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May 26, 2023
Netherlands Likely to Send F-16s to Ukraine After Pilot Training
(Bloomberg) -- The Netherlands will likely send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine after pilot training, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The Dutch government has been spearheading discussions with US officials in the past weeks to press President Joe Biden’s administration to give a green light to delivering the aircraft, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity. After months of pressure from Kyiv and allied governments, Biden announced last week that the US would support efforts to train Ukrainian pilots to use the jets.
The Netherlands and Denmark are leading the coalition to prepare the pilots, with the support of the UK and Belgium. The Dutch government is already looking into and discussing with its allies possible deployment plans, one of the people said. Despite the willingness of the Dutch government to help beef up Ukrainian air defenses “as soon as possible,” pilot training and mapping out deployment and logistics could take many months.
The Netherlands currently has 42 F-16 fighter jets in its inventory, 24 of which are currently being used by the Dutch army and cannot be sent to Ukraine until mid-2024. A dozen of the other 18 jets were to be sold to Draken International but the government delayed the transfer of the aircraft in December without disclosing an explanation, citing commercial confidentiality.
Although the final decision on deployment has not yet been made, Ukraine may get some of the jets that are on sale or some of the currently operational 24 jets next year depending on the training timeline, the people said. The Netherlands keeps all its F-16 jets airworthy through regular maintenance.
A spokeswoman for the Dutch defense ministry said Thursday the government would consider the possible delivery of F-16s to Ukraine at a later date. Pilot training is the priority now, she added.
Earlier this month, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said there are “no taboos” against sending fighter jets to Ukraine. Rutte’s office declined to comment on the possibility of F-16 deployment.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has said the US would work with allies in coming months to determine when the planes will be delivered, and who will do so. The likeliest scenario for now is that the US won’t send F-16s to Ukraine but instead rely on other countries to supply them.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Thursday the US notes “Dutch leadership in coordinating and leveraging the capabilities of other allies to provide important assistance to Ukraine” after a phone conversation with Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren, according to Austin’s office. Austin thanked Ollongren for Dutch security aid to Kyiv.
The Netherlands has so far provided around €1.6 billion ($1.7 billion) in military support to Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, with delivered equipment alone accounting for €732 million, according to the Dutch defense ministry.
--With assistance from Diederik Baazil.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
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