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Ukraine conflict: Biden backtracks on F-16s for Ukraine

A graphic put out by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on 19 May to mark the announcement by US President Joe Biden that F-16s will be sent to Ukraine. (Crown Copyright)

The United States is to allow the transfer of Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon combat aircraft to Ukraine, President Joe Biden announced on 19 May.

The announcement, which reversed the president's earlier stated position that Ukraine did not need such jets, was made at the Group of Seven (G7) summit of world leaders in Hiroshima, Japan.

“In my private meeting with [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky I told him the United States, together with our allies and partners, is going to begin training Ukrainian pilots in fourth-generation fighter aircraft, including F-16s, to strengthen Ukraine's air force as part of a long-term commitment to Ukraine's ability to defend itself,” Biden said, adding that he had received an assurance from Zelensky that these aircraft would not be used against targets inside Russia.

The announcement was welcomed by Zelensky and other world leaders. “This will greatly enhance our army in the sky,” Zelensky added. “The UK will work together with the US and the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark to get Ukraine the combat air capability it needs,” UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.

While Biden has announced training and the transfer of F-16s to Ukraine, he has not yet said where these aircraft will come from. Ukraine is fortunate that its pressing need for the F-16 coincides with its retirement across many Western air forces in favour of the fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. As such, there are a large number of airframes that have only recently been withdrawn from service, that are upgraded to the latest standards, and which could be made available for transfer.

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