PARIS — Any potential transfers of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine – whether from the United States or from an allied operator – would take months to complete, a State Department official said here June 19.
While the U.S. has not itself announced any transfers of F-16 fighter aircraft to Ukraine to date, it supports other allies’ intent to deliver those aircraft to Kyiv, said Stan Brown, the department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
Reports began swirling in May that the Netherlands was considering giving a portion of its F-16 fleet to Ukraine, and wanted to begin training pilots as soon as possible. But the transfer of such aircraft to Ukraine has to be a “holistic” approach, to include training both pilots and maintainers, Brown told reporters Monday at the biennial Paris Air Show outside the city. One of the first steps in a potential transfer of F-16 aircraft will be the license to train those airmen, before the license to transfer the aircraft even occurs.
Then, the aircraft themselves need to be identified – whether they’ll be delivered via a third-party transfer or another mechanism – before developing a plan for the Ukrainian military to use the aircraft, Brown continued.
The State Department is already working to complete the paperwork for third-party transfer requests coming from nations like the Netherlands so that pilot training can begin, he said. But he declined to provide a specific timeline for that completion.
The shadow of Russia’s war in Ukraine has prompted an overhaul of the State Department’s foreign military sales processes to both ensure Ukraine is receiving the military aid it needs quickly and efficiently and to streamline sales processes for other U.S. allies.
Last month, the department released a “retooling” document for FMS sales, detailing a 10-point plan to streamline the process and improve efficiency in providing capabilities to allies. The points include strategic goals such as developing regional approaches to arms transfers and promoting FMS cases based on the goals described in the National Security Strategy. But they also acknowledge a need to improve security cooperation officer training and modernize the notification process to Congress to avoid duplication of efforts while ensuring transparency.
The U.S. government has provided about $40 billion in military aid to Ukraine to date and “used pretty much every tool in our security cooperation toolkit to get things done,” Brown told reporters on the show floor here. That aid has come in many forms: presidential drawdown authorities, direct transfers from Defense Department stocks, excess defense articles, third-party transfers and direct commercial sale re-exports, as well as foreign military sales and grant assistance, and licensed direct commercial sales, he noted.
“The bottom line [is] that the scale of what we’re doing there is historic,” Brown said. “Things that used to take months and weeks to get through the approval process across the interagency [are] happening in a manner of hours.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also prompted the State Department to prioritize transitioning nations away from Soviet-made equipment, Brown said.
Multiple European nations have donated their aging Russian capabilities to Ukraine over the past year and a half. The Czech Republic, Greece, and Slovenia have sent over T-72 tanks, BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles and a slew of armored personnel carriers, with commitments from NATO member nations to replace that equipment with more modern, interoperable vehicles.
The State Department’s goal now is to help incentivize such nations to continue donating equipment to Ukraine that will be useful in Kyiv’s defense against Russia, as well as help to transition those countries away from Soviet-era systems in the future.
“We look first to make sure countries can help backfill Ukraine … and then we try to backfill them,” he added.
Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.