While President Joe Biden has promised to green light the program, the formal request « is still under review, » said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Garron Garn, who referred further questions to the State Department. A State Department spokesman declined to comment.
There is no indication at this time that the US will not eventually green light it. But the demands of the Europeans have already been in the works for weeks: Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters last month that Denmark has formally requested permission to conduct training on the F-16. The Department of Defense also typically responds to such requests, providing expertise on issues related to the protection of sensitive technology.
A Dutch defense ministry spokesman declined to comment on the Pentagon request, but said « every step we take regarding F-16 training we do so in close consultation with the Americans and other partners. »
It’s not unusual for the process between US agencies to approve the transfer of sensitive weapons technology, especially advanced ones like fighter jets, to take time.
With any export or training package, the Pentagon must « ensure it is prepared to proceed with translating technical manuals, technical data packages, and a backstop plan, » before officials sign off on a transfer, the Pentagon’s takeover boss William LaPlante told POLITICO in an interview.
The approval of the training package includes all of this, together with a plan to train maintenance personnel and ground personnel.
When asked about the F-16 training package, LaPlante said that for any complex system, « we need to make sure we have the experts [available] because we need support experts for that system… so they can be there for tele-maintenance,” since US and NATO advisers will not be on the ground with the Ukrainians.
“We make sure all that stuff is ready to go,” he added. « Just like any other system that has been examined, the F-16 would fall into that category regardless of what the final decision is about what to do. »
But senior Ukrainian officials say they urgently need F-16s as their forces struggle to break through entrenched Russian lines.
Speaking ahead of the NATO summit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier this month chided the West with what he called a delay in training Ukrainian pilots to fly jets.
“I have the same questions you ask for our valued partners,” Zelenskyy said in response to a question about when the jets would be delivered.
“We agreed, we insisted, and we have a coalition of countries ready to start training Ukrainian pilots. [But] there is no training mission schedule and they are delaying it. I don’t know why they are doing this,” she said.
The partners hope to begin training in Romania, which is expected to be done in cooperation with F-16 manufacturer Lockheed Martin, in October, said a Defense Department official, who was granted anonymity to discuss sensitive plans. They are hoping to have six to nine Ukrainian riders in the first class, which will also include Romanian, Bulgarian and Slovak riders, the official said. While countries that have pledged support for the effort have remained silent on details, a Norwegian defense official said Oslo is committing two F-16s to the program.
The Romanian and Dutch governments have engaged in urgent last-minute talks leading up to this week’s NATO meeting in Lithuania to iron out details on the international training plan and to ensure Ukrainian pilots are included, according to a person at knowledge of interviews. Those discussions paved the way for the announcement of the F-16 coalition during the summit.
But US officials are not conveying a sense of urgency. A senior Pentagon official, Joint Staff Operations Director Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, told reporters on Thursday that the situation on the front lines in Ukraine is currently « not ideal » for the use of F-16s.
“The Russians still have some air defense capabilities. They have air capability. And the number of F-16s that would be supplied may not be perfect for what’s going on right now, » Sims said. « As the future changes, that will definitely determine how it’s employed. »