After announcements by Germany and the United States agreeing to send Leopard II and Abrams M1 tanks to Ukraine, Kyiv is now preparing to pressure its Western allies for F-16 fighter jets.
“The next big hurdle will not be the fighter jets,” Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiiy Reznikov, told Reuters in a phone conversation.
“If we get them, the advantages on the battlefield will be just immense,” he said. “It’s not just F-16s: fourth-generation aircraft – this is what we want.”
Oleksiiy appeared confident that eventually the West will also provide fighter jets to Ukraine, despite its current concerns over further escalating the conflict.
“They didn’t want to give us heavy artillery, then they did. They didn’t want to give us HIMARS systems, then they did. They didn’t want to give us tanks, now they’re giving us tanks. Apart from nuclear weapons, there is nothing left that we will not get,” Sak told Reuters.
He had similar confidence when speaking to a Washington DC news outlet, but added that Ukraine has been submitting requests for weaponry long after they were needed.
“Every type of weapon we request, we needed yesterday,” Sak told The Hill. “We will do everything possible to ensure Ukraine gets fourth-generation fighter jets as soon as possible.”
Lockheed Martin said in a statement that it is ready to meet any demand for its F-16 fighter aircraft necessary to provide aerial combat power to Ukraine.
The company’s CEO Frank St. John told the Financial Times there is currently “a lot of conversation about third-party transfer of F-16s” – the re-export of the US-manufactured fighter aircraft by other countries.
St. John said Lockheed Martin was not directly involved in those discussions but was “going to be ramping production in F-16s in Greenville (its factory in South Carolina) to get to the place where we will be able to backfill pretty capably any countries that choose to do third-party transfers to help with the current conflict.”
However, as with Germany’s control over the Leopard II tanks it produces, the United States government likewise must approve third-party transfers of American-made fighter aircraft.
It is also possible that European allies could send their own combat jets to Ukraine – if they were replaced by the US-made F-16s.
Eight European NATO countries, including the Netherlands, Poland, Norway and Romania, all possess and fly F-16 fighter jets.
Thus far, however, the US is not considering such a plan, according to a US defense official quoted by FT. “At this time, we have nothing to announce regarding F-16s,” he said.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby had similar information for reporters at a briefing on Wednesday. “Can’t blame the Ukrainians for wanting more and more systems,” he said.
“It’s not the first time they’ve talked about fighter jets, but I don’t have any announcements to make on that front.”