Austin foresees F-16 training for Ukrainian pilots starting within weeks

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday that training for Ukrainian pilots on American-made F-16 fighter jets will begin in the coming weeks, bolstering Ukraine in the long run but not necessarily as part of an anticipated spring counteroffensive against Russia. 


Defense leaders from around the world assembled for a virtual meeting to discuss the ongoing military support for Ukraine, including which countries will provide F-16s and how and where the pilot training will be done. The leaders will also discuss Ukraine’s other continuing military needs, including air defense systems and munitions, artillery and other ammunition. It was not immediately clear whether they will make any firm decisions on the F-16 issue, but initial steps have begun. The stakes are high, but the cause is just and our will is strong.


European countries are discussing which countries may have some of the F-16s available to send to Ukraine. The United States had long balked at providing the advanced aircraft to Ukraine, and President Joe Biden agreed to allow other nations to send their own U.S.-made jets to Kyiv. 


The Biden administration's decision was a sharp reversal after refusing to approve any transfer of the aircraft or conduct training for more than a year due to worries that doing so could escalate tensions with Russia. Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said the U.S. decision on the F-16 was part of a broader long-term commitment to meet Ukraine’s future military needs. He said the jets would not be relevant in any counteroffensive expected to begin shortly.


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