Ukraine may get first F-16s this summer

Ukraine is becoming ready to get its first F-16 fighters this summer, confirmed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., as a move that would bolster Kyiv’s air capabilities against Russia.

“We’re working diligently to make sure that the Ukrainians have what they need, and the goal is to get them those F-16s this summer,” Brown said at a press conference following a Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting in Belgium.

Brown’s remarks come just a few days after Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren reportedly said the Netherlands would deliver some of its F-16s to Ukraine this summer.

“From this summer, I expect that the first F-16s will actually be delivered to Ukraine, and from there on, in a constant flow, by increasing the number and strengthening the Ukrainian Air Force,” Ollogren said in an interview with an Ukrainian media on June 12. “Denmark will be the first country to provide airframes and we will follow after Denmark.”

The exact number of F-16s that will arrive in Ukraine this summer remains unclear, but the timeline marks a major update after assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs Celeste Wallander told reporters in January that the Pentagon expects the Ukrainian Air Force to achieve “initial operating capability” on F-16s by the end of 2024.

In addition to the Netherlands and Denmark, Belgium and Norway have also pledged to send F-16 fighters to Ukraine. Belgium signed a security pact with Ukraine in May to transfer 30 of the fighters by 2028. While the precise arrival date of Belgium’s F-16s is not clarified in the agreement.

The timeline on Belgium’s transfers, however, may depend on how fast it can get its hands on F-35As to fortify its own military capabilities. The country’s first F-35A only recently took to the skies for its inaugural flight.

Norway, the Netherlands, and Denmark are also all in varying stages of buying the F-35 and may deliver up to 22, 24, and 19 F-16s, respectively, according to media reports. That could mean Ukraine would ultimately have a fleet of 95 jets, but the four European nations’ delivery schedule is also contingent upon the completion of pilot and maintainer training programmes.

While the U.S. just wrapped up training for its first batch of Ukrainian F-16 pilots last month, those aviators are set to undergo additional training overseas. The Air National Guard’s 162nd Wing in Tucson, Ariz. is training a total of 12 Ukrainian pilots by the end of fiscal 2024. Additional pilot training by the European coalition is taking place in Denmark and Romania.

However, details regarding maintainer training have been scarce, although U.S. officials previously said that maintainer capability would be established before the end of this year.

Kyiv is seeking further assistance in training more F-16 pilots. U.S. lawmakers also raised concerns last month regarding the number of Ukrainian pilots currently slated for training. In a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, Rep. Michael Turner and other others said graduating a dozen Ukrainian pilots is “simply insufficient,” and that there remains a “critical need for a substantial number of trained pilots.”

And as conclusion, Washington and Kyiv signed a 10-year bilateral security agreement at the G7 summit in Italy on June 13. Ukraine has bolstered its security by signing a total of 15 such agreements with other countries including the U.K., France and Germany, since the onset of Russia’s invasion in early 2022.

© Times of Ukraine

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