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Politico: US senators from both parties pressing Pentagon to send F-16s to Ukraine
A bipartisan group of eight senators is pressing the Pentagon chief to provide more information on what is needed to supply Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets, Politico reported on March 14, citing a senators' letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
"After speaking with U.S., Ukrainian, and foreign leaders working to support Ukraine at the Munich Security Conference last month, we believe the U.S. needs to take a hard look at providing F-16 aircraft to Ukraine," the senators wrote, as quoted by Politico. "This would be a significant capability that could prove to be a game changer on the battlefield."
As Russia's full-scale war against Ukraine has reached "a critical juncture," the senators requested Austin provide them by the end of the week with an assessment of the various factors necessary for the successful delivery of F-16s to Ukraine.
In the letter cited by Politico, the lawmakers asked the Pentagon head how highly Ukrainian officials value the fighter jets when requesting weaponry and where the F-16s might come from if approved — from new production or existing stockpiles.
They also inquired about the military's assessment of the F-16's impact on the war and how quickly Ukrainian pilots could learn to fly the fighters, according to the publication.
Ukraine has been requesting fighters for months to defend its skies and maximize the effectiveness of its combined arms forces during a future counteroffensive. Of all the available models, Ukraine has shown the most interest in the U.S.-built F-16, in service since the 1970s and operated by over 20 nations.
However, multiple Western allies, including the U.S. and Germany, have ruled out sending planes in the near term, while debates about their provision are ongoing.
A similar dynamic played out last year when Ukraine tried to secure modern Western main battle tanks from international supporters — after months of hesitation, the West eventually authorized and pledged tank deliveries to Ukraine in late January.
On Feb. 25, U.S. President Joe Biden dismissed President Volodymyr Zelensky's request to provide Ukraine with F-16 jets, saying "he doesn't need F-16s now." Biden also stated that the U.S. is sending what Ukraine needs at this time: "He (Zelensky) needs tanks, he needs artillery, he needs air defense, including another HIMAR(s)."
Days after Biden's statement, two Ukrainian pilots arrived at Tucson, Arizona military base to undergo F-16 "familiarization" training. The purpose of the training is to see how much time they would need to learn to fly various aircraft, including F-16, according to CNN.
Critics argue that allies’ reluctance to supply F-16, Typhoon and Dassault fighter jets and long-range ATACMS missiles to Ukraine will prevent Kyiv from launching a counteroffensive and liberating the rest of Ukrainian territory. Ukraine’s lack of advanced aircraft and missiles will likely prolong Russia’s war of aggression and result in thousands of deaths.