Pentagon promises to help Ukraine build its air force

The US announced it would “lead” the F-16 training coalition for Kiev

The US will lead the “capability coalition” to develop Ukraine’s air force, including the training of Ukrainian pilots on flying F-16 fighter jets, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Wednesday.

“I’m proud to announce that the United States will step up again to help lead the coalition of countries working with Ukraine to develop its Air Force,” Austin told reporters in Brussels, Belgium. He added that the US would “coordinate closely with Ukraine and other partners with a focus on developing Ukraine’s F-16 fighter aircraft capability.”

This shows “American leadership matters,” Austin said.

The head of the Pentagon did note that Denmark and the Netherlands would “be co-leading this coalition together with us,” naming the countries that actually stood up the F-16 initiative in early July, without Washington.

Once the US came on board, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that Ukraine would not get the jets from the Pentagon, but “likely from European countries that have excess F-16 supplies.”

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After many delays, the US gave Denmark and the Netherlands permission to donate F-16s to Kiev in August. A total of 11 countries have committed to training Ukrainian pilots. The US has promised to start classes at the Morris Air National Guard Base in Arizona later this month, once the candidates pass an English exam.

The F-16 was designed in the 1970s by General Dynamics, and is currently in limited production by Lockheed Martin. Ukraine asked for them after running out of the MiG-29 fighters donated by Slovakia and Poland, in the heavy fighting against Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that if F-16s are sent to Ukraine, they “will burn” just like other Western hardware supplied to Kiev. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has described the potential deliveries as an escalatory move, noting that the jets can carry nuclear weapons.

According to Austin, the earliest Kiev can expect to receive the Danish and Dutch jets is “next spring.” Belgium has also promised to donate some of its F-16s to Ukraine by 2025, assuming it can get permission from the US and whichever government wins the June 2024 election.

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