US President Joe Biden informed G7 leaders on Friday that the US will support a joint effort with allies and partners to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth generation aircraft, including F-16s, a senior administration official told CNN.
The training is not expected to happen in the US, the official said, and will likely happen entirely in Europe. But US personnel will participate in the training alongside allies and partners in Europe, the official said.
It is expected to take several months to complete and the official said the hope is it will begin “in the coming weeks.”
The decision marks a stark turnaround for Biden, who said earlier this year that he did not believe that Ukraine needed the F-16s. The decision to support the training initiative came together very quickly, officials told CNN, and was made by Biden following meetings with G7 leaders in Hiroshima, Japan, where the topic of F-16s to Ukraine was a key point of discussion.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been pushing particularly hard in recent days for countries that have the jets in their stockpile to send them to Ukraine so that the country can better defend itself against Russia’s daily aerial attacks, the report noted.
“As the training takes place over the coming months, our coalition of countries participating in this effort will decide when to actually provide jets, how many we will provide, and who will provide them,” the official told CNN.
The official added that “to date, the United States and our allies and partners have focused on providing Ukraine with the vast majority of the systems, weapons, and training it requires to conduct offensive operations this spring and summer. Discussions about improving the Ukrainian Air Force reflect our long-term commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is on his way to the G7 meeting, tweeted to say he welcomed “the historic decision of the United States and @POTUS to support an international fighter jet coalition.”
“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,” Zelenskyy added.
In January, Biden officially announced that the US will send 31 M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, reversing months of persistent arguments that the tanks were too difficult for Ukrainian troops to operate and maintain.
The US decision came on the heels of Germany agreeing to send 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from its own stocks. Germany had said the Leopards would not be sent unless the US put its Abrams on the table, not wanting to incur Russia’s wrath without the US similarly committing its own tanks.
Last month, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the United States would begin training Ukrainian forces on how to use and maintain Abrams tanks within weeks.
Previously, the Pentagon said it is speeding up its delivery of Abrams tanks to Ukraine, opting to send the refurbished older model that can be ready faster, with the aim of getting the 70-ton battle powerhouses to the war zone by the fall.
(Israel National News' North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Israel National News articles, however, is Israeli time.)