Biden backs international plan to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s

WASHINGTON − President Joe Biden told allied nations that the U.S. would assist with training Ukrainian pilots on modern fighter aircraft, including American-made F-16s, during a closed-door meeting at the Group of Seven summit Friday in Hiroshima, Japan.

Biden said his administration would support a joint effort to train Ukrainian pilots on modern fighter jets, a senior U.S. official said. Training on the jets will take place over the course of several months outside Ukraine in Europe and could begin in the next several weeks.

U.S. participation in the program could signal that Washington is closer to arming Ukraine with the aircraft.

The senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said countries training the pilots will decide when to provide the jets, how many Ukraine will get and which nations would supply them.

U.S F-16 fighter jets fly in formation during joint U.S.-Philippines air force military exercises near on May 9, 2023.

U.S F-16 fighter jets fly in formation during joint U.S.-Philippines air force military exercises near on May 9, 2023.

In recent days, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been on whirlwind tour of European capitals to keep the pressure on foreign partners. He is expected to attend the G-7 summit in person Sunday.

Ukraine has repeatedly asked its Western allies to supply it with modern jets to fight back against Russia.

Many have been reluctant to do so for fear of the risk of being drawn into the war and because they fear it could spill over into NATO territory. The U.S. is already training a few Ukrainian pilots on U.S. soil.

To date, the Biden administration has declined to provide the planes, opting to focus military aid on the weapons it says Ukraine will need for offensive operations this spring and summer.

The senior administration official stressed the significant training time and cost associated with F-16s and said the shift in U.S. position is about providing Ukraine with the long-term capability to defend itself and better deter against future attacks.

Biden offered his endorsement of the training program during the G-7 summit in Hiroshima, where the leaders of the world’s most powerful democracies are holding talks.

$3 billion accounting error in Ukraine weapons assistance

The move by the administration comes as the Defense Department found an accounting error in assessing the value of weapons assistance the U.S. has given to date to Ukraine.

The $3 billion the Pentagon has found to fund weapons for Ukraine stems largely from accounting errors in which it overestimated the value of equipment that had already been sent, defense officials told USA TODAY on Friday.

Some of the equipment had been priced at its replacement value rather than what it was actually worth, according to a defense official who was not authorized to speak publicly. Auditors continue to review aid packages to ensure they have been given accurate values.

The Pentagon has committed about $37 billion in military aid to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022.

Much of the aid comes from Biden authorizing the Pentagon to send equipment from its existing stocks to Ukraine. Congress authorized the White House to spend $14.5 billion in fiscal year 2023 to arm Ukraine.

The miscalculation has not prevented the Pentagon from sending Ukrainian troops weapons they need, the official said.

“This over-valuation has not constrained our support to Ukraine nor impacted our ability to flow capabilities to the battlefield,” Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Another senior U.S. official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said the Defense Department proactively caught its mistake and was working to fix it. The official said no additional equipment would have been sent to Ukraine otherwise because the administration sends equipment based on what it has in its inventory and it can procure from other sources.

The discovery, however, frustrated House Republicans who were quick to condemn the bookkeeping error.

“The revelation of a $3 billion accounting error discovered two months ago and only today shared with Congress is extremely problematic, to say the least,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., wrote in a joint statement Friday.

“These funds could have been used for extra supplies and weapons for the upcoming counteroffensive, instead of rationing funds to last for the remainder of the fiscal year.”

G-7 meeting Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy to travel thousands of miles to Japan

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: G-7: Biden endorses plan to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s

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