U.S. President Joe Biden informed G7 leaders on Friday that Washington supports a joint effort with allies to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets, a senior administration official said, a key endorsement as Kyiv seeks to boost its air power against Russia’s invading forces.
Training on the U.S.-made jets will take place in Europe and will require months to complete, the official said. U.S. officials have estimated the most expeditious time needed for training and delivery of F-16s at 18 months.
“As the training takes place over the coming months, our coalition of countries participating in this effort will decide when to actually provide jets, how many we will provide, and who will provide them,” the official said.
The official did not say which countries would be participating in the effort. The U.S. hopes to begin the training, which will be conducted on fourth-generation fighters including F-16s, in the coming weeks, the official added.
Ukraine is seeking the jets, made by Lockheed Martin (LMT.N), as it presses on with its biggest advance for months against invading Russian troops before a planned counteroffensive.
Ukraine, which does not possess any Western-designed jets, says the F-16s are far more effective than the Soviet-era fighters it currently has. Poland and Slovakia have handed over 27 MiG-29s to supplement Ukraine’s current fleet.
Western governments have been wary of leaving their own countries undefended by giving away too much equipment. They have also avoided sending anything that could strike deep into Russian territory and give Moscow a reason to escalate the war.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy received pledges this week from Britain and the Netherlands to help build a “jets coalition”, although leaders from both countries stopped short of saying they will send planes.