F-16 Fighters Now En Route to Ukraine, Operations to Start This Summer

Much-anticipated F-16 fighters to Ukraine have started, Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed July 10 at the NATO Public Forum held in Washington, D.C.

“I’m pleased to announce that as we speak, the transfer of F-16 jets is underway, coming from Denmark, coming from the Netherlands,” Blinken said. “And those jets will be flying in the skies of Ukraine this summer to make sure that Ukraine can continue to effectively defend itself against the Russian aggression.”

While Blinken did not reveal how many fighters will be included in the initial batch, a joint statement from U.S. President Joe Biden, Dutch Prime Minister Dick Schoof, and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on July 10 further noted that the nations are committed to “further enhancing Ukraine’s air capabilities, which will include squadrons of modern fourth-generation F-16 multirole aircraft.” A squadron often encompasses a dozen to two dozen aircraft, confirming Kyiv could get several dozen F-16s over the years, in line with previous public pledges from Ukrainian allies.

“This is a clear signal that Russia’s ability to terrorize Ukrainian people, cities, and communities will continue to reduce,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote in a statement on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter.

The Netherlands and Denmark are in varying stages of acquiring the F-35s to replace their F-16s, with plans to deliver up to 24 and 19 F-16s, respectively. Belgium has plans to transfer 30 jets by 2028, with the first delivery by the end of this year. In a separate announcement on July 10, the Norwegian government said it would provide six F-16s, with deliveries also beginning this year.

“I am grateful to the United States, Denmark, and the Netherlands for taking practical steps to achieve the goal of all Ukrainians: to strengthen the Ukrainian air force with F-16s,” Zelenskyy added in a message that also thanked Belgium and Norway for their commitments. “F-16s will also be used to bolster Ukraine’s air defense. I am confident that they will assist us in better protecting Ukrainians from brutal Russian attacks, such as this week’s strike on the Okhmatdyt children’s hospital in Kyiv.“

If all the pledged F-16s arrive, Ukraine could ultimately have a fleet of 60 or more jets in the coming years. But the delivery schedule is contingent on some of the NATO nations’ getting F-35 fighters to replace their F-16s, the training progress of Ukrainian pilots and maintainers, and continued Western commitment to Ukraine’s armed forces.

“The coalition intends to support their sustainment and armament, as well as further associated training for pilots to enhance operational effectiveness,” the joint U.S.-Netherlands-Denmark statement read.

The exact timing of the jets’ touchdown in Ukraine or whether munitions will be included in the initial transfer is not publicly known. The statement cited operational security concerns for not unveiling further information.

Details on the provision of aircraft munitions and how Ukraine will base and maintain the jets have been far more murky than the plans to provide Ukraine with the F-16 airframes.

Washington has imposed restrictions on how Kyiv is allowed to employ U.S.-made weapons, such as limiting their ability to be used on Russian territory. It remains to be seen exactly what conditions the U.S. and other nations will put on Ukraine’s use of donated F-16s.

The most common air-to-air missiles used by F-16s—AIM-9 Sidewiders and AIM-120 AMRAAMs—are already in use by Ukraine as surface-to-air interceptors, and Ukraine has adapted American-provided JDAM-Extended Range guided bomb kits and AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation (HARM) missiles, as well as some European-made long-range cruise missiles, to its Soviet-era fleet. But most of those weapons are far more effective when paired with advanced targeting pods, and U.S. and its allies have struggled mightily to keep up with the demand for munitions already being used by Ukraine. It is also possible that foreign contractors could support the sustainment of F-16s in Ukraine, given the complexity of the jets.

“I anticipate that our air force capability coalition will be strengthened even further through the joining of new participants,” Zelenskyy said. “F-16s bring just and lasting peace closer, demonstrating that terror must fail everywhere and at any time. Our team continues to work in Washington to reach agreements that are strengthening Ukraine’s defense capabilities.”

The new development follows a White House announcement July 9 that another NATO coalition will arm Ukraine with “dozens of additional tactical air defense systems.” Specifically, Biden said the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands, Romania, and Italy will “provide Ukraine with equipment for five additional strategic air defense systems in the coming months.”

The strategic air defense systems include U.S., Germany, and Romania donating Patriot batteries, the Netherlands donating Patriot components, and Italy donating a SAMP-T system. Additional weapon supplies, such as NASAMS, HAWKs, IRIS T-SLM, IRIS T-SLS, and Gepard systems, will follow “in the coming months,” according to a release.

NATO additionally announced new measures to enhance Ukraine’s military capabilities and deter Russia. The member nations agreed appoint a NATO Senior Representative in Ukraine, and decided on the following, according to the alliance:

  • Establish the NATO Security Assistance and Training for Ukraine (NSATU) to coordinate the provision of military equipment and training for Ukraine by Allies and partners. NSATU will operate in Allied states and support Ukraine’s self-defense in line with the U.N. Charter. 
  • Long-Term Security Assistance Pledge for Ukraine for the provision of military equipment, assistance, and training to support Ukraine in building a force capable of defeating Russian aggression.  Through proportional contributions, Allies will provide a minimum baseline funding of €40 billion ($43 Billion) within the next year with sustainable levels of security assistance for Ukraine to prevail.
  • Establishment of the NATO-Ukraine Joint Analysis, Training, and Education Centre (JATEC) to identify and apply lessons from Russia’s war against Ukraine and increase Ukraine’s interoperability with NATO.

“As Ukraine continues this vital work, we will continue to support it on its irreversible path to full Euro-Atlantic integration, including NATO membership,” said Stoltenberg at a press conference on July 10. The NATO political chief added that NATO “really wants Ukraine to join, and that we are working with Ukraine to make that happen.”