National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed Friday that the U.S. will join other nations in training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets, as the coalition works toward an ultimate goal of providing Ukraine with new planes to use in its war with Russia.
"We've reached a moment where it is time to look down the road and to say 'What is Ukraine going to need as part of a future force to be able to deter and defend against Russian aggression as we go forward?'" Sullivan said during a press conference. "F-16s — fourth-generation fighter aircraft — are part of that mix. The obvious first step there is to do the training and then to work with allies and partners and the Ukrainians to determine how to do the actual provision of planes as we move forward."
It is not yet clear when or how many F-16s might be supplied, or which nations will be supplying them. Officials said pilots will first receive training over the course of months, outside of Ukraine, at sites across Europe.
"As the training takes place over the coming months, our coalition of countries participating in this effort will decide when to actually provide jets, how many we will provide, and who will provide them," a senior Biden administration official said.
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Ukrainian pilots and air force officers have told Scripps News that advanced jets could provide a critical edge in securing Ukraine's airspace against Russian aircraft. Among the F-16's benefits over Ukraine's current Soviet-era planes is improved radar, which would help pilots spot and intercept Russian planes and munitions from longer ranges.
"We cannot win a war without air superiority. We need to establish priority in the sky. That is why we need to have the means to repel Russian aircraft," said Col. Yurii Ignat, a spokesman for the Air Forces of Ukraine, in an interview with Scripps News.
Sullivan said it was likely that President Joe Biden would meet with Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy during their time at the G7 summit in Japan this weekend.
In a Tweet, Zelenskyy welcomed the news of the training commitment, and said he looked forward to discussing the issue with President Biden.
Senior administration officials said Friday they hope to begin training Ukrainian pilots in the coming weeks.
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