Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has welcomed United States President Joe Biden’s decision to support the training of Ukrainian pilots on US-made F-16 fighter jets, saying it would “greatly enhance our army in the sky”.
Describing the plans to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 jet fighters as a “historic decision”, Zelenskyy said he would discuss the details with Biden when they meet at the G7 Summit in Japan’s Hiroshima city – the latest international trip by the Ukrainian leader, which was confirmed on Saturday.
“I count on discussing the practical implementation of this decision at the #G7 summit in Hiroshima,” Zelenskyy said in a tweet.
Biden told G7 leaders on Friday that Washington supports joint allied training programmes for Ukrainian pilots on US-made F-16 fighter jets, senior US officials told the Reuters news agency.
Zelenskyy has for months called for the supply of advanced fighter jets to support Ukraine’s defences against Russia’s invasion. But the Ukrainian leader had faced rejection until now from his Western allies who feared providing Ukraine with advanced offensive weapons could be met with an escalation by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the spread of the war in Europe.
Now, as Ukraine has improved its air defences with a host of Western-supplied anti-aircraft systems and prepares to launch a counteroffensive against Russian forces, officials believe the fighter jets could become useful in Ukraine’s battle with Moscow and essential for the country’s long-term security.
Al Jazeera’s John Psaropoulos reports that air defence experts say US-built F-16 fighter jets would offer Ukraine an edge over the Russian air force but only if combined with powerful missiles and targeting information, which the West would also have to provide.