Biden walks with other G7 leaders at the Hiroshima summit. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/Pool/Getty
President Biden told his fellow leaders at the G7 summit that the United States will support a joint plan to train Ukrainian pilots on advanced fighter jets, including US-made F-16s, a senior US official confirmed to Axios.
Driving the news: After the training begins, the US and its allies “will decide when to provide planes, how many to provide and who will provide them,” the US official said.
Why it matters: Ukraine has been pushing for fighter jets for months, but Biden refused to provide US-made planes and had hesitated on the idea of allowing the European allies to do so.
- While Biden has now pledged to help Ukraine obtain advanced aircraft, it remains unclear if the US will supply the F-16s directly.
- The training scheme is being finalized at the G7 summit in Japan, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will be a guest.
- The G7 leaders are also preparing to implement a new batch of sanctions on Russia at the summit.
Details: The training will take place in Europe and could start in a few weeks, but it will take “months” to complete, according to a statement provided to Axios.
- US officials have previously mentioned it could take 18 months to train the pilots and deliver the F-16s. Ukrainian officials believe the training could be completed sooner and they have long argued that if the US was concerned that the training would take too long, it should start sooner.
Between lines: In recent months, the Biden administration had prioritized arming and training Ukrainian forces to the spring counteroffensivesays the statement.
- That suggests that US-made fighter jets are not part of the counteroffensive equation, but could be part of a long-term commitment to Ukraine’s defenses.
What they are saying: Zelensky in a cheep welcomed the US decision.
- “This will greatly improve our army in the sky. I am counting on discussing the practical implementation of this decision in the future. #G7 summit in Hiroshima,” he said.
The panorama: The White House has chosen on multiple occasions to provide advanced weaponry that it had previously ruled out sending (Patriot air defense systems or HIMARS missile launchers, for example) on the grounds that the training would be too difficult or could be used in ways that provoke Russia.
- In the case of the F-16s, price is also a consideration. While the F-16s are not the most advanced combat aircraft flown by the US and its allies, they each cost millions of dollars and therefore could take up a significant portion of the world. funding that Congress has appropriated to arm Ukraine.
- But countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, which were already making the transition from the F-16 to the F-35, have voiced opening to the idea of sending F-16s to Ukraine.
- Poland and Slovakia have provided Soviet-era planes, though Ukrainian officials say they are currently outmatched by Russian aircraft, and the F-16s would be far more effective.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with additional details.