The US will allow its European partners to transfer F-16s to Kiev, according to the Washington Post. Earlier this week, the UK and Netherlands began forming a coalition to send the American-made fighter jets to Ukraine.
A person "familiar with the decision" told the Post that the White House informed its allies it would not block their plans to provide Kiev with F-16s. When Washington sells F-16s, the buyer must agree that the US government can block the planes from being transferred to a third country.
A senior administration official said the plan would include training "on fourth-generation fighter aircraft, including F-16s, to further strengthen and improve the capabilities of the Ukrainian Air Force."
The official continued, "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," adding, "This training will take place outside Ukraine at sites in Europe and will require months to complete."
According to the officials, training could begin during the coming weeks. Defense officials have previously estimated that Ukrainian pilots could learn how to fly the F-16 in as little as six to nine months. While Colin Kahl, a senior Department of Defense official, told Congress the process will take up to two years and $11 billion for Ukraine to successfully deploy the fighter jet.
The US and UK have already started training a limited number of Ukrainian pilots on Western aircraft.
In January, during a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, Biden ruled out sending F-16s to Ukraine. Macron said Paris would only be open to transferring fighter jets to Ukraine if Kiev pledged not to carry out attacks on Russian soil.
In his many appeals for more advanced weapons from his Western partners, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pledged not to use the weapons to attack Russian territory. However, that pledge does not extend to the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014. Additionally, documents included in the Discord Leaks showed Zelensky was plotting to attack Russia, notwithstanding his many promises.
For several months, Zelensky has demanded F-16s. Biden appears to have changed his mind in the run-up to a Group of Seven (G7) summit in Hiroshima, Japan. The Guardianreported that Washington’s sudden reversal shocked some allies. "Things are moving really fast in Japan. Faster even than we had dared hoped," one European diplomat said.
Zelensky, who will attend the summit, celebrated the news. "I welcome the historic decision of the United States and [Biden] to support an international fighter jet coalition." He tweeted, "This will greatly enhance our army in the sky. I count on discussing the practical implementation of this decision at the G7 summit in Hiroshima."
The plan to send F-16s to Ukraine marks another significant escalation in Western support for Kiev. When London began training Ukrainian pilots on fighter jets in February, the Kremlin issued a stern warning. “Russia will find a way to respond to any unfriendly steps taken by the British side,” adding, the "next round of escalation" will cause “bloodshed" for the "European continent and the entire world.”