Transfer Of F-16s To Ukraine Is Now Underway

The long-anticipated transfer of donated F-16 Vipers to Ukraine is now underway with the anticipation they will be operational this summer, U.S., Danish, and Dutch officials say.

“I’m also pleased to announce that as we speak, the transfer of F-16 jets is underway, coming from Denmark, coming from the Netherlands,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said today during the NATO Summit in Washington, D.C. “And those jets will be flying in the skies from Ukraine this summer to make sure that Ukraine can continue to effectively defend itself against the Russian aggression.”

U.S. President Joe Biden, Dutch Prime Minister Dick Schoof, and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen issued a joint statement on the F-16s Wednesday. They are being provided under an Air Force Capability Coalition for Ukraine.

“We, the co-leaders of the Air Force Capability Coalition for Ukraine, have been working to provide operational F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine,” the statement read. “The Danish and Dutch governments are in the process of donating American-made F-16s to Ukraine, with the support of the United States.”

“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 three leaders also expressed gratitude to “Belgium and Norway for committing to provide further aircraft, and to the other members of the Air Force Capability Coalition for their support.”

The coalition is “committed to further enhancing Ukraine’s air capabilities, which will include squadrons of modern fourth-generation F-16 multi-role aircraft. The coalition intends to support their sustainment and armament, as well as further associated training for pilots to enhance operational effectiveness.”

The Joint Statement on F-16s for Ukraine. White House

After months of discussion about whether to give Ukraine the F-16s, it became a reality in August 2023 when Denmark and the Netherlands officially pledged dozens of Vipers to Ukraine. You can read more about that here.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (R) reacts as he sits in a F-16 fighter in the hangar of the Skrydstrup Airbase in Vojens, northern Denmark, on August 20, 2023 after Washington told Denmark and the Netherlands that they will be permitted to hand over their F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (R) reacts as he sits in a F-16 fighter jet in the hangar of the Skrydstrup Airbase in Vojens, northern Denmark, on August 20, 2023. (Photo by MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

However, it is one thing to have the jets. Ukraine still needs pilots to fly them and there are not enough yet trained, according to the Kyiv Post

“The Ukrainian Air Force will soon gain roughly 60 aircraft and only has 15-20 pilots,” the publication reported. “For clarity, 60 aircraft would traditionally demand 90-120 pilots to maximize fleet effectiveness.”

And just flying them and employing basic tactics is only a small part of unlocking their capabilities. It will take years for Ukrainian F-16 pilots to become highly proficient in everything the Viper has to offer, including executing complex missions alongside less experienced combat aviators. So, while the F-16s will be a factor when they arrive, there is a long road to getting the most out of them. You can read all about this stark reality in this past special feature of ours. And, of course, they will also be top targets for Russian forces once they touch down on Ukrainian soil.

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard’s work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.