(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden on Friday informed G-7 leaders meeting in Japan that he will support joint training of Ukrainian fighter pilots on F-16s, which begins the process of fulfilling a repeated request by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for those jets.
“Today, President Biden informed G-7 leaders that the United States will support a joint effort with our allies and partners to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth-generation fighter aircraft, including F-16s, to further strengthen and improve the capabilities of the Ukrainian Air Force,” according to a senior administration official. “As the training takes place over the coming months, our coalition of countries participating in this effort will decide when to actually provide jets, how many we will provide, and who will provide them.”
The official added that training will take place outside Ukraine at sites in Europe and will require months to complete.
“We hope we can begin this training in the coming weeks,” the official said.
The White House has long defended its decision not to fulfill this request by Zelenskyy, saying the administration was focused on immediate needs for the war.
“To date, the United States and our allies and partners have focused on providing Ukraine with the vast majority of the systems, weapons, and training it requires to conduct offensive operations this spring and summer. Discussions about improving the Ukrainian Air Force reflect our long-term commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense,” the official said.
In February, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that the current phase of the war “requires tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, artillery, tactical air defense systems, so that Ukrainian fighters can retake territory that Russia currently occupies.” He added that “F-16s are a question for a later time.”
Biden also told ABC’s David Muir that same month that Zelenskyy “doesn’t need F-16s now” and that “I am ruling it out for now.”
In March, Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s top policy official, told Congress that even if approved getting used F-16s to Ukraine would take 18 to 24 months and that flight training would take just as long.
“Together with the short-term and medium-term security assistance packages we are providing Ukraine, President Biden is sending a powerful signal of how the United States and our allies and partners are fully united in ensuring Ukraine remains sovereign, independent, and secure with the ability to defend against and deter future attacks,” according to the senior administration official.
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