WASHINGTON ― President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Air Force has told lawmakers that F-16 fighter jets NATO is sending to Ukraine will mostly be effective in the long term as the war-torn country works to integrate them into the broader military.
Gen. David Allvin, the Air Force vice chief of staff on tap for a promotion to serve as the service’s No. 1 officer, said at his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday that those F-16s would require additional training to benefit the rest of Ukraine’s forces. However, he added, the promised delivery also serves as a “symbol” of the intent to eventually transition Ukraine to Western weapons platforms.
“As with our Air Force, we’re only effective if we’re part of a joint force,” Allvin said in response to a question from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. “The value of the F-16s will be in the longer term when it’s better integrated with a larger Ukrainian military.”
If confirmed, Allvin would replace Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, whom Biden nominated as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It’s unclear when the Senate will confirm either nominee since Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., has held up swift confirmation of more than 300 senior military nominees.
“What we understand through our successes in air power and air superiority is it’s not only the platform, but it’s the training,” Allvin said. “And that training is not just on the platform, but it’s the integration with the command-and-control elements, the integration with the joint force.”
Denmark and the Netherlands announced in August they would donate up to 61 F-16s total to Ukraine after Biden authorized the transfer following months of pressure from NATO allies and U.S. lawmakers, including Manchin. The U.S. will lead the training of Ukrainian pilots, which is expected to begin in the coming weeks at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona.
U.S. officials predicted the jets wouldn’t be ready for combat in Ukraine until mid-2024, given the training timelines as well as logistics and maintenance considerations. Still, The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Ukraine expects it will be ready to use the jets by this winter.
Either way, the jets will not be ready to use amid Ukraine’s slow-moving counteroffensive. Gen. Mark Milley, the outgoing U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, told the BBC on Sunday that Ukraine has between 30 and 45 days of fighting weather left before winter conditions make it hard to maneuver.
Additionally, the Biden administration is weighing whether to send the long-range munitions to Ukraine.
Laura Cressey, director of regional security and arms transfers at the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, said at the Defense News Conference last week that the Biden administration is “closely considering” giving Kyiv these capabilities after months of reluctance.
“There’s been a lot of talk about F-16s, a lot of talk about long-range fires,” Cressey said. “All of those the U.S. government is very closely considering, but it takes a lot in terms of training.”
Specifically, lawmakers have called on Biden to send Ukraine long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems.
A provision in the House’s fiscal 2024 defense policy bill would require the Pentagon to build the Lockheed Martin-made ballistic missiles for Kyiv via the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which contracts out longer-term assistance to the European nation. Britain has already provided long-range Storm Shadow cruise missiles to Ukraine.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.