No F-16s This Year, Acknowledges Ukraine While Holding Out Hope For ‘Good News Soon’

A Romanian Air Force F-16s military fighter jet participates in NATO's Baltic Air Policing Mission in Lithuanian airspace near Siauliai, on May 23, 2023. (Photo by Petras Malukas / AFP) (Photo by PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP via Getty Images)
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Ukraine has apparently now come to terms with there being no foreign donations of fighter jets during the count offensive, or even this year at all, one of the nation’s top spokesmen has said.

Spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force Yuriy Ihnat, a figure frequently heard on the world stage pleading for more military equipment, said it had now become “obvious” there would be no foreign fighter jets coming this year on Ukrainian television.

Per a translation offered by Ukraine’s state media service Ukrinform, Ihnat said on Thursday: “It is already obvious that we will not be able to protect Ukraine with F-16 jets this autumn and winter”. There was hope, however, given pilots were now in the process of being trained to operate NATO jets like the F-16, emphasising that he wanted the aircraft to contribute to defending Ukrainian cities against “Russian missile and drone attacks”.

Romanian Air Force F-16s military fighter jets participate in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission in Lithuanian airspace near Siauliai, on May 23, 2023. (Photo by PETRAS MALUKAS / AFP) (Photo by PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Getting F-16s — used as shorthand in Ukrainian circles for any NATO-provided fighter jet — has been a major crusade of Kyiv since Russia re-launched its invasion last year. While aid from the West has progressively ramped up, starting with comparatively low-intensity donations like pallets of next-generation anti-tank rockets and developing to main battle tanks and cruise missiles, the matter of jets has always been a key talking point for Ukraine.

Volodymyr Zelensky has frequently made the request a centrepiece of his addresses to foreign leaders, including when he addressed Britain’s parliament in person and thanked the country “in advance” for the jets he said the UK would be donating. Six months later, the UK is no closer to handing over any of its comparatively small stock of jet fighters. Ukraine has, however, received stocks of ex-Soviet jet fighters from European partners who had kept them in service since the Cold War.

Nevertheless, Ukrainian pilots are now being trained on “NATO standard” aircraft now per an agreement reached at the NATO summit earlier this year. At the time of that agreement being reached, Denmark’s defence minister said there would be “hopefully… results in the beginning of next year”.

The United States produces the F-16 and consequently has the power to permit or deny any export of the jet to Ukraine. In May, a Pentagon spokesman made clear there was no hope of F-16s going to Ukraine any time soon, and that training Ukrainian pilots was more about long-term defence, rather than contributing to what was then known as the Spring counteroffensive. Training a fast jet pilot to a decent NATO standard from scratch can take years.

Ukraine is not without hope, however, with the nation’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba saying he hoped for “good news soon” on the F-16 question, even suggesting as Ukrainian pilots complete their F-16 training in Romania, they could simply bring their jets home with them. He said, per Ukrainform: “Once the training is over. I think that Ukrainian pilots will return from training and the jets will return with them too. Maybe they won’t fly directly in the cockpits, but it will be a synchronized process… I will say diplomatically: I think that there will be good news soon.”


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