US approves F-16 fighter jets to be re-exported to Ukraine

US approves F-16 fighter jets to be re-exported to Ukraine

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The US on Friday approved requests by Denmark and the Netherlands to export American-made F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, marking the first step in a significant upgrade of Kyiv’s military capabilities in its war against Russia.

Washington needs to approve the re-exporting of military aircraft, a move US president Joe Biden said in May he was in favour of. While it supports other allies’ plans to supply Kyiv with their aircraft, the US has said it will not send its own F-16s to Ukraine, mainly due to concerns about escalating the conflict with Russia, a nuclear power.

Dutch defence minister Kajsa Ollongren welcomed the US decision in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “We remain in close contact with European partners to decide on the next steps,” she wrote.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy had for months pressed his western allies to send modern fighter jets to Ukraine, whose air force relies on ageing Soviet-built fighters that are inferior to Russia’s.

Some capitals, including London and Paris, have heeded Zelenskyy’s calls for western cruise missiles, which Ukrainian forces are deploying in their struggling counteroffensive. But the discussions on fighter jets have proved more complicated.

Air cover provided by Nato-grade fighter jets would help Kyiv push back Russian forces. However, the F-16s from Dutch and Danish military stocks are unlikely to arrive in Ukraine in the immediate future, because Ukrainian pilots have to be trained on the aircraft first.

A coalition of 11 countries, including the US, the UK, the Netherlands and Denmark, has pledged to train Ukraine’s pilots on F-16s.

Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Denmark’s foreign minister, said there was no timetable for when Ukraine might receive the aircraft because the priority would be pilot training. Exercises are expected to begin later this month at the Skrydstrup air base in Denmark and last several months.