The Biden administration has signaled to European allies in recent weeks that the U.S. will allow them to export F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, sources familiar with the discussions said, because the White House came under increasing pressure from members of Congress and allies to help. Ukraine bought the planes amid intensifying Russian airstrikes.
Administration officials are not aware, however, of any formal requests by any allies to export the F-16s, and State Department officials are generally tasked with the paperwork to approve such third-party transfers are not told to work, officials. said.
Several European countries have supplies of US-made F-16s, including the Netherlands, which has signaled its willingness to export some of them to Ukraine. But the US must approve the transfer to a third party because of the jets’ sensitive US technology.
While the U.S. remains reluctant to send any of its own F-16s to Kyiv, U.S. officials told CNN that the administration is willing to approve the export of the jets to Ukraine if that’s the decision. of the allies to do with their supply.
National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby declined to comment specifically on the possibility of the US sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, but said widely that the US is looking ahead about ” future capabilities” and needs. The F-16s are “not on the agenda” at the G7, he said, although the aircraft will certainly come on the sidelines of the summit.
US lawmakers and congressional staff have joined the F-16 lobbying campaign, urging the administration to provide the jets so that Ukraine can establish control over its skies.
“As a bipartisan group of lawmakers, we view the transfer of F-16 fighter aircraft to Ukraine as essential for providing Kyiv with the air support capabilities needed to fully defend their country against senseless, illegal, and brutal invasion of Russia, and to make the territorial gains necessary to recover their country,” a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday that was obtained on CNN.
The issue is expected to be a topic of debate at the next NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July, officials said.
Another open question is where Ukrainian pilots will train these F-16s. A spokesman for UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said earlier this week that the UK and the Netherlands intend to form an “international coalition” not only to buy jets for Ukraine but also to train Ukrainian pilots on the 4th generation warrior, which is more. ahead of the Ukrainian fighter fleet.
In March, the US hosted two Ukrainian pilots at a military base in Tucson, Arizona to evaluate their skills using flight simulators and to assess how much time they needed to climb. -on to fly various US military aircraft, including F-16s. But the US currently has no plans to expand that training, a defense official told CNN, even though Congress has allocated money in the 2023 budget for such training.
US allies with F-16s could conduct training for Ukrainian pilots, or the aircraft’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, could train as a private contractor. But the defense official said such an arrangement would likely require some level of US involvement, although it would not require an official US sign-off such as US arms transfers abroad.
Top Ukrainian officials have stepped up their public lobbying campaign for US-made F-16s in recent months, arguing they need them urgently to defend against attacks by Russian missiles and drones.
Russia launched an “unprecedented” series of missile attacks on Kyiv on Thursday morning, a Ukrainian official said, just days after Russia launched a barrage of six hypersonic missiles near the capital aimed at destroying Ukraine’s Patriot air defense systems.
“A series of air attacks on Kyiv, unprecedented in their power, intensity and variety, continue,” said Serhii Popko, head of Kyiv’s civil and military administration.
Without the jets, Ukraine will have to improvise, officials said. Defense officials and congressional staff told CNN that Ukrainian troops in recent weeks used the US-made Patriot air defense system to shoot down at least one long-range fighter jet in Russia. Russian jets largely stay behind Russian defense lines, making it difficult for them to target Ukraine with shorter systems like NASAM.
The Russian planes targeted by the Patriot were in a bombing run that fired missiles against Ukrainian targets, US officials said, which Russia had done last year to increase civilian casualties.
Officials say Ukrainians will be responsible for making their own firing decisions once the West supplies the Patriot systems, saying Ukrainians will decide when and how to fire. -join the Patriots to protect their people.
Sophisticated fighter jets would make it easier for Ukraine to target Russian planes, some congressional staff argued, without having to spend on expensive Patriot munitions designed to intercept ballistic missiles.
Some US officials are skeptical of that argument, however, and note that Russia has several anti-aircraft systems that can easily shoot down F-16s. Ukraine is not conducting more air missions with the fighter jets it already has for a good reason, officials said.
However, there is a belief in Kyiv that with enough public pressure, the Ukrainians will eventually be able to secure weapons systems that were once considered a red line in the west. HIMARS, battle tanks, and the Patriot battery were once considered off-limits — all are already in the country or headed there soon.
While the UK does not have any F-16 itself, the British government appears to have made a U-turn on the issue in the last few months. In January, a British government spokesman told reporters that the UK believes the jets are “very sophisticated and will take many months to learn how to fly. Because of that, we believe it is impractical to send the jet in Ukraine.
On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Kyiv and London were “actively pursuing” a plan to get it.
“We need the F-16s,” Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian president’s office. “And I am grateful to our allies for their decision to work in this direction, including the training of our pilots.”