Ukraine has lobbied persistently to be provided with US-made F-16 fighter jets, but the warplanes will not be part of Ukraine’s defence against Russian forces during the coming “autumn and winter” months, a spokesperson for the air force said.
Ukrainian air force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat said late on Wednesday night that his country had “big hopes” for the deployment of F-16s as part of the country’s defences against invading Russian forces.
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“It’s already obvious we won’t be able to defend Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets during this autumn and winter,” Ihnat told a joint telethon broadcast by Ukrainian channels.
“We had big hopes for this plane, that it will become part of air defence, able to protect us from Russia’s missiles and drones terrorism,” Ihnat said.
Ukraine has repeatedly called on its Western allies to supply its forces with F-16s, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said were crucial in the fight against Russia.
Western allies were initially reluctant to provide Kyiv with advanced warplanes, fearing the provision of new fighter jets might trigger a direct confrontation between the US-backed NATO military alliance and Moscow.
That sentiment changed when US President Joe Biden signalled at the Group of Seven summit in May in Japan that training programmes for Ukrainian pilots in the operation of F-16s could begin.
Russia has warned that the transfer of F-16s to Ukraine would be a “colossal risk” that could escalate the war.
Last month, Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said F-16 training would begin in Romania this month. The minister also said he hoped the training would not last longer than six months and the warplane would be in action by then.
Despite the announced training of pilots, neither the US nor other allies of Kyiv have yet announced a timeframe for the supply of actual F-16 planes.
Separately on Wednesday night, Zelenskyy said Kyiv would “significantly” increase drone production, stressing the importance of unmanned aerial vehicles in defending his country against Russia’s invasion.
I held a Staff meeting today. Everything we discussed in our combat brigades is now part of the work of the General Staff, officials, and the Staff. We are not only working with partners but also increasing Ukrainian production several times to meet the needs of our warriors. pic.twitter.com/miBShs4WnS
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) August 16, 2023
Recently back from visits to troops fighting on the front lines in the east of the country, Zelenskyy said troops “first ask about drones, electronic warfare, and military air defence”.
“Drones are the eyes and protection on the front line. Of different ranges, for different purposes. Drones are a guarantee that people will not have to pay with their lives when drones can be used,” he said.