Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands together will donate 85 F-16 Fighting Falcon

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and Mark Rutte give a press conference on Sunday at Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands. Photograph: Rob Engelaar/ANP/AFP/Getty Images

Norway has become the third European nation after Denmark and the Netherlands to pledge to provide Ukraine with 24 F-16 fighter jets.

“We are planning to donate Norwegian F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, and will provide further details about the donation, numbers and time frame for delivery in due course,” CNN quoted Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store as saying on Thursday.

Norway had first announced its plans to support the training of Ukrainian personnel on F-16 fighter jets in May.

The Netherlands and Denmark have announced they will donate up to 61 F-16 fighter jets between them to Ukraine once pilot training has been satisfactorily completed, as Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited both countries after months of entreaties to bolster the Ukrainian air force.

Denmark’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, said her country would provide 19 jets – “hopefully” six around new year, eight more next year and the remaining five in 2025. “Please take this donation as a token of Denmark’s unwavering support for your country’s fight for freedom,” Frederiksen said.

Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, did not put a number on the Dutch donation, but said the Netherlands had 42 in its air force. The country was already in the process of replacing them with more advanced US-made F-35s.

“Today we can announce that the Netherlands and Denmark commit to the transfer of F-16 aircraft to Ukraine and the Ukrainian air force,” Rutte said at a joint press conference with the Ukrainian president at an airbase at Eindhoven. The jets would be handed over from existing stockpiles once “the conditions for such a transfer have been met”, he added.

A clearly pleased Zelenskiy released a photo taken of himself and Rutte in front of an F-16 and was later filmed getting into the cockpit. In social media postings he added that he had reached an agreement “to strengthen Ukraine’s air shield”.

Unlike Rutte, Zelenskiy appeared firmer on the number he expected to receive from the Netherlands. “Mark Rutte and I reached an agreement on the number of F-16s to be transferred to Ukraine once our pilots and engineers have completed their training,” he wrote. “42 jets. And this is just the beginning.”

F-16s will not be transferred until pilots and ground crews are properly trained. The process will take six months for learning the pilot skills, plus about another four months for the pilot crews to learn technical English to the required standard.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Mette Frederiksen sit in an F-16 fighter jet at Skrydstrup airbase in Vojens, Denmark. Photograph: Ritzau Scanpix/Reuters

Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Mette Frederiksen sit in an F-16 fighter jet at Skrydstrup airbase in Vojens, Denmark. Photograph: Ritzau Scanpix/Reuters

As a result the western fighter jets are not expected to be ready to fly combat missions in Ukraine until well into 2024, by which time the war could have been going on for two years. However, Sunday’s announcements mean there is a firmer timetable and commitments to transfer the F-16s than ever before.

Progress on transferring F-16s to Ukraine had stalled over the early part of the summer, until last week when it emerged that the US had sent a letter to the Dutch and Danish governments making it clear they would support the transfer of the jets to Ukraine when the training programme was complete.

Zelenskiy said the planes, which Ukraine has been seeking since the early stages of the war, would help strengthen Ukraine’s air defences and help its slow-moving counteroffensive. “Aircraft can speed up this process,” he said.

“We are speaking about air defence, because we have the winter ahead of us and we understand more than anyone else in the world what winter without electricity is like,” the president added.

Ukraine has a small air force, which is made up of Soviet standard planes that can only run a dozen or so low-risk combat missions a day because they are outnumbered by the Russian equivalent. Although Moscow uses its own jets relatively conservatively in frontline areas, the size of its air force means it poses a far greater threat.

On Saturday, Ukraine’s defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said on national television that pilot training had already begun. Rutte, however, said on Sunday that “military training will start in the very near future” – although it is possible Reznikov was referring to the English language lessons that are seen as prerequisite.

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