F-16s jets from Denmark, Netherlands to begin Ukraine defense within months

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NATO countries have begun transferring American-made F-16s to Ukraine, with hopes that the fighter jets will quickly be in the skies to help Kyiv defend itself against Russian air onslaughts.

The U.S., Denmark and the Netherlands announced during the NATO Summit in Washington on Wednesday that the two latter countries had sent over the aircraft, though they did not say how many. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also mentioned the news during a public forum.

“Those jets will be flying in the skies of Ukraine this summer to make sure that Ukraine can continue to effectively defend itself against the Russian aggression,” Blinken said to applause.

The transfer has been long in the making and much anticipated by Ukraine, whose leaders have pleaded for as much air defense capability as possible given the Kremlin’s numerical advantage when it comes to missiles and other munitions.

Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium had earlier committed to shipping more than 60 U.S.-manufactured F-16 jets to Ukraine this summer.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday during a side event that his country needed at least 128 F-16s, and that the ones on the way were too few and are coming too late in the battle.

“Even if we will have 50, it’s nothing,” Zelenskyy said. “We need — they have 300. We need … because we are defending, we need 128.”

Another major issue for Kyiv is pilot training. Ukraine has voiced frustration with the pace of pilot training in the U.S., but Washington has countered that it has limited school seats and can’t train as many pilots as are available.

The joint statement from President Joe Biden and his Danish and Dutch counterparts offered few specifics about the transfer but noted that more help was on the way.

“The transfer process for these F-16s is now underway, and Ukraine will be flying operational F-16s this summer. We are unable to provide additional details at this time due to operational security concerns,” the leaders said in the statement. “We are grateful to Belgium and Norway for committing to provide further aircraft.”

In May 2023, Biden greenlit other countries’ requests to send their F-16s; such permission was required under the rules of their original sales. Ukrainians argue that flying F-16s will help Kyiv push back Russian forces from the frontlines in places such as Kharkiv.

On Monday, in what some observers said was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s message to the NATO alliance, a Russian missile struck a children’s hospital in Ukraine, damaging the facility and forcing its young patients onto the streets.

Eric Bazail-Eimil contributed to this report.

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