The US has announced that it will permit its Western partners to provide Ukraine with modern fighter jets, including American-made F-16s, providing a significant military boost for Ukraine, whose leadership has been requesting the jets ever since the conflict started in February 2022.
President Joe Biden “informed his G7 counterparts” of the decision at the group’s summit in Japan on Friday, May 19, according to US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. He added that US troops would also instruct Kiev’s pilots on how to use the jets.
This decision opens the door for other countries to deploy their current supplies of F-16s to Ukraine, as under US law, countries can only resell or re-export American military hardware with US approval.
However, no government has so far confirmed it will give advanced fighter jets to Kyiv.
The US and allies had so far “focused on providing Ukraine with the systems weapon and training it needs to conduct offensive operations this spring and summer”, Sullivan told reporters in Hiroshima, Japan.
“Now we have turned to discussions about improving the Ukrainian air force as part of our long-term commitment to Ukraine’s self-defence. As the training unfolds in the coming months, we will work with our allies to determine when planes will be delivered, who will be delivering them, and how many.” he added
Ahead of Saturday’s official announcement, President Zelensky said the jets would “greatly enhance our army in the sky”.
He said he looked forward to “discussing the practical implementation” of the plan at the G7 summit in Hiroshima, where he arrived on Saturday.
The US had been sceptical about providing Ukraine with modern fighter jets with some NATO member countries worrying that handing jets to Ukraine would be viewed as escalating the war, risking a direct confrontation with Russia.
Sullivan told reporters that the US had provided weapons to Kyiv as they were needed on the battlefield, and the decision to pave the way for fighter jets indicated the conflict had entered a new phase.
“Now we have delivered everything we said we were going to deliver, so we put the Ukrainians in a position to make progress on the battlefield through the counteroffensive. We’ve reached a moment where it is time to look down the road, and say what is Ukraine going to need as part of a future force to defend against Russian aggression,” he said.
Sullivan also indicated any jets Ukraine received would only be used for defence purposes, adding the US would neither enable nor support attacks on Russian territory
“The Ukrainians have consistently indicated that they are prepared to follow through on that,” he said.