The United States has pledged to approve the transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine as soon as training is complete, according to a US official.
The plan is to make sure Ukraine has the fighter jet it has long sought by the time its pilots complete training on F-16s. Initially, the training program was expected to start this month, but it is now unclear exactly when it will begin or how long it is expected to take.
Denmark and the Netherlands have taken the lead in preparing a program to train Ukrainian pilots on the US aircraft, but the US is still working with other countries to see who can supply F-16s to the Ukrainian Air Force.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent letters to his counterparts in Denmark and the Netherlands assuring them that the transfer of the planes would have the “full support” of the Joe Biden government and would move quickly when training on the advanced aircraft was completed. .
“I assure you that we will expedite the approval of required third-party transfer requests in time to allow for delivery when training is complete, including the required notification to our Congress,” Blinken wrote in the letters.
Reuters first reported that the United States approved the transfer of the planes.
A one-page training concept from the Danish Ministry of Defense laid out a six-month plan to prepare pilots and ground crews to operate the fighter jet.
But the US has yet to receive a formal training plan to familiarize and prepare Ukrainian pilots for the fourth-generation fighter jet. Although several other countries fly the F-16, the US must approve the transfer of training materials, simulators and manuals for the plane because it is a US aircraft that carries sensitive technology.
“We want to get them there as soon as possible,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Thursday. “The other thing to watch out for here is the training piece. You have to make sure you have enough pilots, that they have the proper command of English, and then train them.”
“We think that training will be able to start here relatively soon,” Kirby added.
Even so, Ukraine said Wednesday that it did not expect to receive F-16s until next year.
“It has already become clear that we will not be able to defend Ukraine with F-16s this fall and winter,” Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yurii Ihnat said during an appearance on Ukrainian state television on Wednesday.
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