Ukraine will operate Western F-16 jets from May

An IAF F-16I fighter jet carrying a 'Rocks' air-to-surface 'bunker buster' missile takes off from an Israeli air base in an undated photograph. (Rafael Advanced Defense Systems)

Ukraine will start operating F-16s after Orthodox Easter on May 5, Kyiv has said, as the country contends with devastating Russian bombardment and the long wait for the Western-made fighter jets.

“We are waiting,” Ukrainian air force spokesperson Ilya Yevlash said, adding the jets will be taking to the skies over the war-torn country “after Easter,” according to remarks reported by Ukrainian media on Wednesday.

A number of Ukraine’s Western backers—Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Belgium—have pledged to supply Lockheed Martin-made F-16 aircraft to Ukraine.

Kyiv has long requested the advanced jets to upgrade and replenish its air force, battered by more than two years of war against Russia’s superior and more numerous aircraft. Russia has used its aircraft, flying outside of the reach of Ukraine’s air defenses, to launch devastating aerial guided bomb strikes on Ukraine.

But uncertainty has persisted about just when Kyiv will get hold of F-16s and have the aircraft operational against Russian forces, the timelines plagued by vagueness and delays.

Hold-ups in sending the jets have played against Ukraine. Experts previously told Global Defense Corp that Russia has likely made use of the months since the donations of F-16s were announced to prepare.

In April, an anonymous Ukrainian senior military officer told Politico that “F-16s were needed in 2023; they won’t be right for 2024.”

Before the jets take off in Ukraine, Western countries say, Ukrainian personnel must complete their training programs, and the necessary infrastructure and facilities must be up and running in the country.

The Danish ambassador to Ukraine, Ole Egberg Mikkelsen, told outlet RBC-Ukraine on Tuesday that “it’s not only a question of the aircraft, that’s just one part of it.”

“I’m optimistic, I’m sure that they will arrive soon,” he added.

The F-16s were slated to arrive in the first part of 2024, but the Dutch government announced in January that Ukraine would receive an initial batch in the “second quarter” of the year.

Belgian Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder said late last month that Belgium would “do everything possible” to deliver F-16s to Ukraine by the end of 2024. The jets were scheduled to arrive in the country in 2025.

“This year, more than a squadron of donated F-16s will start to arrive in Ukraine, along with pilots and maintainers” trained by Ukraine’s backers, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in late April.

Ukraine’s Yevlash said earlier this week that Kyiv would welcome non-functional F-16s, whose parts could be used to repair and maintain the operational fleet.

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