The US weapons maker Lockheed Martin says it is “standing by” to help Ukrainians fly and maintain F-16 fighter jets once NATO countries finalize their plans to provide Kyiv with the aircraft.
Lockheed Martin is also ready to manufacture more F-16s to backfill the stockpiles of countries that ship their jets to Ukraine. The war in Ukraine has been a boon for Lockheed Martin as they make many of the weapons systems being poured into the conflict zone, including Javelin anti-tank missiles and the HIMARS rocket systems.
“We are standing by, ready to not only backfill need as it arises with new F-16 builds but also any modifications to F-16s as well as training, equipment and systems,” Frank St John, the chief operating officer of Lockheed, told Financial Times.
There’s still a long way to go before Ukraine is armed with F-16s, as its pilots still need training, and NATO countries still haven’t committed to providing the jets. The Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark have all signaled that they will send Ukraine their F-16s, but the arrangement hasn’t been finalized.
St John said that initial training and support will take place in a third country but said Lockheed Martin is eyeing setting up shop in Ukraine in the future. “When these hostilities end, there will have to be a sustaining presence for training and maintenance and then the logical place would be for that to be in and around Ukraine,” he said.
Russia has strongly warned against the provision of F-16s for Ukraine as it will mark a significant escalation of NATO support for Kyiv. But the US and its allies have brushed off the Russian concerns.