Last week in Japan during a meeting of G7 leaders, including those from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom, President Joe Biden said the U.S. will support an effort with partners and allies to train Ukrainian fighter pilots on the F-16 aircraft.
Today, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder explained in further detail that the training, and any eventual transfer of F-16 aircraft to Ukraine is meant to support mid- and long-term defense needs, rather than defense in the short term for an expected counter-offensive against Russian forces.
"F-16s for Ukraine is about the long-term commitment to Ukraine," Ryder said. "These F-16s will not be relevant to the upcoming counter offensive."
Right now, no number of F-16s, any indication of where those aircraft will come from, or when they will be delivered, has been revealed. What has been revealed, however, is that the U.S. will participate with partners and allies in training Ukrainian pilots on how to use the aircraft.
"That training will take place outside of Ukraine at sites in Europe," Ryder said. "But in terms of ... when that training will begin, how those jets will be provided, who will provide them, we're continuing to work with our international partners on that front."
For some time, F-16s were not on the table for Ukraine. But recently, the U.S. agreed that partner nations can train Ukrainians on use of the aircraft. At the last Ukraine Defense Contact Group in April, Ryder said, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III received several requests from countries who wanted U.S. permission to train Ukrainians on the F-16.
"He subsequently took that matter, introduced it into our national security council policy process as part of a conversation about how we support Ukraine in the mid- to long-term in terms of their defense needs, and there was unanimous agreement that this was something that we should and need to support," Ryder said.
The F-16 aircraft is an American weapon system, and in the same way that nations who want the F-16 must work with the U.S. to acquire it, foreign military sales agreements also mean that those who own the F-16 must seek permission from the U.S. before they transfer those aircraft to other nations.
Training on the F-16, Ryder said, might begin in the next few weeks or months, though he couldn’t yet say exactly who would be doing the training, where — besides in Europe — that the training would happen, or where the aircraft required for training would come from. He did say the U.S. would be involved, however.
"As a U.S.-built platform, clearly exportability aspects, technology transfer aspects, are things that we'll be looking at as well — working with our allies and partners on that front," he said. "We'll have much more to follow in the days ahead."
Since the very first meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group in April 2022, the DOD has said the focus is not just on Ukraine's immediate defense needs — but its long-term defense needs. The F-16 training and any eventual transfer of aircraft to Ukraine, will be part of that long-term support plan.
"The fight right now is to ensure that they are able to successfully defend themselves while at the same time taking back sovereign territory," Ryder said. "But we look forward to a long-term relationship with Ukraine in terms of their security assistance needs, and again, with the idea here that they can secure their hard-won gains and deter future aggression by Russia."