BRUSSELS — The United States will head up a coalition of countries training Ukrainian pilots and crews to operate and maintain F-16 fighter jets alongside the Netherlands and Denmark, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday.
Speaking during the first day of the NATO defense ministers summit in Brussels, Austin said allies in the security bloc’s Ukraine Defense Contact Group had decided to form smaller “capability coalitions” focusing on specific areas of support for Kyiv.
For example, Austin said that Estonia and Luxembourg will lead on supporting Ukraine’s IT infrastructure to “defend its networks,” while Lithuanian will help Kyiv with demining.
Beyond fighter jet training, Austin said the U.S. would also join armor and artillery programs, while a naval group will also be set up.
“That shows how much we can do when we come together,” said Austin. “It also show that American leadership matters.”
In August, the U.S. granted approval for the Netherlands and Denmark to donate their F-16s to Ukraine once pilot training was complete. So far, 11 countries have signed up to train Ukrainian air crews and maintenance staff, with the U.S. Department of Defense committing to start instruction at the Morris Air National Guard Base in Arizona this month once candidates complete an English language course.
While it’s not yet clear how much time is needed to complete the fighter jet training, Dutch and Danish ministers have said that first F-16 deliveries should take place in 2024, and Austin said that “earliest is next spring when we can see an initial capability” of Ukrainian pilots flying the planes.
Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo also said Wednesday that Belgian F-16s would be donated to Ukraine in 2025 — as long as the next government agrees.