Ukraine will not receive F-16 fighter jets before the end of the current counter-offensive, the head of the NATO Military Committee, Admiral Rob Bauer, has said.
“The discussion about fighter jets is important, but it will not be resolved in the short term for this counteroffensive”, Bauer said in an interview with LBC radio.
He said it won’t be possible to train pilots and technicians in the short term and provide a “logistical organization” to keep the planes in proper condition.
“We shouldn’t mix the two discussions – I think it’s important and understandable that Ukraine is asking for these fighter jets – but we shouldn’t mix it now with the counteroffensive discussion”, Bauer stressed.
He also noted that even without the fighters, Ukraine has an advantage on the battlefield due to Western weapon systems and better training, as well as “much higher morale and motivation”.
At the same time, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that Western countries have not yet started training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s. “The training has not started in June. Training of pilots. That means the schedule is starting to shift. We are now working with all the parties involved, with all the countries that are involved in the ‘air coalition’ to speed up this process as much as possible”, Kuleba said.
He said Western allies attributed the delay to a miscalculation. “They need more time. But we do not have time, so we are speeding things up as much as possible”, the Ukrainian foreign minister said.
Kyiv has been asking for deliveries of modern Western fighter jets since the very beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, the United States and Germany ruled out such a possibility. Moreover, Washington banned Poland from transferring Soviet MiGs to Kyiv. But before the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Washington softened its stance: it agreed to train Ukrainian pilots and stated that it would not object to other countries supplying Kyiv with F-16s.
According to Oleksiy Reznikov, head of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, Kyiv will start to receive Western fighters no earlier than 2024. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also suggested that deliveries were possible in six months or more.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces launched a counteroffensive on June 4. According to official data from the country’s Defense Ministry, Kyiv managed to liberate 158.4 square kilometers of territory in the south, including in Zaporizhzhya, Kherson and Donetsk regions. According to the DeepStateMap.Live project, between June 4 and July 2, Ukraine regained control of 142.5 square kilometers, of which about 124 square kilometers are on the southern front.