F-16s won’t be a ‘game-changer’ for Ukraine in its war with Russia, Air Force secretary says
Stars and Stripes May 22, 2023
WASHINGTON — Ukraine will get a boost on the battlefield against invading Russian forces once its pilots train and begin to fly F-16 fighter jets, but Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said Monday that the aircraft won’t make a dramatic change in the war.
“F-16s are going to help the Ukrainians but it is not going to fundamentally change the equation,” Kendall said during a morning meeting with reporters. “It makes sense. It’s going to help them, but it’s not a game-changer.”
President Joe Biden on Friday informed leaders from the world’s seven largest industrial nations, known as the G-7, during the group’s meeting in Japan that the U.S. would support a joint international effort to train Ukrainian pilots on modern fighter aircrafts, including F-16s.
In addition to this plan, Biden also announced the U.S. would provide $375 million in aid to Ukraine that included ammunition and armored vehicles.
“We have Ukraine’s back and we aren’t going anywhere,” he said.
The F-16s would be an upgrade to the Soviet Union-era aircraft that Ukraine largely has been flying. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the news on Friday by tweeting, “This will greatly enhance our army in the sky.”
Zelenskyy has pleaded with Western allies for some time to send fighter jets, but the U.S. has repeatedly denied those requests. The U.S. has given nearly $37 billion to Ukraine since Russia invaded the country in February 2022. The aid provided has consisted of weapons, millions of munition and ammunition rounds, trucks, sensors, radars and other equipment.
Kendall said Monday that aircraft have not been a decisive factor in the war because neither side has been able to control the air.
Discussions are underway regarding when and where training will take place, as well as when Ukraine could receive Western fighter jets. Kendall said training could take a few months but he does not expect it to be an issue for Ukrainians to learn.
“Everything we’ve done with the Ukrainians, they’ve shown a capacity to learn. I don’t think I have ever seen more motivated individuals in terms of wanting to fight and make a difference,” Kendall said.