Ukraine to form fighter jet coalition this year, but F-16 procurement is uncertain

Ukraine to form fighter jet coalition this year, but F-16 procurement is uncertain
/ bne IntelliNews
By Dominic Culverwell in London May 19, 2023

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that a “fighter jet coalition” will be formed this year following pledges from European allies to train Ukrainian pilots, the Kyiv Independent reported on May 17.

However, details about how Ukraine will receive the US-manufactured F-16s remain uncertain, as both the US and Poland stated they will not provide the aircraft. The UK and the Netherlands have said they will build an “international coalition” to help procure fighter jets from other countries, although the UK does not have F-16s.

"What we can obviously contribute is training and support within limits because we don't have F-16 pilots,” said UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace on May 17, adding that it is up to the US if it wants to “release” F-16s.

The Netherlands has quietly suggested they are prepared to send F-16s, according to the New York Times, whilst Belgium, Norway and Denmark could also provide the jets. In total, 125 combat-ready F-16s could be sent to Ukraine, according to British analysts. 

Nevertheless, details are being kept under wraps and no European government has officially made a request to the US to transfer F-16s, which they are required to do. A spokesperson for Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte said that there have been no “concrete agreements” over the “purchase or delivery” of F-16s, Euractiv reported, but mentioned there is “very intensive contact with European and North American colleagues”.

France, Belgium and Poland have all opened the door to training Ukrainian pilots, with the latter saying it can also provide more Soviet-era MiG-29 jets rather than F-16s, due to Warsaw's low supply. Allies have sent 28 planes to Ukraine, with Poland providing 14 MiG-29 fighters, but Kyiv says it needs 40-50 F-16s to secure victory over Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy toured European capitals last week to garner support for the fighter jet coalition, meeting with the leaders of Italy, Germany, France and the UK. Allies pledged further military support, including a €2.7bn package from Berlin and hundreds of kamikaze drones and air defence missiles from London.

"This is a crucial moment in Ukraine's resistance to a terrible war of aggression they did not choose or provoke," British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said following his two-hour meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on May 15.

"They need the sustained support of the international community to defend against the barrage of unrelenting and indiscriminate attacks that have been their daily reality for over a year," he said.

In contrast to Paris and London, Berlin has said it will not be able to train Ukrainian pilots, as it does not have “the capacities, the competencies or the planes,” according to Defence Minister Boris Pistorius.

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