Europeans Back Ukraine’s Push for F-16s

May 17, 2023

Two European allies—Britain and the Netherlands—put their backing behind Ukraine’s push for U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets this week.

The two European nations announced a new coalition on Tuesday that aims to help Ukraine procure F-16s from other allied nations.

Because the F-16s are made in the U.S., Washington must approve the transfer of the jets from one foreign nation to another. It’s much the same situation that occurred in Berlin over other allies sending their German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine.

In February President Biden ruled out sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine “for now.” The Pentagon has cited cost concerns, lengthy training time for pilots and the possibility that Russia would view the provision of the American-made jets as an escalation.

On Wednesday a senior European diplomat said that the Biden Administration and its allies remain locked in a slow-moving and “difficult discussion” on whether the U.S. would allow the transfer of F-16s.

After an announcement by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of a new military aid package that included training Ukrainian pilots related to the F-16, a senior U.S. official said the government had not changed its stance on the issue. 

Altogether the Netherlands, along with Denmark, Belgium and Norway, have at least 125 combat-ready F-16s in their arsenals, according to the UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. A senior Ukrainian official familiar with the talks said Wednesday that all four nations were amenable to sending used jets to Ukraine.

Germany has also entered the debate. Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said at a news conference in Berlin that “what’s really important here is to signal to Russia that we as nations have no philosophical or principle objection to supplying Ukraine capabilities that it needs, depending on what is going on the battlefield.”

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