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Pentagon: F-16 training, aircraft to fill Ukraine's long-term defense needs
U.S. Defense Department clarified that the training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets and their eventual transfer are meant to support Ukraine's mid- and long-term defense needs rather than short-term goals such as an upcoming counteroffensive.
Speaking at a May 23 press conference, Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder also said that the U.S. was still working with allies to work out the details and dates of the training, refuting earlier reports that some countries have already started it.
Earlier the same day, the European Union's chief diplomat Josep Borrell said several countries, including Poland, had begun training Ukrainian pilots to use F-16 jets. However, Ukraine's Air Force spokesperson Yurii Ihnat denied Borrell's claim, saying the preparation for the program was still ongoing.
Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak then clarified, as cited by Polish Press Agency, that his country was ready to instruct Ukrainian pilots on F-16s, but the training had not started yet.
On May 20, Washington officially announced it would train Ukrainian pilots on U.S.-built F-16 jet fighters and cooperate with its allies to deliver the planes to Ukraine. No details on how many jets will be provided, who will supply them and when have been revealed yet.
In the past, U.S. President Joe Biden has rejected the possibility of supplying Ukraine with Western jet fighters such as F-16, indicating they were not necessary for Kyiv's defense efforts at that moment.
According to Pentagon's Ryder, Washington's position changed after U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin received several requests from countries willing to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s at the last Ramstein Summit in April.
"He subsequently took that matter, introduced it into our national security council policy process as part of a conversation about how we support Ukraine in the mid to long-term in terms of their defense needs, and there was unanimous agreement that this was something that we should and need to support," explained Ryder.
The U.K. and the Netherlands agreed on May 17 to build an international coalition to provide F-16s to Ukraine. Some countries in the coalition have expressed willingness to train Ukrainian soldiers to operate Western fighter jets, while others are ready to provide the aircraft.
Given the sensitive U.S. technology incorporated in the aircraft, the U.S. must approve the third-party transfer.