A Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft takes off over Bodo, Norway, in October 2018 during Exercise.

A Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft takes off over Bodo, Norway, in October 2018 during Exercise. (Bryan Carter/Allied Joint Force Command Naples)

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday that Ukraine will be flying F-16s “this summer” following the delivery of the long-awaited fighter jets by the Netherlands and Denmark.

The announcement came on the second day of the NATO summit in Washington, where world leaders are gathering to mark the landmark 75th anniversary of the military alliance and bolster support for Ukraine in its war with Russia.

President Joe Biden, Dutch Prime Minister Dick Schoof and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in a joint statement Wednesday that the process of transferring the American-made fighter jets from Denmark and the Netherlands is underway.

Additional aircraft will be provided later by Belgium and Norway, according to the statement. It is unclear how many operational F-16s each country is donating.

“We are unable to provide additional details at this time due to operational security concerns,” the leaders stated.

Austin praised the transfer at the NATO Public Forum, an event running parallel to the summit, and said a coalition of countries has been “working tirelessly” to round up operational F-16s for Ukraine.

Denmark and the Netherlands pledged last year to send about 60 of the fighter jets but were awaiting permission from the United States. The U.S. began training Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s in the fall in preparation for the transfer.

Ukraine has long requested the aircraft, which entered U.S. military service in the late 1970s and is used by numerous countries in the NATO alliance.

The U.S. has not offered to send its own F-16s, and the Biden administration had initially hesitated to send the war plane because Ukraine already had a fleet of Soviet-era fighters with which they were more familiar.

Austin said NATO will continue to search for ways to help Ukraine. The transfer of F-16s is part of a package of aid that members at the summit are offering, which also includes the donation of strategic air-defense systems.

“We will not be dragged into [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s reckless war choice, but we will stand by Ukraine as it fights for its sovereignty and security,” Austin said.

He said NATO is the strongest that it has ever been, and the U.S. will continue to stand by the alliance. Questions about what the potential reelection of former President Donald Trump, a NATO skeptic, could mean for the alliance have swirled at the summit.

Austin appeared to address those jitters on Wednesday, ending his brief speech with a forceful reaffirming of America’s commitment to NATO and its mission.

“America is stronger with our allies, America is safer with our allies and America is more secure with our allies,” he said. “Any attempt to undermine NATO only undermines American security.”

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Svetlana Shkolnikova covers Congress for Stars and Stripes. She previously worked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and spent four years as a general assignment reporter for The Record newspaper in New Jersey and the USA Today Network. A native of Belarus, she has also reported from Moscow, Russia.

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