The United States has come under immense pressure from its European allies to supply F-16 fighter jets to the Ukrainian Air Force following months of Ukrainian government requests.
European countries particularly the Netherlands and Norway have also been leading advocates of supplying F-16s to Ukraine, while France has agreed to provide training to Ukrainian pilots.
Multiple European states have reportedly placed growing pressure on the United States to approve transfers of F-16s to Ukraine, as even if not sourced from American stockpiles F-16s operated abroad would still need Washington’s permission to provide their own aircraft to any third party.
However according to reports from multiple American sources among them the New York Times, the United States blocked its European partners from training Ukrainian personnel on F-16s, despite the Netherlands and Norway reportedly being willing to supply their older aircraft to the Ukrainian Air Force.
A likely key reason for the discrepancy in the American and European positions is that the United States still has a very large stake in the F-16 program, not only as the fighter will continue to form the backbone of the U.S. Air Force for decades, but also because it continues to offer modernized variants of the class for export at times for hundreds of millions of dollars per airframe.
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By contrast Britain and France do not operate the F-16, while Norway, the Netherlands, and other European operators are close to totally phasing the class out of service to replace them with F-35s – something Norway became the first to achieve in January 2022.
Thus should F-16s be deployed to Ukraine, the United States would be bearing the primary risk. Not only is there a possibility that the fighter or its technologies could fall into Russian hands, as other Western equipment has in considerable quantities, but there is also a much greater chance that the fighters could suffer significant losses both to strikes on their airfields and in the air to air combat which would be a major blow to the F-16’s reputation.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has long pleaded with Western allies to send their modern fighter jets, but the U.S. has repeatedly rebuffed those requests. Instead, the U.S. has sent tanks, artillery, and ammunition.
The U.S. has aided Ukraine’s air force so far by providing munitions, including High-Speed Anti-Radiation missiles (HARMs) that the Ukrainians have jerry-rigged to operate from their aging Soviet-era planes. In recent months, the U.S. has also provided extended-range JDAM-guided bombs.
Poland and Slovakia are providing Ukraine with MiG-29s from their inventories. But there is no debate the F-16 will mark a quantum leap over the planes currently in Ukraine’s inventory.
Ukrainian officials have expressed hope they will be flying the planes by the fall, but some U.S. officials said they cannot guarantee the aircraft will be in Ukraine’s hands before the end of the year.