President Joe Biden’s decision at the Group of Seven summit to pave the way for Ukraine to receive American-made F-16 fighter jets from U.S. allies could be a turning point in the war between Ukraine and Russia.
But it’s an open question how long it will take Ukrainian pilots to be trained to fly the F-16s, and when the fighter planes will actually make their way to the battlefield.
“I’m not going to put a timetable on how long the training will take,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Saturday at the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan.
This year, the Pentagon’s top policy official, Colin Kahl, told Congress the fastest timeline for sending F-16s to Ukraine and training the pilots was 1 1/2 years.
The Biden administration “won’t circle a date on the calendar” for the training process, Sullivan told reporters when asked if the Pentagon’s estimate remained the most likely scenario.
Biden’s decision to allow U.S. allies to supply F-16s to Ukraine was based on a new phase in the war, Sullivan said, as Ukraine prepares for a major counteroffensive.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has been asking the U.S. and Western allies for fighter jets since Russia launched its invasion in February 2022. But the White House has refused, out of concern that the F-16s could be used to strike targets in Russia and further escalate tensions with Moscow.
“Nothing has changed” about the administration’s approach to Ukraine, Sullivan said. He added, “all of the capabilities the United States have given to Ukraine come with the basic proposition that the United States is not enabling or supporting attacks on Russian territory.”
Zelensky called Biden’s move a “historic decision” and said he plans to discuss the “practical implementation” of deploying F-16s in Ukraine when he visits the G7 Summit.
Zelensky is expected to make an appearance at the summit Sunday, a striking development that has kept the war in Ukraine in the spotlight at the meeting of the world’s wealthiest democracies.
Zelensky has rarely left Ukraine since the war started, though he has recently made trips to the United Kingdom, other parts of Europe and the Middle East to build international support for Ukraine.
It remains unclear which countries possessing F-16s will send them to Ukraine.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this week that the security alliance would discuss sending F-16s to Ukraine at a meeting in June.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement on Twitter that the U.K. would work with several allies to help get fighter planes to Ukraine.
“The U.K. will work together with the USA and the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark to get Ukraine the combat air capability it needs,” Sunak said.
Military analysts also welcomed the news, arguing that it could have a major impact on the war and underscored the international coalition’s ongoing commitment to Kyiv.
“The strategic effect of further galvanizing allied support for Ukraine might be even greater than the tactical advantage the F-16s bring,” George Barros, a Russian analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, told Newsweek.
The momentum for bolstering Ukraine’s air force comes as G7 leaders also reached a separate agreement to increase economic sanctions against Russia.
The G7 nations announced plans to strengthen sanctions on Russia’s economy and limit its ability to source military technology Moscow needs for the war in Ukraine. The United States also announced its own plans at the summit to impose new sanctions on Russia.