Will the U.S. send F-16s directly to Ukraine? No final decision yet, Sullivan says

The U.S. will support a joint international effort to train Ukrainian pilots on modern fighter aircraft — but whether any of those jets will be sent directly from the U.S. to Ukraine is still up in the air, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday.

President Joe Biden announced support for the coalition, which has pledged to train pilots on the long-requested F-16 fighter planes, during the G-7 summit in Japan over the weekend.

“I think given the numbers [of F-16s] that are currently available from the stocks of our European allies, and the fact that based on the money Congress has given us, there are so many other priorities for systems to give, it may be that we focus more on third party transfer, but the president has not made a final decision,” Sullivan said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” when asked whether the U.S. would send the aircraft directly to Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has long pleaded with Western allies to send their modern fighter jets, but the U.S. has repeatedly rebuffed those requests. Instead, the U.S. has sent tanks, artillery and ammunition.

The reason, Sullivan said, was because fighter jets were not “critical” for the anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive. But conditions are evolving.

“The United States has mobilized an exceptional effort to deliver on time and in full everything Ukraine needs to launch this counteroffensive,” Sullivan said. “Now that we’ve done that, we can look forward to the long-term capacity of Ukraine to be able to defend itself and deter Russian aggression. Fourth-generation fighter aircraft, Western fighter aircraft, F-16s are relevant to that fight.”

On Friday, Zelenskyy applauded the U.S. move on Twitter.

“I welcome the historic decision of the United States and @POTUS to support an international fighter jet coalition,” Zelenskyy wrote. “This will greatly enhance our army in the sky. I count on discussing the practical implementation of this decision at the #G7 summit in Hiroshima.”

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