Biden Administration green light European allies to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 jets

Several European countries have expressed their readiness to train Ukrainian pilots on the American F-16 fighter jet platform but have been stymied by Joe Biden while they waited for the president to give his final approval on the plan to teach Kyiv’s airmen.

That approval has now been given according to a top official in the Biden administration who confirmed on July 16th that the United States gave its allies the green light to train Kyiv’s pilots on the F-16 while speaking with CNN’s Jake Tapper on State of the Nation.

“The president has given a green light and we will allow, permit, support, facilitate and in fact provide the necessary tools for Ukrainians to begin being trained on F-16s, as soon as the Europeans are prepared,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan explained.

The decision was likely one that wasn’t made easily by Biden who indicated as recently as January that the United States wouldn’t send F-16s to Ukraine to help the embattled nation push the Kremlin’s military forces out of the land it occupied since the invasion. 

Biden changed his mind about sending the vital weapons platform to Ukraine in May, and Jake Sullivan told reporters in Hiroshima during a meeting of the G7 that Biden’s shift came after the U.S. delivered everything needed for Kyiv’s new counter-offensive.

“Now we have delivered everything we said we were going to deliver,” Sullivan stated according to BBC News, “so we put the Ukrainians in a position to make progress on the battlefield through the counteroffensive.”

“We’ve reached a moment where it is time to look down the road and say what is Ukraine going to need as part of a future force to defend against Russian aggression,” Biden’s National Security Advisor added. 

The answer to what Ukraine needed to halt future Russian aggression turned out to be F-16s and Biden told American allies at the Hiroshima summit the United States would support efforts to train Ukrainian pilots on the F-16 according to one senior administration official quoted by ABC News. 

“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,” the senior administration official explained. 

“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. 

Unfortunately, even though Biden announced plans to allow his allies to train Ukrainian pilots on the F-16, the final approval that would let countries begin the training process was never formally given, at least until now if Sullivan’s comments are to be believed. 

F-16s will only be provided to Ukraine for the purposes of defense and Biden has wrung promises from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Kyiv would not use the jets to attack Russian territory, a condition that Sullivan said the Ukrainians had accepted. 

“The Ukrainians have consistently indicated that they are prepared to follow through on that,” Sullivan said in Hiroshima, referencing the fact that they would not attack Russian territory with F-16 fighter jets. 

How long it will be before the world sees Ukrainian pilots flying sorties against Russian military targets inside of Ukraine and the occupied territories is still unknown. Ukraine is expecting to receive its first batch of the jets in September according to The Economist. 

That likely won’t be soon enough to play a role in Ukraine’s current counter-offensive but it will be quick enough to help protect the skies over the country as the cold sets in and Russia adopts the tactics of the previous winter, targeting energy infrastructure. 

Sullivan told CNN Biden’s European allies said they needed several weeks to prepare for the upcoming training and the U.S. said it would meet any deadlines. “The United States will not be the hold-up in ensuring that this F-16 training can get underway.” 

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