ukraine once the pilots are trained.
“We welcome Washington’s decision to pave the way for sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine,” Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said on news site X, formerly known as Twitter.
“Now, we will discuss further with our European partners.”
Denmark also said it would now discuss the delivery of jets to Ukraine.
“The government has repeatedly said that donation is a natural next step after training. We are discussing it with close partners and I expect to be able to be more concrete about that soon,” Danish Defense Minister Jakob Elleman-Jensen said. Friday news agency Ritzau.
The 11-nation alliance was due to begin training Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets in Denmark this month. Denmark’s interim defense minister Troels Poulsen said in July that the country hopes to see “results” of the exercise by early 2024.
NATO members Denmark and the Netherlands are leading international efforts to train pilots and support staff, maintain aircraft, and eventually acquire F-16s for Ukraine to use in its war with Russia.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in May that the Netherlands was seriously considering providing F-16s to Ukraine, as it is currently phasing out the fighter jets from its own armed forces.
According to figures from the Dutch Ministry of Defence, the Netherlands currently has 24 operational F-16s, which will be phased out by mid-2024. A further 18 jets are currently for sale, 12 of which have been provisionally sold.
The US official said Secretary of State Antony Blinken had sent letters to his Danish and Dutch counterparts assuring them that the requests would be approved.
“I am writing to express the United States’ full support for both the transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine and the training of Ukrainian pilots by qualified F-16 instructors,” Blinken said in a letter to both officials. A copy was seen by Reuters.
Blinken said, “It is critical for Ukraine to defend itself against the ongoing Russian aggression and violation of its sovereignty.”
He said approval of the requests would allow Ukraine to “fully utilize its new capabilities once the first set of pilots completes their training.”
US President Joe Biden approved training programs for Ukrainian pilots in F-16 aircraft in May. In addition to training in Denmark, a training center was to be set up in Romania.
Kyiv will not be able to operate US-built F-16 fighter jets this coming fall and winter, Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat told Ukraine TV late Wednesday.
U.S. officials have said privately that the F-16 jets would have been of little help in Ukraine’s current counteroffensive and would make no difference when they eventually arrive, given Russian air defense systems and contested skies over Ukraine.
The F-16 is manufactured by Lockheed Martin ( LMT.N ).
Steve Holland reports; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali and Bart Meijer, Louise Rasmussen in Copenhagen; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Toby Chopra
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