It will take “several months at best” to get F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said Monday.
The administration has provided few details of the plan to equip the Ukrainian Air Force with the US-made jets or other fourth-generation aircraft after President Joe Biden announced on Friday the US would support a joint training effort, such as who will provide the aircraft or where it will take place. US personnel will participate in the training alongside allies and partners in Europe.
“It’s been in the works, and there’s obviously been interest from Ukraine in getting that kind of capability,” Kendall told reporters at the Defense Writers Group. He said there are “a lot of open possibilities, including our partners.”
Kendall said it would take at least “several months” before Ukraine would have the capability to operate F-16s, and a number of details have to be worked out before Ukraine’s air force will be able to fly Western jets in large numbers.
“We are not under any circumstances going to get F-16s or another Western fighter in significant numbers into the hands of the Ukrainian Air Force in something less than at least several months,” Kendall said.
But it’s still a relatively rapid timeline, since it normally takes more than two years to train a new US pilot on the aircraft, according to an Air Force official. Even a refresher course for an F-16 pilot who has stepped away from flying the jet for a period can take up to five months.
Publicly, the US had argued for months that fighter jets were not at the top of the priority list and would quickly drain the available funding for Ukraine aid instead of more important weapons like Abrams tanks and Patriot missiles. Kendall described what appeared to be a sudden about-face for the Biden administration as a decision that it was the right time to begin preparing Ukraine’s military for the future.
“Ukraine is going to remain an independent nation,” said Kendall. "It’s going to need a full suite of military capabilities for its requirements, and so it’s time to start thinking longer term about what that military might look like and what it will include.”