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Danish F-16 fighters perform at an air show in Denmark last…Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix, via AFP – Getty Images

A US official confirmed Thursday, in a long-awaited move, that the United States will allow allies to send US-made F-16 fighter jets to Kiev once Ukrainian pilots are trained to operate them. However, the requirement that Ukrainian pilots be fully trained means approvals will not come in for months.

Experts say the counteroffensive in Ukraine, which began two months ago, has a chance of winning without the fighter jets, but it is likely to be much more difficult.

The timeframe for US approvals is unlikely to surprise Ukraine. It has become clear that the country will not be able to operate or receive F-16 fighter jets in the coming fall or winter, said the spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, Yuriy Ihnat, stressing that the aircraft will not play a role in the war. counterattack.

“We had high hopes for this plane,” he said.

The US decision had been expected since May, when President Biden softened his resistance to efforts by NATO allies to train Ukrainian F-16 pilots and provide the planes to Ukraine. The official who confirmed the US shift is not authorized to discuss the agreement publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

A Pentagon spokesperson said Thursday that some pilot training may now take place in the United States.

“The United States is ready to support training efforts in coordination with the coalition, and is ready to host training for Ukrainian pilots within the United States if capabilities in Europe are reached,” said Brig. Pentagon press secretary Gen. Patrick S. Ryder in a statement.

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Ukraine possesses Soviet-era MIG and Sukhoi fighter jets, but has long argued that the F-16s could enable it to achieve air superiority, something neither side has decisively achieved since Russia launched its all-out invasion in February 2022.

US transfer approvals, when they arrive, are expected to go to Denmark and the Netherlands, which lead the pilot training coalition. On Friday, Dutch Foreign Minister Wubke Hoekstra thanked Secretary of State Anthony J. blinkin In a post on Xthe platform formerly known as Twitter, for “Washington’s good and quick co-operation”.

An assessment by the US Air Force in March indicated that the fastest time frame for full training would be four to six months. Other estimates are longer. Time-consuming training on how to maintain aircraft will also be necessary.

U.S. officials said Ukraine had identified only eight fighter pilots who spoke English well enough to begin training. This is too little for one squadron. About 20 more have been sent to Britain this month to learn English.

The F-16, or Fighting Falcon, which was first flown in 1976, has been used by militaries in dozens of countries for air-to-air combat and airstrikes.

The F-16 fighter jets are built by US defense contractor Lockheed Martin and are manufactured in Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway. The four countries have indicated their willingness to transfer the planes to Kiev, according to a senior Ukrainian official.

In May, before Mr. Biden agreed to allow Ukrainian pilots to train in the F-16s, the leaders of Britain and the Netherlands announced an international coalition To provide Ukraine with combat aircraft and training to fly them. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said at the time that the training would take place Start this summer.

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In July, Denmark’s acting defense minister, Trols Poulsen, to reporters The country hopes to see “results” from the training early next year.

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