BRUSSELS – Ukraine could receive F-16 fighter jets as early as spring of next year, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Oct. 11 at a press conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels.
“As we look at what it will take to provide initial capability, this will take months, as we've said before. The earliest is next spring when we can begin to see additional capability,” Austin said in response to a question from the Kyiv Independent.
The projection comes nearly two months after Washington first approved the third-party transfer of U.S.-made F-16s to Ukraine after Ukrainian pilots completed training.
Austin said the training, taking place in Europe and the U.S., was ongoing. He did not specify when it was expected to end.
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Oct. 11 that Belgium and Denmark confirmed the planned delivery of F-16s to Ukraine, without citing how many they were sending.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said in August that Ukraine would receive 42 F-16s after reaching an agreement with the Netherlands, adding that “this is just the beginning.”
But it remained unclear when they would be delivered to Ukraine. Former Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said then that Ukrainian pilots, engineers, and technicians had already begun a six-month training on the F-16s.
Regarding 300-kilometer-range Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS), which the U.S. has reportedly already decided to deliver to Ukraine, Austin said there was no news yet.
Instead, the U.S. is focused on equipment that it believes Ukraine needs and those addressed by Zelensky, which include additional air defense and artillery ammunition, according to Austin.
“And that focus, I think, has been very, very instrumental in making sure that President Zelensky can protect his cities and also protect his troops,” Austin said.
Asked about Ukraine’s four-month-old counteroffensive, Austin said that Ukrainian forces were making “steady progress.”
“We've been very impressed by the determination, by the valour of the Ukrainian forces,” Austin said.
“And we will continue to focus on providing the forces and the leadership those things that they need to be successful in this fight on the battlefield.”