Eastern Europe

Stoltenberg: ‘Too Early’ For NATO To Determine Timeline To Deliver F-16’s To Ukraine

F-16 Fighter Jet

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The Biden administration made it clear in May that Washington would not prevent its allies from providing F-16 fighter jets to Kyiv, which would be a move widely seen as highly escalatory and one that could lead to direct conflict between NATO and Russia. However, it has also been largely understood that training Ukrainian pilots to fly Western combat aircraft could take at least a year, if not longer.

NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, announced at a meeting of the alliance defense minister that it remains too early to provide a specific timeframe for delivery of the F-16s. Stoltenberg did, however, suggest that the process could be expedited.

“I welcome the decision by several NATO Allies to provide training of fighter pilots. This is important and it will enable us to, at a later stage, also make decisions to deliver fourth-generation fighter aircraft like, for instance, the F-16s,” Stoltenberg said during the meeting in Brussels.

“Exactly when a decision will be taken [to deliver F-16s to Ukrain] it’s too early to say, but the fact that training has started provides us with the option to also decide to deliver planes, and then the pilots will be ready to fly them.”

Meanwhile, the Netherlands recently confirmed that it will be opening a training center for Ukrainian pilots “as soon as possible” in Eastern Europe. The training center is part of a 3-step plan supported by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

The Dutch Minister of Defense, Kajsa Ollongrn, also announced that the Netherlands will be providing additional military aid to Ukraine in a new 40 million ($43.3 million) air defense package. The additional military aid and training center will be announced at the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting in Germany on Thursday.

Despite the Netherlands and Washington’s expedited efforts to train Ukrainian pilots in the Western F-16, there remain several barriers to overcome, including language differences and initial flight training.

Given Warsaw’s unwavering push and support for F-16s to be provided to Kyiv, it is likely that Poland will be involved with the training center program. Meanwhile, as the F-16 training coordinator for Europe, the Netherlands has said that a “limited number” of pilots will initially be accepted into the program with expansion expected in the future.

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While Stoltenberg and NATO member states work to create training plans and to make the implementation of the F-16 possible for Ukrainian troops, Kyiv has continued to grow more impatient and has now begun requesting a fleet of U.S.-made F/A-18 Hornet fighter planes that have been retired by the Australian Royal Air Force.

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