The Ukrainian air force will receive 61 Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters from Denmark and the Netherlands, marking a major milestone in the West’s support of the embattled nation in its war against Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky posted that Kyiv is to receive the fighters, along with images of himself with Dutch president Mark Rutte and Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen.

Zelensky in F-16 with Danish PM

Source: Facebook page of Volodymyr Zelensky

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen in an F-16B

“I thank Mark Rutte, his entire team, and the Dutch people for the decision on F-16s for Ukraine,” wrote Zelensky in a Facebook post. “Our warriors will receive 42 great combat aircraft.”

“I thank Mette Frederiksen and the entire country of Denmark, as well as each and every Dane who has Ukraine at their hearts, for their extremely practical assistance. 19 jets. Expanding the training mission. A powerful algorithm for cooperation with partners.”

Zelensky also thanked US President Joe Biden and the American people for their support in the war following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

On 8 August the US Department of Defense formally approved a plan by Washington’s European allies to conduct training for Ukrainian pilots and ground crew on the F-16s. Last week European officials, including Dutch defence minister Kajsa Ollongren, indicated that Washington had cleared the transfer of the aircraft to Ukraine.

The delivery schedule for the aircraft is not clear. 

Zelensky, on a tour of Europe, also met with Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson, who revealed that Ukrainian pilots are testing the Saab Gripen.

“We discussed further steps to transfer them to Ukraine,” wrote Zelensky. 

Ukraine has long called for the west to supply fixed-wing combat aircraft.

While the F-16 is an obvious choice given its prominence in NATO combat fleets, the USA has been somewhat reluctant to clear their dispatch to Ukraine. American officials have insisted that other systems are more relevant to the Ukrainian military, and that deploying F-16s in limited numbers will do little to improve Kyiv’s overall situation. 

Analysts have also said that the damage to Ukrainian runways and bases could make it challenging to operate the F-16, particularly given its low-slung engine intake.

The Gripen, which is optimised for operations from more basic conditions, has been viewed as better suited for conditions in Ukraine, but far fewer examples are available.

Cirium fleets data indicates that Denmark has 43 in-service F-16A/Bs with an average age of 39 years. The Netherlands is listed as having 41 F-16A/Bs, of which 26 are in-service and 15 are in storage. The average age of the Dutch F-16 fleet is 34.5 years.

The F-16 fleets of both nations are powered by the Pratt & Whitney F100 engine.