The US has given the green light for the export of fighter jets from third countries, with the Biden administration declaring that it will not block any such process if any of the states that own these fighter jets request an export to Ukraine.
According to CNN, the Biden administration has signaled to European allies in recent weeks that the U.S. will allow them to export F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, sources familiar with the discussions said, as the White House comes under increasing pressure from members of Congress. and allies to help. Ukraine is procuring the planes amid intensifying Russian airstrikes.
Administration officials are not aware, however, of any formal requests from allies to export F-16s, and State Department officials who would normally be tasked with the paperwork to approve such third-party transfers have not caught on. Some European countries have procured US F-16s, including the Netherlands, which has signaled a willingness to export some of them to Ukraine. However, the US would have to approve this third-party transfer because of sensitive US jet technology.
While the U.S. remains reluctant to send any of its own F-16s to Kiev, U.S. officials told CNN that the administration is prepared to approve the export of the jets to Ukraine if the allies decide to supply them.
National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby declined to comment specifically on the possibility of the U.S. sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, but said broadly that the U.S. is looking ahead to "future capabilities and needs." The F-16s are "not on the agenda" at the G7, he said, although the aircraft could certainly appear on the sidelines of the summit.
US lawmakers and congressional staff have joined the lobbying campaign for the F-16s, urging the government to provide the aircraft so Ukraine can control its skies.
"As a bipartisan group of lawmakers, we view the transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine as necessary to provide Kiev with the air support capability needed to fully defend its nation against Russia's unprovoked, illegal and brutal invasion and territorial gains. that are essential to the recovery of their country," a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday, obtained by CNN.
The issue is expected to be discussed at the next NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July, officials said.
Another open question is where the Ukrainian pilots would train in these F-16s. A spokesman for UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said earlier this week that the UK and the Netherlands were trying to form an "international coalition" not only to supply aircraft to Ukraine but also to train Ukrainian pilots in the 4th generation fighters, which are more advanced than the Ukrainian fighter fleet.
In March, the US hosted two Ukrainian pilots at a military base in Tucson, Arizona to assess their skills using flight simulators and estimate how long it would take them to learn to fly various US military aircraft, including the F-16. However, the US has no current plans to expand this training, a defense official told CNN, despite the fact that Congress has allocated money in the 2023 budget for such training.
US allies with F-16s could train Ukrainian fighter pilots, or the aircraft's manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, could train as a private contractor. However, the defense official said such a deal would likely need some level of US involvement, even if it does not require a formal US signature like the transfer of US weapons abroad.