WASHINGTON (HRNW) — President Joe Biden’s decision to allow allies to train Ukrainian forces on how to operate F-16 fighter jets — and eventually to provide the aircraft themselves — seemed like an abrupt change in position but was in fact one that came after months of internal debate and quiet talks with allies.
Biden announced during last week’s Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima, Japan, that the U.S. would join the F-16 coalition. His green light came after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spent months pressing the West to provide his forces with American-made jets as he tries to repel Russia’s now 15-month-old grinding invasion.
Long shadowing the administration’s calculation were worries that such a move could escalate tensions with Russia. U.S. officials also argued that learning to fly and logistically support the advanced F-16 would be difficult and time consuming.
But over the past three months, administration officials shifted toward the view that it was time to provide Ukraine’s pilots with the training and aircraft needed for the country’s long-term security needs, according to three officials familiar with the deliberations who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Still, the change in Biden’s position seemed rather sudden.
In February, Biden was insistent in an interview with ABC’s David Muir that Ukraine “doesn’t need F-16s now” and that “I am ruling it out for now.” And in March, a top Pentagon policy official, Colin Kahl, told U.S. lawmakers that even if the president approved F-16s for Ukraine, it could take as long as two years to get Ukrainian pilots trained and equipped.
But as the administration was publicly playing down the prospect of F-16s for Ukraine in the near term, an internal debate was heating up.
Quiet White House discussions stepped up in February, around the time that Biden visited Ukraine and Poland, according to the U.S. officials.