According to official information, Ukraine’s first F-16 fighter jets will be in service this summer

According to official information, Ukraine’s first F-16 fighter jets will be in service this summer

The first American-designed F-16 fighter jets destined for Ukraine will be delivered and are expected to take to the skies this summer, American and European officials said Wednesday, saying the state-of-the-art warplanes would soon provide another tool for Kyiv’s battered defenses in the face of relentless Russian attacks.

An unspecified number of aircraft are en route from the Netherlands and Denmark, the leaders of those countries said in a joint statement with President Biden. The statement said the governments of Belgium and Norway had committed to donating additional aircraft.

According to officials, Ukraine is expected to ultimately deploy 60 F-16s, with numerous countries joining forces to provide pilot training, weapons and logistical support.

Wednesday’s announcement coincides with this week’s NATO leaders’ summit in Washington, which focused on continued support for Ukraine and questions about the future of the alliance that are beginning to emerge ahead of this year’s U.S. presidential election.

A separate White House statement on behalf of Washington and Berlin said the Pentagon would begin sending powerful missile systems through Germany in 2026. These “episodic deployments” would include hypersonic weapons, which officials said would have a “significantly greater range” than any equipment currently in Europe.

Taken together, the two announcements seemed designed in part to attract Russia’s attention. Anatoly Antonov, Moscow’s ambassador to Washington, condemned Western support for Ukraine and said the NATO summit had “reaffirmed the aggressive character of the alliance.”

The Biden administration had resisted supplying F-16s to Ukraine before relenting last year. Kyiv said it urgently needed the planes to combat Russia’s use of glide bombs, one of the most damaging weapons in Moscow’s arsenal that has devastated Ukrainian forces along the front line. The Soviet-era weapons are almost impossible to intercept once launched, Ukrainian officials said, suggesting the F-16 would allow their forces to shoot down the planes carrying the bombs or push them further away from Ukrainian territory.

Providing F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine is part of a broader effort to bolster the country’s air defenses, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said in an interview with The Washington Post. The need was underscored again this week by attacks that killed at least 37 people, including an attack on a children’s hospital in Kyiv.

“If you don’t have air control, you are extremely vulnerable. And you’ve seen in the last few weeks and months that Ukraine’s vulnerability is starting to change due to a lack of aircraft and inadequate air defenses,” Store said. “When you see the brutality of the recent wave of attacks from Russia … this is urgently needed.”

The announcement comes after a relatively small group of Ukrainian pilots completed training with U.S. advisers at Morris National Guard Air Force Base in Arizona in May and then headed to Europe for further training.

Pentagon spokesman Major General Patrick Ryder said last week that more than a dozen Ukrainian pilots were training in Denmark and the United States. The lessons were tailored to the individual’s flight skills and English language ability. Ukrainian government officials complained that the pace gave Russia enough time to launch unhindered attacks on civilian infrastructure.

Dan Lamothe and Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.