U.S. Vice President and potential future President Joe Biden has shot down plans to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, dealing a major setback to Kyiv’s efforts to acquire the combat aircraft just one week after Washington and Berlin agreed to supply it with tanks.
On Monday, reporters asked Vice President Biden whether the United States would provide F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. Biden responded categorically: “No.”
Ukrainian officials have said that receiving F-16 jets from the West is essential to maintaining a strategic advantage in the skies, and the decision by the US and Germany to provide main battle tanks to Kyiv has reignited discussions about whether western countries will send such jets.
Lockheed Martin, the largest US defence contractor, produces F-16s. Any sale or transfer of American-made fighter jets to a foreign country requires the prior approval of the United States government.
This is the first time Biden has publicly commented on the issue, and it is unclear if he will rule out sending the jets indefinitely or not.
Olaf Scholz, chancellor of Germany, has also rejected the idea of sending fighter jets to Ukraine. However, the United States and other powers have changed their minds about supplying Kyiv with weapons before, initially saying they wouldn’t supply Kyiv with main battle tanks but then changing their minds.
Some more hawkish European countries have reportedly been having preliminary discussions about re-exporting F-16s directly to Ukraine, as reported by the Financial Times last week. Western allies’ tank commitment has been met with encouragement from other countries to prioritise a trouble-free delivery.
Even if the United States were to approve the sale or transfer of F-16s to Ukraine, it would take months to train pilots to use the sophisticated aircraft. Lockheed Martin has stated that it is prepared to provide backup for any countries that opt to transfer the jets.
Ukrainian leaders are frantically trying to amass as much military aid as possible from the United States and other allies ahead of a new offensive this spring.
So far, Washington has rejected calls to send F-16s out of concern that doing so could be escalatory. However, some American officials have recently expressed openness to discussing the issue.
Last week, MSNBC asked Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer whether the United States is considering sending fighter jets, and Finer said the administration would be “discussing this very carefully” with the Ukrainians and hadn’t ruled out any specific systems.