First F-16s will be ‘flying in Ukrainian skies’ this summer, says Blinken

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The first F-16 fighter jets donated to Ukraine are on their way to the country and will be flying as part of its air force this summer, US secretary of state Antony Blinken has said, marking a significant military boost for Kyiv.

The US-made jets from Denmark and the Netherlands were en route to Ukraine, Blinken said. Norway also announced it would also begin deliveries of six F16s to Kyiv this year as western allies stepped up their pledges of support for Ukraine’s defence against Russia’s full-scale invasion.

“Those jets will be flying in the skies of Ukraine this summer to make sure that Ukraine can continue to effectively defend itself against the Russian aggression,” Blinken said at an event on the sidelines of the Nato leaders’ summit in Washington.

The alliance is making a series of pledges this week aimed at “building a bridge” for Ukraine to eventually join its ranks.

The US on Monday announced it would transfer an additional Patriot system to Ukraine in addition to air defence pledges from other member states, while Nato is also setting up a new command centre in Wiesbaden, Germany to co-ordinate training and equipment donations.

Kyiv has long pleaded for F-16s pledged by western nations to be delivered as soon as possible. But shipments of the planes have been slowed down by the complex training of Ukrainian pilots and maintenance engineers required, while some military experts have doubted the effectiveness of deploying older F-16 models in Ukraine.

Fighter jets such as the F-16 are seen as crucial in bolstering Ukraine’s defence against Russia’s attacks, particularly given their ability to shoot down incoming missiles and potentially Russian aircraft used in bombing raids. Washington agreed last summer to allow the transfer of the advanced aircraft.

“We are committed to further enhancing Ukraine’s air capabilities, which will include squadrons of modern fourth generation F-16 multi-role aircraft,” the leaders of the US, Netherlands and Denmark said in a joint statement Wednesday. “We will continue to co-ordinate jointly in support of Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against Russian aggression.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is in Washington for the summit, said on X that the delivery of the Danish and Dutch jets was “a clear signal that Russia’s ability to terrorise Ukrainian people, cities, and communities will continue to reduce”,  

He added: “F-16s bring just and lasting peace closer, demonstrating that terror must fail everywhere and at any time.”

During an address at the Reagan Institute on Tuesday, Zelenskyy said Ukraine needed 128 F-16s to match Russia’s air force. “Until we have 128, we will not be able to match them in the skies, and it will be difficult.”

The 79 F-16 jets pledged by Ukraine’s allies so far falls short of that target, however.

While Ukraine has long sought the fighter jets, analysts questioned how much of a difference the F16s would make because the donated jets are older models.

“The planes will be old with very old specification and no match to Russia in terms of radar capabilities,” said Andriy Zagorodnyuk, a former Ukrainian defence minister. “So in radar battle, [those F16s] will lose and will be of quite limited use.

Nato members will also pledge €40bn of support for Ukraine for the next year in a bid to streamline commitments and also in a nod to domestic turmoil in many member states.

“We are able to provide more if we want to as individual member countries, but it’s more co-ordinated,” Elina Valtonen, Finland’s foreign minister, told the Financial Times on Wednesday.

Additional reporting by Christopher Miller and Isobel Koshiw in Kyiv

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