Amid Ukraine's continued impatience, the White House has finally issued formal approval for the shipment of Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighter jets from the Netherlands and Denmark to Ukraine, administration officials confirmed Thursday.
A letter sent from Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Dutch officials states, "I am writing to express the United States’ full support for both the transfer of F-16 fighter aircraft to Ukraine and for the training of Ukrainian pilots by qualified F-16 instructors."
Blinken additionally said the approval would allow Ukraine to take "full advantage of its new capabilities as soon as the first set of pilots complete their training."
But the slowness of the training program getting off the ground is precisely what has continued to frustration Kiev officials. Currently only six Ukrainian pilots are enrolled and training is not expected to be complete by next year, possibly even next summer - a full year from now.
On Wednesday a top Ukraine military official admitted Kiev has given up hope over ever seeing F-16 jets in battle by this year, which follows more optimistic statements from months ago suggesting Ukrainian forces would have them by close of 2023.
"It’s already obvious we won’t be able to defend Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets during this autumn and winter," Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat remarked. "We had big hopes for this plane, that it will become part of air defense, able to protect us from Russia’s missiles and drones terrorism."
In mid-July, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said, "Most likely, the F-16s will arrive in Ukraine before the end of the year. However, we do not believe that F-16s alone can alter the situation on the battlefield."
But among the expected holdups to the training program is that the pilots are required to take four months of English classes in the UK, followed by six months of combat training. The English classes focus on technical nomenclature related to the American fighter jet and its sophisticated systems.
Biden sends F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine despite saying this would lead to World War 3 https://t.co/tVYkB5zvlA— Jack Poso 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) August 18, 2023
President Putin and Kremlin officials have said West-supplied jets will "burn" just like other foreign equipment. They've also warned that NATO is "playing with fire" in approving them for the Ukrainians. But given the slowness of delivery, Washington might be prepping the jets and the training program more as part of Ukraine's future post-war defense readiness.