The Biden administration has signaled to European allies in recent weeks that the US would allow them to export F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, sources familiar with the discussions said. It comes as the White House has been facing increasing pressure from members of Congress and allies to help Ukraine procure the planes amid intensifying Russian aerial attacks.
Administration officials are not aware, however, of any formal requests by any allies to export F-16s, and State Department officials who would normally be tasked with the paperwork to approve such third-party transfers have not been told to get to work, officials said.
A handful of European countries have a supply of the US-made jets, including the Netherlands, which has signaled a willingness to export some of them to Ukraine. But the United States would have to approve that third-party transfer because of the jets' sensitive US technology.
While the US remains reluctant to send any of its own F-16s to Kyiv, US officials told CNN that the administration is prepared to approve the export of the jets to Ukraine if that is what allies decide to do with their supply.
Top Ukrainian officials have escalated their public lobbying campaign for US-made F-16s in recent months, arguing they need them urgently to defend against Russian missile and drone attacks.
Looking ahead: The issue is expected to be a subject of debate at the next NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July, officials said.
Another open question is where Ukrainian pilots would train on these F-16s. A spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said earlier this week that the UK and the Netherlands were looking to form an "international coalition" not only to procure the jets for Ukraine but also to train Ukrainian pilots.
In March, the US hosted two Ukrainian pilots at a military base in Tucson, Arizona, to evaluate their skills using flight simulators and to assess how much time they would need to learn to fly various US military aircraft, including F-16s. But the US has no plans as of now to expand that training, a defense official told CNN, despite Congress setting aside money in the 2023 budget.
CNN's Zachary Cohen contributed reporting to this post.