President Joe Biden informed G7 leaders on Friday that the US will support a joint effort with allies and partners to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth generation aircraft, including F-16s, a senior administration official tells CNN.
The training is not expected to happen in the US, the official said, and will likely happen entirely in Europe. But US personnel will participate in the training alongside allies and partners in Europe, the official said. It is expected to take several months to complete and the official said the hope is it will begin “in the coming weeks.”
The decision marks a stark turnaround for Biden, who said earlier this year that he did not believe that Ukraine needed the F-16s. The decision to support the training initiative came together very quickly, officials said, and was made by Biden following meetings with G7 leaders in Hiroshima, Japan, where the topic of F-16s to Ukraine was a key point of discussion. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been pushing particularly hard in recent days for countries that have the jets in their stockpile to send them to Ukraine so that the country can better defend itself against Russia’s daily aerial attacks.
“As the training takes place over the coming months, our coalition of countries participating in this effort will decide when to actually provide jets, how many we will provide, and who will provide them,” the official said.
The official added that “to date, the United States and our allies and partners have focused on providing Ukraine with the vast majority of the systems, weapons, and training it requires to conduct offensive operations this spring and summer. Discussions about improving the Ukrainian Air Force reflect our long-term commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense.”
In March, the US hosted two Ukrainian pilots at a military base in Tucson, Arizona, to evaluate their skills using flight simulators and to assess how much time they would need to learn to fly various US military aircraft, including F-16s. Congress set aside money in the 2023 budget for such training.