US national security adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed Sunday that the US will allow European countries to start training Ukrainian fighter pilots to use F-16 fighter jets, after reports that Europe was awaiting formal approval.
“Yes, we will,” Sullivan told CNN's Jake Tapper when asked. “The president has given a green light and we will allow, permit, support, facilitate and in fact provide the necessary tools for Ukrainians to begin being trained on F-16s, as soon as the Europeans are prepared.”
Sullivan noted that European leaders have said they need several weeks to prepare training abilities and that the US would meet whatever timeline they set out.
“The United States will not be the hold up in ensuring that this F-16 training can get underway,” he said.
Remember: Ukraine's quest for the superior US-made fighter jets received a huge boost when the Biden administration said in May that it would back a training program for pilots and would not disallow allies from supplying Kyiv with the planes. But the US has not said that it will supply Kyiv with F-16s directly.
What US lawmakers are saying: Sen. Mark Kelly, an Arizona Democrat and former Navy pilot who sits on the Armed Services Committee, defended the timeline for directly supplying the fighting aircraft to Ukraine.
Responding to perceived criticism that the administration is slow-walking the decision to send F-16s, Kelly said in an interview with CNN on Sunday that it will take time and resources to train Ukrainian pilots on how to fly the aircraft in the first place.
“This is going to take some time. I don't think it's been slow-walked, but the process is a lot longer,” Kelly said, adding that during a visit to Ukraine in April, President Volodymyr Zelensky and his team still weren't certain what specific combat missions they wanted to use the jets for.
By contrast, Sen. Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican and former Marine who also sits on the Armed Services Committee, criticized the Biden administration's approach.
While he praised Biden for his actions at the recent summit for the NATO military alliance, he criticized the administration for “slow-rolling” weapons systems to Ukraine, specifically citing the F-16s.
“As I predicted, they're eventually going to do it, but it's too darn long. That's exactly what happened,” said Sullivan.