Netherlands, Denmark to supply Ukraine with F-16 jet fighters

Netherlands, Denmark to supply Ukraine with F-16 jet fighters
The Netherlands has promised to send Ukraine 42 F-16 jet fighters and Denmark another 19. / bne IntelliNews
By Ben Aris in Berlin August 20, 2023

After months of procrastinating, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been promised 42 US-made F-16 jet fighters by the Dutch government during an unannounced visit to the Netherlands on August 20.

Denmark has promised to send 19 of its F-16 fighters as well, six of them before Christmas.

Zelenskiy standing with Netherlands premier Mark Rutte in an aircraft hanger, announced that the Netherlands  and Denmark will provide Ukraine with 42 American-made F-16 fighter jets after Ukrainian pilots complete their training.

Zelenskiy said in a tweet: “[The Prime Minister of the Netherlands] Mark Rutte and I reached an agreement on the number of F-16s to be transferred to Ukraine once our pilots and engineers have completed their training. 42 jets. And this is just the beginning. Thank you, Netherlands!”

Rutte added that the Netherlands and Denmark would transfer F-16 jets to Ukraine once conditions for the delivery were met, at a joint press conference with Zelenskiy.

Nato members Denmark and the Netherlands have been leading international efforts to train pilots as well as support staff, maintain aircraft and ultimately enable Ukraine to obtain F-16s for use in its war with Russia. These plans were put in place at the Nato summit in Vilnius in July.

The Netherlands announced that it would train the Ukrainian military how to use the F-16s in May. A coalition of 11 countries will start training Ukrainian pilots to fly the F-16 fighter jets later this month in Denmark, the Danish defence ministry said on August 18.

The country's acting Defence Minister Troels Poulsen said in July that the country hoped to see "results" from the training in early 2024.

“But everyone understands that it’s impossible to train unless there are jets. In other words, in order to learn how to use the jets, they need to be delivered,” Rutte said in his press conference with Zelenskiy, reports Medusa.

Permission to transfer planes in Europe have been delayed by foot dragging in Washington that has to approve any re-exports of the planes. The  US has been reluctant to send Ukraine the planes, partly as they are capable of carrying a nuclear bomb, worrying some that the arrival of the planes in Ukraine would be seen as a nuclear threat by Moscow.

Washington gave Denmark and the Netherlands official “assurances” that the United States will “expedite approval” of the transfer requests for F-16s to go to Ukraine, but only when the pilots have completed their training. That is not expected to happen until early 2024.

Zelenskiy pleaded with the West for jet fighters to “close the skies” over Ukraine in March only a few weeks after the war started. When he was rebuffed he lambasted Nato members saying, “from this day [Ukrainians] will also die because of you. Because of your weakness.”

The tide began to turn at the Ramstein conference in February when Western allies, led by Poland, agreed to send the modern Leopard 2 tanks. Ukraine immediately called for jet fighters too, but it has take some six months to build support for the supply of F-16s to finally come to fruition.