Bipartisan group of US senators aims to persuade Pentagon to donate F-16s to Ukraine – Politico

15 March, 07:14 PM
F-16 (Photo:REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker/File Photo)

F-16 (Photo:REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker/File Photo)

A bipartisan group of eight senators is calling on the Pentagon to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, according to a letter they sent to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on March 14.

It was organized by Arizona’s former astronaut and Navy captain Mark Kelley, said Politico, which has seen the letter.

The Russian full-scale war against Ukraine is believed by the senators to be “now at a critical juncture” and providing F-16 jets to Ukraine "could prove to be a game changer on the battlefield.”

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“After speaking with U.S., Ukrainian, and foreign leaders working to support Ukraine at the Munich Security Conference last month, we believe the U.S. needs to take a hard look at providing F-16 aircraft to Ukraine,” Politico wrote, quoting the letter.

“This would be a significant capability that could prove to be a game changer on the battlefield.”

The senators gave the Pentagon a deadline of the end of the week to hear back an opinion on the necessary factors required to ensure the successful transfer of the aircraft to Kyiv.

Several questions were posed to Austin, including whether Ukrainian officials rank fighter jets highly when making requests for weapons, and whether the jets could be obtained from stockpiles or if new ones would need to be produced, if approved.

The senators were also interested in the military's assessment of the F-16's impact on the war and of how quickly Ukrainians would be able to master the jets.

They believe that the arrival of two pilots from Ukraine to the United States to assess their skills in operating the F-16 fighter jets was a “critical step in gauging” their readiness to fly them.

The United States doesn't mind other countries transferring fighter jets to Ukraine, but U.S. President Joe Biden earlier ruled out sending jets to Ukraine, saying "it doesn't need F-16s right now."

The Pentagon has assessed the minimal deadline for the transfer of old F-16s at about 18 months, while producing the new ones could take from three to six years.

Ukraine expects to receive several types of fighter jets from its allies, with one to become the workhorse for the Ukrainian Air Force.

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