We Still Don’t Know If the U.S. Will Send F-16 Fighter Jets to Ukraine – On May 20, during the recent G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan revealed some details about plans to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.
Speaking to reporters, Sullivan said that President Joe Biden had told his G7 counterparts that the United States will support a joint effort to train Ukrainian pilots to use fourth generation fighter jets, including F-16s.
Sullivan also said that the United States would work with allies to establish when the planes will be delivered to Ukraine.
However, Sullivan did not say whether the United States plans to send them directly, adding that the White House will work with allies to determine how many will be sent to Ukraine, and who would deliver them.
F-16 Fighters for Ukraine: A Change in Strategy
The announcement is a significant U-turn for the president, who has long opposed sending both long-range missile systems and fourth generation fighter jets to Ukraine over fears of escalating the conflict.
In February, the president said that he was “ruling out” sending the jets to Ukraine during a discussion with ABC’s David Muir.
On Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters that Denmark and the Netherlands were taking steps to lead the F-16 flight training for Ukrainian pilots.
“Norway, Belgium, Portugal and Poland have already offered to contribute to training and we expect more countries to join this important initiative,” Austin said during a virtual meeting with other defense officials, adding that Denmark and the Netherlands acknowledged that training must be accompanied by “capability,” “sustainment,” “maintenance,” and “ordnance.”
Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley also noted that the cost of 10 F-16 jets would be $1 billion, with an additional billion dollars required for sustainment.
“The sustainment costs another billion dollars, so you’re talking about $2 billion for 10 aircraft,” Milley said.
U.S. Won’t Stand In The Way Of Others Sending Planes
While the United States may still decide to send the jets independently, statements recently made on the matter seem to indicate that the United States would instead choose not to stand in the way of European allies sending them instead.
Russian officials responded to comments made by Jake Sullivan last week by threatening a harsh response from Russia if the planes are in fact delivered to Ukraine, describing the “enormous risks” of equipping the country with the jets.
“This will be taken into account in all our plans, and we have all the necessary means to achieve our goals,” Russian deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko said.
Russia’s anger at the news makes sense militarily, given how the use of advanced fighter jets could change the dynamics of the conflict.
Both Russia and Ukraine have largely refrained from using fighter jets in combat, with both sides opting instead for ground warfare and the use of drones. “Kamikaze” style drones, which are designed to explode upon impact, have proven a more efficient and cost-effective way for both Ukrainian and Russian troops to target enemy positions without risking losing valuable, and expensive, aircraft.
The delivery of F-16s, therefore, could force Russia to begin using some of its most advanced fighter jets in the conflict in Ukraine – and risk losing some of the country’s most advanced military hardware in the process.
Jack Buckby is 19FortyFive’s Breaking News Editor. He is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.