“The Russians have 1,000 fourth and fifth generation fighters,” said Army General Mark Milley. “If you’re going to engage Russia in the air, you’re going to need a substantial number of fighter jets.”
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US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday that European allies, including Portugal, are coordinating to train Ukrainian pilots in F-16 fighters, but the Pentagon warns that they will not be a “magic bullet” against Russian invaders.
“There are no magic weapons”said Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking with Austin at a Pentagon news conference, noting that supplying ten F-16s could cost $2 billion (1 8 billion euros), including maintenance.
“The Russians have a thousand fourth and fifth generation fighters, so if you’re going to engage Russia in the air, you’re going to need a substantial number of fighter jets. fourth and fifth generation,” he declared. As a result, he continued, the Allies did the right thing by first providing Ukraine with a significant amount of integrated air defense to cover the battlefield.
As for the F-16s, he said they have a future role as part of Ukraine’s air defense, but “it will take considerable time to build an air force of the required size, capacity and scale”.
Austin said the allies recognized that in addition to training, Ukraine would also need to sustain and maintain aircraft and have sufficient munitions, but warned that air defense systems remain the weapons Kiev needs most to control its airspace.
Austin said the defense ministers of the Netherlands and Denmark are working with the United States on this effort, and that Norway, Belgium, Portugal and Poland have also offered to contribute to the training. In addition, he said that the allies will create a fund so that other nations can contribute.
“We look forward to more countries joining this important initiative,” Austin called, adding that the training is “an important example of long-term commitment to Ukraine’s security.”
Earlier in the day, marked by the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting in Washington, Austin said he expects training of Ukrainian pilots on US-made F-16 fighter jets to begin in the coming weeks, bolstering Ukraine. in the long term, but not necessarily as part of a spring counteroffensive against Russia.
Austin and Milley spoke at the end of that virtual meeting of dozens of countries to discuss military support for Ukraine. Ukrainian leaders gave an update on the war effort and the military gaps facing their troops. Austin said the biggest of these remains ground air defense.
“We will have to push ourselves and keep looking for creative ways to increase our industrial capacity”Austin said before Defense leaders began their closed session. “The stakes are high. But the cause is just and our will is strong.”
European leaders have said they are in talks about which countries might have F-16s available. The United States has long been hesitant to supply Ukraine with advanced aircraft, and last weekend President Joe Biden agreed to allow other nations to send their own fighter jets to kyiv.
“We expect training to begin in the next few weeks,” Austin said. “This will further strengthen and enhance the capabilities of the Ukrainian Air Force in the long term. And it will complement our security arrangements in the short and medium term. This new joint effort sends a powerful message about our unity and our long-term commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense.”
Several European allies have expressed their support for the training of Ukrainian pilots in recent days.
Portugal is available to train Ukrainian F-16 pilots, but for now rules out sending the planes, saying it “does not have an unlimited number” of these aircraft.