Denmark and the Netherlands, already heading a coalition of 11 nations responsible for training pilots and ground personnel, announce significant fighter jet contribution.
Denmark and the Netherlands have announced that they will donate 19 and “up to 42” F-16 multirole fighter jets, respectively, to Ukraine. Other F-16 operators are likely to follow suit and announce additional donations in the coming months. Denmark currently owns 43 F-16s, of which 30 are operational. The Netherlands has 42 F-16s remaining in its fleet. The agreement was hailed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as “historic.” On Sunday, Zelensky made trips to both the Netherlands and Denmark.
On Sunday, speaking at a joint press conference with Zelensky at Eindhoven Airport, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the Netherlands would “commit to delivering F-16 aircraft to Ukraine once the conditions for such a transfer have been met.” Rutte also stated that “at this moment, the Netherlands still owns 42 F-16s. Out of these 42, we need planes to help train in Denmark and later on in Romania.” The Netherlands is currently transitioning to the F-35 and plans to purchase a total of 52.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen met with Zelensky at Skrydstrup Air Base on Sunday. Frederiksen said her country will donate 19 F-16s and “hopefully” six around the new year, eight more next year, and five more in 2025. “Please take this donation as a token of Denmark’s unwavering support for your country’s fight for freedom,” Frederiksen said. Recently, Denmark announced it plans to retire its F-16 fleet in 2025 instead of 2027. Denmark’s F-35 fleet will be operational sooner than expected, which is the main reason behind the decision. Denmark has committed to buying 27 F-35s, but more may follow.
Donations of Western-built fighter jets are the icing on the cake for Ukraine’s armed forces and the most recent in a long line of weapon systems that include small arms weapons, ammunition, anti-armor and anti-air weapons, artillery systems, drones, helicopters, tanks and other armored vehicles, and Soviet-era fighters. It has been a long road to reach this milestone. Likely due to fears of escalating the conflict as well as assigning higher priority to the donation of other weapon systems, NATO members long refrained from supplying fighter jets to Ukraine’s armed forces. Finally, in April of this year, over a year after the invasion of Ukraine commenced, Poland donated four Soviet-era MiG-29s, followed soon after by additional donations by both Poland and Slovakia . In May, the U.S. announced it would allow its Western allies to supply advanced fighter jets to Ukraine, including American-made F-16s. A few days before the announcement on Sunday, the U.S. government announced it will move quickly to approve donations of Danish and Dutch F-16s to Ukraine.
Denmark and the Netherlands are also spearheading a coalition of 11 nations responsible for training pilots and ground personnel. The coalition also includes Canada, Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, plus Ukraine. NATO allies Denmark and the Netherlands initiated the effort in June, and last month coalition members signed a joint statement that marks the official launch of the F-16 training effort with the aim of training pilots and ground support staff and eventually delivering F-16s to Ukraine. Other F-16 operators are likely to follow suit and announce additional donations in the future. Training is already underway in Denmark, and the coalition has also decided to set up a training center in Romania to sustain all training efforts and, once that is up and running, training will continue there. It is important to understand that operating F-16s is not just about learning to fly and maintain them. The F-16 is a system of systems that also includes the supply of ordnance such as rounds for the 20mm cannon; air-to-air and air-to-ground-missiles; smart munitions; and bombs, as well as chaff and flares for self-protection.
It will be interesting to see if bulk shipments of F-16s will be a game-changer in the conflict or more of an add-on to Ukraine’s warfighting capabilities. In any case, a large fleet of F-16s will take the Ukrainian Air Force to a whole new level. Although deliveries will commence around the new year, combat-capable Ukrainian F-16s will likely not be available until well into 2024.