At first glance, US President Joe Biden’s decision to support the delivery of F-16 advanced fighter jets to Ukraine has the potential to be a game-changer in Kyiv’s year-long war with Russia.
For months Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been making impassioned pleas to his Western allies for his military to be equipped with advanced warplanes to support its effort to liberate territory occupied by Russian forces.
While the Ukrainian air force, which is mainly equipped with Soviet-era Mig-29s and SU-27s, has done a remarkable job at defending Ukrainian air space against Russian attacks, the heavy losses sustained during 15 months of intense combat has severely depleted the number of available warplanes.
Attempts to acquire Western warplanes to boost the Ukrainian war effort have previously been thwarted by the Biden administration’s reluctance to approve the transfer of F-16s, the highly adaptable fighter that is Ukraine’s preferred choice of warplane for enhancing its air force.
Red tape and reservations
A handful of European countries, such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark, operate the US-made F-16s, and have indicated their willingness to export their aircraft to Ukraine. But the US, which developed the fighter, would have to approve any third party transfer due to the jets’ sensitive US technology.
Other reasons given by the Biden administration for not approving the transfer have included concerns that it would take too long to train Ukrainian pilots to master the American technology.
Meanwhile, the White House remains concerned that providing Ukraine with sophisticated Western military technology could lead to an escalation in tensions with Moscow.