Dutch PM: Good news U.S. will let Ukrainian pilots train on F-16 fighter jets
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he is pleased that the United States is about to agree to train Ukrainian pilots for F-16 fighter jets. "The details will be worked out in the coming weeks," Rutte said on Twitter late Friday afternoon. Earlier, CNN quoted a senior U.S. government official confirming that U.S. President Joe Biden informed G7 leaders that the United States will support a concerted effort with allies and partners to train Ukrainian pilots in the use of combat aircraft, including the older fighter jets.
The training is expected to take place entirely in Europe, according to CNN. However, American personnel will participate in the training together with allies in Europe. The process is expected to take several months. The possible participation by the United States in the training does not mean that the U.S. has already decided to supply fighter jets to Ukraine. "As training takes place over the next few months, the coalition of countries participating in this effort will decide whether we will actually provide aircraft, how many we will provide and who will provide them," the official told CNN.
In March, the U.S. hosted two Ukrainian pilots at a military base in Tucson, Arizona, to evaluate their skills using flight simulators and assess how long it would take them to learn how to fly various U.S. military aircraft. including F-16s. The U.S. Congress has earmarked money for such training in the 2023 budget. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been pleading for fighter jets for some time, especially F-16s. The Netherlands and other countries cannot supply them without permission from the United States, where the fighter jets are produced.
"I welcome the historic decision of the United States and [the president] to support an international fighter jet coalition. This will greatly enhance our army in the sky. I count on discussing the practical implementation of this decision at the G7 summit in Hiroshima," Zelenskyy said.
On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that he had reached an agreement with Rutte to take the lead in an international fighter jet coalition for Ukraine. "From training to obtaining F-16s," said Sunak's spokesman. Minister of Foreign Affairs Wopke Hoekstra denied this a day later and said that the Netherlands was not yet at that point.
Still, Rutte mentioned his colleagues in his message of support on Friday. "Together with my British, Danish and Belgian colleagues we welcome the news that the United States stands ready to approve the training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets," Rutte wrote. Ukraine can count on the unwavering support of the Netherlands and its international partners."
Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren also agreed with Rutte's statement. "Together with our close allies Denmark, Belgium and the U.K. we are working on the modalities. We stand ready to support Ukraine on this," she stated.
"A major breakthrough!" said VVD MP Ruben Brekelmans, who hailed the decision on Twitter. "Depending on how the Ukrainian offensive develops in the near future, deliveries can soon be made," he said. The fellow member of Rutte's party said it shows the "major role" the Netherlands has played in the situation. He called it a strength to Ukraine's defense, and a deterrence against Russia.
CDA MP Derk Boswijk also called it an "important step" on Twitter.
Reporting by ANP