The US has committed to approving the transfer of F-16 fighter jets for Ukraine as soon as pilot training is complete, according to a US official.
The training program was initially expected to start this month, but it is now unclear exactly when it will start or how long it is expected to take.
Denmark and the Netherlands have taken the lead in preparing a program to train Ukrainian pilots on the American jet, but the US is still working with other countries to see who may provide F-16s to the Ukrainian Air Force.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent letters to his counterparts in Denmark and the Netherlands assuring them that the transfer of the jets would have the “full support” of the Biden administration and would move quickly when training on the advanced aircraft is complete.
“You have my assurances that we will expedite approval of the requisite Third Party Transfer requests in time to enable delivery when the training is completed, including required notification to our Congress,” wrote Blinken in the letters.
Reuters first reported on the US approving the transfer of the jets.
A one-page training concept from the Danish Ministry of Defense laid out a six-month plan to prepare pilots and ground crews to operate the fighter jet.
But the US has yet to receive a formal training plan to familiarize and prepare Ukrainian pilots for the fourth-generation fighter jet. Even though a number of other countries fly the F-16, the US needs to sign off on the transfer of training materials, simulators and manuals for the jet because it is an American aircraft carrying sensitive technology.
“We want to get ‘em there as soon as possible,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN’s Jake Tapper Thursday. “The other thing you have to fold in here is the training piece. You gotta make sure that you have enough pilots, that they have the proper English proficiency, and then get them into that training.”
“We think that that training is going to be able to get started here relatively soon,” Kirby added.
Even so, Ukraine said Wednesday that it didn’t expect to receive F-16s until sometime next year.