Ukraine says hopes to get F-16 fighter jets by fall
A top Ukrainian defense official says his country is hoping to receive F-16 fighter jets by fall as the war effort continues to score gains for Russia.
As soon as the United States gives its approval for its allies to deliver their US-made fighter jets to Kiev, Ukraine plans to receive the first F-16 fighters from international donors in the early fall, said Yuri Sak, an advisor to the Ukrainian defense minister.
"I would estimate that end of September, early October, we could see the first F-16s flying in the Ukrainian airspace," Sak was quoted by The Washington Post as saying on Friday.
The much-touted Ukrainian counteroffensive, anticipated to start in a few weeks, won't include fighter jets, but WashPo noted the unusual rapidity with which the White House made the choice after over a year of hesitation.
According to reports, Congress, US allies, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky applied pressure, which led to the provision of fighter jets to Ukraine.
At the same time, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Saturday that Kiev was still not ready for F-16s and that the United States and its allies would choose which nations and how many would provide Kiev with these aircraft.
Meanwhile, Zelensky told German broadcaster ZDF that while being "very happy" about the donors' consensus on fighter jets. He also does not expect them to come immediately.
"I do not think that the decision means we will have these means of defense tomorrow. We will have to prepare ourselves. But still, it is a great decision," Zelensky told the broadcaster.
Several NATO allies have offered to train Ukrainian pilots in flying F-16s, the latest of which being Italy, with Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni telling a press conference on Saturday that though her country had no F-16s to donate, it is ready to assist in the pilot training program.
"Italy does not have F-16s … What is worth looking at — and we should do it with our allies— is the possible training mission for Ukrainian pilots. We have not made the decision yet. We are discussing it with the allies," she told reporters.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden told G7 leaders that Washington will endorse supplying advanced warplanes including F-16s to Ukraine and will support efforts to train Kiev's pilots, a senior White House official said Friday.
Biden said the United States "will support a joint effort with our allies and partners to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth-generation fighter aircraft, including F-16s, to further strengthen and improve the capabilities of the Ukrainian Air Force," the official revealed.
Ukraine needs its fighter jets
It is worth noting that the Ukrainian President has been desperate for fighter jets, repeatedly pushing for advanced Western jets, but Kiev's international supporters had balked at doing so until recently.
"We have freedom, give us wings to protect it," Zelensky told UK Members of Parliament as he toured European countries in the hope of securing fighter jets back in February.
Additionally, following Zelensky's visit to Europe this week, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands announced a so-called "international coalition" to obtain US-made F-16s and train Ukrainian pilots and crews.
In a TV interview on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said there were "no taboos" about training Ukrainian pilots in France, turning the attention to the US, which must approve the deployment of any F-16s to Ukraine.
It is worth noting that US President Joe Biden has previously ruled against supplying F-16s to Ukraine, citing concerns that training pilots and ground staff would take months and that providing them to Ukraine may be perceived by the Russians as an escalatory move.
Biden said in February the possibility of the US providing Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets was off the table "for now".
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan later that month told CNN that "F-16 is a question for a later time and that is why President Biden said that for now, he is not moving forward with those."
Read more: Biden insists on not sending F-16 jets to Ukraine