NATO-member countries have started the process of transferring Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.

The long-awaited milestone was announced on 10 July in Washington, DC, where the 32 national leaders from the Euro-Atlantic military alliance are meeting for an annual summit.

Top US diplomat Antony Blinken confirmed that the fighter transfer has started. “The F-16s are on their way,” the US secretary of state said at the event. “The transfer is happening as we speak.”

Initial aircraft will come from the Netherlands and Denmark, which were the first countries to commit their fighter aircraft to Ukraine, in 2023. A statement issued jointly by Danish leader Mette Frederiksen, new Dutch prime minister Dick Schoof and US president Joe Biden confirmed the transfer is underway.

“Ukraine will be flying operational F-16s this summer,” they say. It is unclear how many jets are included in the initial tranche.

Ukraine livery F-16s

Source: Mike Mareen/Shutterstock

Nearly 100 Lockheed Martin F-16s have been pledged to Ukraine from European air forces, on top of a commitment from France to provide Dassault Mirage 2000 fighters

Various NATO members have pledged nearly 100 F-16s to Kyiv, including 42 jets from the Netherlands, 19 from Denmark and 30 from Belgium. Norway initially committed two F-16s from its fleet but upped the number to six ahead of the summit.

While the USA is not providing aircraft, transferring the American-made fighters requires approval from the Biden Administration. The US Air Force is also supporting efforts to train Ukrainian aviators and maintenance technicians.

Denmark F-35

Source: Royal Danish Air Force

Countries providing older F-16s to Ukraine are in the process of acquiring Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters

Dutch fighter pilot Major General Arnoud Stallmann has been appointed commander of the international coalition supplying F-16s to Ukraine.

NATO officials have declined to provide details about the location or date of the fighter handover, citing Russian interest in targeting the long-sought aircraft.

At least initially, the fighters will likely be used in a more-conservative air-defence role, rather than for air-to-air combat or close-air support.

“First and foremost, the priority is self-defence and air defence,” Dutch defence minister Ruben Brekelmans said in Washington on 10 June. He left open the possibility that the role could expand as more F-16s arrive in Ukraine. “We will keep training Ukrainian pilots so they can be used for more offensive manoeuvres and also to help ground troops in the future.”

The USA recently lifted many restrictions on American-provided weapons being used to strike targets inside Russian territory, citing Ukraine’s need to effectively combat a Russian offensive in the border region around Kharkiv.

Separately from the F-16 summit announcement, nine NATO members also pledged new donations of air defence batteries, including the USA, Germany, the Netherlands, Romania, Italy, Canada, the UK, Norway and Spain. These will include batteries of the Raytheon Patriot system and Kongsberg-Raytheon National Advanced Surface-to-Air System.