Ukraine defense group to meet Thursday, discuss F-16 training for Ukrainians
Stars and Stripes May 23, 2023
WASHINGTON — Training Ukrainians to fly F-16 fighter jets and more military aid to help a planned counterattack against Russian forces will be part of the discussions this week of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
The group of defense officials from about 54 countries that support Ukraine’s war effort against invading Russian forces is scheduled to hold a virtual meeting Thursday, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the top Pentagon spokesman.
Though the meeting will include discussions about F-16 training, Ryder said it could be weeks or months before the training could begin — not soon enough to assist the Ukrainians in their much-anticipated counteroffensive.
“F-16s for Ukraine are about the long-term. These F-16s will not be relevant to the upcoming counteroffensive,” he said.
Ukraine President Volodymyr 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.
After the April meeting with the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin received several requests from countries seeking U.S. permission to train Ukrainians to fly the F-16, Ryder said Tuesday. Austin raised the matter during National Security Council policy discussions where there was unanimous agreement to start the training.
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.
Ryder said training likely will take place somewhere in Europe outside of Ukraine. He said more information about the F-16 training could be available in the coming days.
Austin also participated in a phone call Tuesday with Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov to provide an update on U.S. military assistance efforts and discuss the latest developments in the fighting in Ukraine, Ryder said. This was a lead up to the meeting Thursday of the defense group.