The US has committed to approving the transfer of F-16 fighter jets for Ukraine as soon as training is complete, according to a US official.
The plan is to make sure Ukraine has the fighter jet it has long sought the moment its pilots complete training on the F-16.
Denmark and the Netherlands have taken the lead in preparing a program to train Ukrainian pilots on the American jet, but the US is still working with other countries to see who may provide F-16s to the Ukrainian Air Force.
On Friday, the US approved the transfer of F-16 instructional materials from Denmark to Ukraine, according to the US official and an administration official.
The transfer will allow the Danish defense ministry to move forward with “their effort to stand up pilot and maintenance training programs,” the administration official said. The approval includes training modules, documentation and classroom training materials, the official said, which contains information about sensitive US technology.
The approval of the third-party transfer request from Denmark was one of the critical steps before Ukrainian fighter pilots could begin training to fly the fourth-generation jets which Kyiv has requested for months. Denmark said Ukrainian pilots would begin training on F-16 jets later this month, part of a coalition of 11 countries that will be involved in the training program.
In a sign of ongoing US backing for the program, Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent letters to his counterparts in Denmark and the Netherlands assuring them that the transfer of the jets would have the “full support” of the Biden administration and would move quickly when training on the advanced aircraft is complete.
“You have my assurances that we will expedite approval of the requisite Third Party Transfer requests in time to enable delivery when the training is completed, including required notification to our Congress,” Blinken wrote in the letters.
Reuters first reported on the US approving the transfer of the jets.
A one-page training concept from the Danish Ministry of Defense laid out a six-month plan to prepare pilots and ground crews to operate the fighter jet.
But the US has yet to receive a formal training plan to familiarize and prepare Ukrainian pilots for the fourth-generation fighter jet. Even though a number of other countries fly the F-16, the US needs to sign off on the transfer of training materials, simulators and manuals for the jet because it is an American aircraft carrying sensitive technology.
“We want to get ‘em there as soon as possible,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Thursday. “The other thing you have to fold in here is the training piece. You gotta make sure that you have enough pilots, that they have the proper English proficiency and then get them into that training.”
“We think that that training is going to be able to get started here relatively soon,” Kirby added.
Even so, Ukraine said Wednesday that it didn’t expect to receive F-16s until sometime next year.
“It’s already become clear that we will not be able to defend Ukraine with F-16s this fall and winter,” Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yurii Ihnat said during an appearance on Ukrainian state TV on Wednesday.
On Friday, the commander of US Air Forces in Europe and Africa said the Ukrainian pilots who will learn to fly the F-16 fighter jets are getting language instruction in the UK, since all of the materials and the instruments in the jet itself are in English, before they start flying training aircraft.
“They’re going to get a little bit more training on [propellor aircraft] and then go down to France and fly in the Alpha jet for a little bit,” said Gen. James Hecker, speaking to a roundtable of reporters as part of the Defense Writers Group. The Alpha jet used by the French as an advanced jet trainer.
“That all is going to take time, and that’s probably not going to happen before the end of the year, so that takes a while to make that happen,” Hecker said. “So that’s why it’s going to be at least until next year until you see F-16s in Ukraine.”
Hecker said the Ukrainian pilots taking part in the F-16 training program are younger pilots who “barely have any hours at all” and are not currently taking part in the war.
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.