In tandem with the July 11-12 NATO Summit in Vilnius – the Alliance’s geographically closest capital to both Moscow and Minsk – the Ukrainian leadership has been negotiating with its partners in the “Coalition for Fighter Aircraft” to bring F-16s to Ukraine’s Air Force. A new memorandum signed by 11 NATO allies plus Ukraine promises to make this a reality as early as the beginning of 2024.
With its much-anticipated counteroffensive against Russian forces raging in the East of Ukraine, Kyiv has repeatedly called for Western countries to supply combat aircraft and train its pilots to fly them to successfully counter Moscow’s current air superiority. Though Ukraine has been supplied with advanced ground-based weapons that target the enemy in the air and on land, Kyiv clamors for F-16s to help it rule its own skies.
This week has witnessed some gains, at least on paper, for getting Ukrainian Air Force pilots’ hands on the throttle and stick of the F-16 “Fighting Falcon,” almost always called the “Viper” by its pilots.
NATO and Ukrainian leaders have signed agreements that lay out an actual roadmap, according to various government sources from those nations. Denmark and the Netherlands, two nations the best position to donate surplus F-16s to Ukraine, took the lead in writing the F-16 memorandum signed by 11 cooperating NATO nations along with Ukraine.
Stressing the importance of formalizing plans, with Viper training just over the horizon, Kyiv portrayed the concrete commitment of its allies as bringing Ukrainian Vipers one step closer.
On July 11, Oleksiy Reznikov, Ukraine’s Defense Minister said on Twitter: “It’s Official: a coalition for F-16 training of the Ukrainian Air Force has been formed!
“Today, 11 partner states + Ukraine signed a Memorandum outlining the terms. I’m especially grateful to Denmark and the Netherlands for their outstanding leadership in this process,” Reznikov announced on Twitter with an F-16 silhouette adorned with a Ukrainian Trident symbol.
“F-16s will protect Ukraine’s skies and NATO’s Eastern Flank. The Ukrainian Air Force is prepared to master them as quickly as possible.
“Ukraine will win.”
It’s official: a coalition for F-16 training of the Ukrainian Air Force has been formed!— Oleksii Reznikov (@oleksiireznikov) July 11, 2023
Today, 11 partner states + Ukraine signed a Memorandum outlining the terms. I'm especially grateful to Denmark and the Netherlands for their outstanding leadership in this process.… pic.twitter.com/ea1oxljX9I
Reznikov said the plan formalizes the following:
· Ukrainian pilots, technicians, and support staff will participate in a training program.
· There is the possibility of including other types of fighter aircraft in the program.
· The coalition is ready to consider other means of granting Ukraine fully functional F-16 capabilities.
“We have to defend our civilian population, our infrastructure, critical objects, our schools, our universities. That’s why for us it is very important that this fighter jet coalition starts up,” Reznikov told reporters at the NATO Summit in Vilnius.
“I hope – I am an optimist – that after six months we will see results,” he said.
Reuters reported some broad details: “A coalition of 11 nations will start training Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighters in August in Denmark, and a training center will be set up in Romania.
“NATO members Denmark and the Netherlands have been leading international efforts to train pilots as well as support staff, maintain aircraft and ultimately enable the supply of F-16s to Ukraine in its war with Russia,” officials said on Tuesday on the sidelines of a NATO summit.
“Hopefully, we will be able to see results at the beginning of next year,” Denmark’s acting defense minister Troels Lund Poulsen told reporters following a signing ceremony.
Thank you to my colleagues: 🇩🇰 @troelslundp 🇳🇱 @DefensieMin 🇧🇪 @DedonderLudivin 🇨🇦 @AnitaAnandMP 🇱🇺 @Francois_Bausch 🇳🇴 @Bjornarildgram 🇵🇱 @mblaszczak 🇵🇹 Helena Carreiras @defesa_pt 🇷🇴 @AngelTilvar 🇸🇪 @PlJonson 🇬🇧 @BWallaceMP— Oleksii Reznikov (@oleksiireznikov) July 11, 2023
F-16s will protect Ukraine’s skies and NATO's Eastern… https://t.co/3bEXgNJNmU pic.twitter.com/KwapLJUDGX
Signatory parties to the memorandum apparently include Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the UK.
Clearly, Ukraine’s long-term place in its role defending democracy is important to NATO leaders, as well as Ukraine itself, and F-16s are essential if there is to be any military integration.
To meet NATO requirements, Ukraine would have roles and duties, including patrolling the skies of not only Ukraine but other airspace including, with Turkey greenlighting Sweden’s NATO membership, the skies over the Baltic Sea – now considered a “NATO lake.”
The reason Poland needed F-16s when it joined the Alliance was because MiG-29s couldn’t fulfill a NATO duty for countering Russia in the air. A point that must be considered when getting pilots into Western aircraft now, while Ukraine is actually facing the Russian Air Force.
With eyes on the future, the West knows it will have to get the Ukrainian Air Force into compatible aircraft. F-16s would be just the first step toward being incorporated into NATO, after which fifth-generation Western fighters, such as the F-35, may become necessary.
Once integrated with NATO, Ukraine would be more than just Western Europe’s defender, the Ukrainian Air Force would be the airborne component of NATO’s point on the tip of the spear.
A copy of the signed memorandum was not made available at the time this article was published.
Zelensky says he needs long-range capabilities
Taking questions from the press at the summit on July 12, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that he would be speaking directly to US President Joe Biden about increasing Ukraine’s long-range capabilities.
Zelensky skirted the question of F-16s coming to Ukraine by passing it on to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, with whom he was sharing the podium.
But Zelensky did say he would be discussing “long-range weapons systems needed by Ukraine” and assured that US-supplied weapons would not be used against Russian territory, even though “it was a matter of justice” that Ukraine be able to defend itself against Russia’s long-range attacks.
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