US shift to F-16 support for Ukraine began a month ago
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III began to initiate the Biden administration’s U-turn last month by providing Ukrainian fighter pilots with training on F-16 jets, after European allies told him that they wanted to continue training, a US defense official said Monday. .
Mr Austin led an April 21 meeting of senior defense officials from around 50 countries – a collective known as the Ukrainian Contact Group – at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on April 21.
Upon his return to Washington, Mr. Austin told senior Biden administration officials that the time had come to change the stance against the formation and, at the very least, let other countries donate the planes to the Ukraine, according to the official. , who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss internal deliberations publicly. The F-16s would represent a major upgrade of Ukrainian Air Force assets and capabilities.
After Russia invaded Ukraine almost exactly 15 months ago, officials in kyiv pleaded for advanced warplanes to overcome Russian air superiority. But the White House, acting on the advice of senior Pentagon officials, resisted. The fear was that the jets could be used to strike targets deep within Russia, which could prompt the Kremlin to step up its assault on Ukraine. Pentagon officials also said other weapons, particularly those used for air defense, were needed more urgently and the high cost of the F-16s – up to $63 million each, depending on the model. – could mean that other weapons and supplies would be needed. to be ousted.
But American resistance followed a familiar pattern. The Pentagon eventually backtracked, as it did by supplying Ukraine with US M1 Abrams tanks. Several European NATO countries with F-16s in their arsenals have called for an international effort to provide the training and transfer the jets to Ukraine. This requires US authorization, as the weapons were manufactured and sold by the United States.
Mr. Austin has won the unanimous approval of Biden’s top national security officials, the defense official said. Just before the Group of 7 meeting last week, Mr. Austin made a formal recommendation to President Biden.
That recommendation was that Mr. Biden “proceed with allied approval to train Ukrainians and transfer capabilities,” the official said. The planes – which are considered “fourth generation” warplanes, measured by factors such as speed, guidance systems, surveillance capabilities, stealth and weapons – should not play a role in the expected counter-offensive from Ukraine, as training will take months.
But “Secretary Austin thought Ukraine should have a fourth-generation air capability at some point, so it made sense to continue training,” the official said.