Written by Francesco Baronio
Edited by Miguel Andres Reyes Castro
Supervised by Paul Dybjer
On August 20, the governments of the Netherlands and Denmark issued a joint statement to announce the intention to deliver F-16s fighter aircraft to Ukraine (Government of the Netherlands, 2023). Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen pledged to send 19 aircrafts in three instalments, while Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte did not specify any number (Sabbagh, 2023). Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, for his part, claimed they reached an agreement for 42 fighter jets (Sabbagh, 2023).
The Dutch Air Force possesses 42 F-16s in total (Hackett, 2023). The intention for the Netherlands is to progressively replace its F-16s with the F-35s Lightning II (Dutch Ministry of Defence, n.d.) and it currently has 28 F-35s (Hackett, 2023). Nevertheless, no commitment has been made yet on the exact number of aircraft to be delivered (Aggarwal & Barber, 2023).
The delivery of F-16s was presented as the natural follow-up to the effort carried out by a joint coalition to provide training on F-16 aircraft to the Ukrainian Air Force (Government of the Netherlands, 2023). Besides Denmark and the Netherlands, the coalition also includes Belgium, Canada, Luxemburg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the UK (Government of Canada, 2023). Furthermore, Zelenskiy recently announced that Greece will participate as well (Kozhukhar, 2023).
The question of training is a central one. The Ukrainian Air Force currently operates Soviet-era fighter jets, including MiG-29s and Su-27s (Hackett, 2023). It will take time to train Ukrainian pilots to effectively operate aircraft different from the ones they are currently flying, at least six months according to Western analysts, although some Ukrainian officials have argued that their pilots are exceptionally quick learners (Dettmer, 2023). The need for adequate training is particularly important considering Russian air superiority in the ongoing conflict (Abdurasulov & Bezpiatchuk, 2023). Another key point is the green light given by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the delivery of F-16s by Denmark and the Netherlands a few days ago (Sabbagh & Sullivan, 2023), which is necessary to re-export American-made platforms (Gordon, 2023).
Observers have pointed out the key role that Western-made fighter jets might play for Ukraine (Gordon, 2023; Schaeffer & Le Deley, 2023). Hence, the announcement made by Denmark and the Netherlands signals a crucial turning point, considering that no platform of this kind has been delivered until now (Brown et al., 2023). However, some analysts have conversely argued that this decision has arrived too late, as F-16s will not be available in time to support the ongoing counteroffensive (Aggarwal & Barber, 2023).
Abdurasulov, A. & Bezpiatchuk, Z. (2023, May 9). Ukraine war: Jet pilots talk about the air war with Russia. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-65461405
Aggarwal, M. & Barber, E. (2023, August 21). Ukraine gets the fighter jets it coveted, but will F-16s come too late for the counteroffensive?. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/ukraine-f16-fighter-jets-counteroffensive-russia-denmark-netherlands-rcna100914
Brown, D., Horton, J. & Ahmedzade, T. (2023, July 11). Ukraine weapons: What tanks and other equipment are the world giving?. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-62002218
Dettmer, J. (2023, August 21). Ukraine’s needs-must approach won’t cut it with F-16 training. Politico. https://www.politico.eu/article/ukraine-f16-fighter-jet-aircraft-training-zelenskyy-war/
Gordon, A. (2023, August 3). Ukrainian Pilots Begin F-16 Training This Month. Here’s Why That Matters. Time. https://time.com/6301355/ukrainian-pilots-f16-training/
Government of Canada (2023, July 11). Statement on a joint coalition on F-16 training of the Ukrainian Air Force [Official Statement]. Government of Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/news/2023/07/statement-on-a-joint-coalition-on-f-16-training-of-the-ukrainian-air-force.html
Government of the Netherlands (2023, August 20). Statement on the strengthening of the Ukrainian Air force – Donation of F16 [Diplomatic statement]. Government of the Netherlands. https://www.government.nl/documents/diplomatic-statements/2023/08/20/statement-on-strengthening-of-the-ukrainian-air-force—donation-of-f16
Hackett, J. (Ed.) (2023). The Military Balance 2023 [Report]. International Institute for Strategic Studies. https://www.iiss.org/publications/the-military-balance/
Kozhukhar, O. (2023, August 21). Greece to train Ukrainian F-16 pilots, Zelenskiy says. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/greece-train-ukrainian-f-16-pilots-zelenskiy-says-2023-08-21/
Dutch Ministry of Defence (n.d.). F-35 Arrival to the Netherlands. Dutch Ministry of Defence. https://english.defensie.nl/topics/f-35-to-the-netherlands
Sabbagh, D. & Sullivan, H. (2023, August 18). US has cleared way for F-16s to be sent to Ukraine say Denmark and Netherlands. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/aug/18/us-reportedly-approves-sending-f-16-jets-to-ukraine-from-denmark-and-netherlands
Sabbagh, D. (2023, August 20). Netherlands and Denmark to donate up to 61 F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/aug/20/netherlands-to-donate-up-to-42-f-16-fighter-jets-to-ukraine
Schaeffer, J. & Le Deley, J. (2023, June 21). Need for speed: F-16 pilot calls the fighter jets sought by Ukraine ‘easy to fly’. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/f16-fighter-jet-pilot-russia-ukraine-war-038c4cfed85de189ee216e91ce564558