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F-16s will not be a ‘magic weapon’ for Ukraine, warns Milley

Fighter jets are far more expensive than artillery shells and ground vehicles, which Western allies have focused on flooding Ukraine to help push back Russian forces in the south. Spending the money on these short-term weapons, as opposed to expensive fighter jets with their complex logistical needs, has been worth it, Milley said.

“If you look at the F-16s, 10 F-16s [cost] $1 billion, sustainment cost another $1 billion, so you’re talking about $2 billion for 10 planes,” Milley said, adding that if the planes had been sent out sooner, they would have eaten funding those other capabilities that have put Ukraine on the front burner.

“There are no magic weapons in warfare, F-16s are none and nothing else either,” he said.

Also on Thursday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that Denmark and the Netherlands were leading the joint coalition to train Ukrainian pilots on modern fighter jets. He added that Norway, Belgium, Poland and Portugal have also pledged to participate in the training.

The coalition plans to train around 20 Ukrainian pilots initially, although the exact number will depend on countries’ ability to support the project, according to a UK government spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details ahead of time. an announcement.

Ukraine will need a pipeline of pilots to learn the basics of flight, who can then move on to jets, the spokesperson said. To this end, the first stage of instruction will focus on basic ground training for Ukrainian pilots, who will then be prepared to learn specific airframes, such as the F-16 and others. The F-16 training will take place at a site in Europe, Defense Department officials said.

Unanswered questions are who will send its F-16s or other jets to Kiev once this training is complete, and what role the United States will play other than greenlighting the transfer of the aircraft from third countries to the EU. ‘Ukraine.

The F-16 effort is just beginning after President Joe Biden said last week that the United States would support training Ukrainians on the plane, a dramatic reversal from the administration’s previous refusal to fix the problem, saying it was a lower priority.

But with much of the aid intended to support Ukraine’s planned counter-offensive having been delivered, and with increased missile strikes on civilian targets in Kyiv, Ukrainian leaders have launched a new campaign of pressure public in recent weeks, insisting that the jets would be invaluable in air defense missions. .

Dozens of F-16s are in various configurations and in different states of readiness in the United States and Europe. As more NATO nations purchase more F-35s, older jets will become available, although they will likely need upgrades and some country-specific technology will need to be phased out, according to R Clarke Cooper, former Chief of Politico-Military Affairs. at the State Department and now a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

“Based on precedent, it shouldn’t be too difficult” for individual countries, he added, since several of them have already sold off their old F-16s with Washington’s blessing.

The big question now for the NATO alliance is who has transferable aircraft in their squadrons or hangars that can be sent to Ukraine.

As fleets age and F-35s begin to arrive in greater numbers, countries around the world are lining up to grab the older F-16s. Although there are jets available for Ukraine, several big potential transfers indicate there is plenty of appetite outside Kyiv for the fighter.

Norway recently sold 32 of its F-16s to Romania and is awaiting approval from Washington to sell a dozen more to Draken, a private company that contracts with the Pentagon to carry out training missions.

Denmark has also sold its F-16s overseas, most recently working on a deal with Colombia, and is considering doing the same with Argentina, a process that has caught the attention of Congress.

During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing with Air Force leaders this month, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Arizona) said Argentina risked buying Chinese fighter jets if the United States did not approve the potential sale of F-16s to Denmark.

“I think we have to be very vigilant about that,” Kelly warned. “We can counter their argument here by facilitating the transfer of Danish F-16s to Argentina. It’s a possibility. It’s not just a transfer of planes. It has real geopolitical and strategic importance.

Kendall replied that he was aware of the issue and that he “is working his way through the interagency process right now. But I think there’s an understanding of the importance of that for the reasons you’ve said.

Decades-old aircraft, although expensive, are in high demand around the world.

“The F-16 remains a workhorse,” Cooper said. “Not just for NATO but globally, so it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.”

Joe Gould and Lara Seligman contributed to this report.

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