Denmark will provide Ukraine with 19 of its legacy F-16 fighters to aid Kyiv following Russia’s large-scale invasion last year, with the platforms part of a multinational aircraft and training programme to deliver combat air to the Ukrainian Air Force.

The development follows reports published in the BBC and Financial Times that the US State Department had given permission for countries to provide F-16 fighters in their own inventory to Ukraine. The fighter is designed and manufactured by US defence prime Lockheed Martin.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Denmark and the Netherlands on 20 August, before holding a press conference at a Danish Air Base where he confirmed the upcoming transfer of the 19 Danish F-16s to Ukraine.

“We have agreed on the transfer of 19 F-16 jets by Denmark. This is a very powerful support for us. Training missions are already starting. Today, we have talked to our men and women who are studying and will work with F-16s here and then in our skies,” stated Zelenskyy, according to a Ukrainian Ministry of Defence (MoD) release.

Earlier in the day, in a joint briefing with Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Zelenskyy said that the Netherlands had become the first country to agree to supply F-16s after the completion of a multinational pilot training programme, according to the Ukrainian MoD.

“I would rather not talk about the number [of F-16 aircraft], {Prime Minister] Mark [Rutte] said that we are discussing the number of 42, but we are going to have a conversation with our colleagues from Denmark as well. As Mark said, it is a joint decision on providing the aircraft. I think it will be fair to talk about the number a little later,” Zelenskyy was quoted as saying.

With the number 42 mentioned, this indicates that the Netherlands could supply 23 F-16 fighters from its own inventory. However, the delivery will be protracted, even with a condensed pilot training programme, with the likelihood that combat-capable Ukrainian F-16 will not be available until well into 2024.

Earlier this year, it was disclosed that Denmark and the Netherlands would lead the Ukrainian pilot training initiative, following US approval. The US appears to be reticent to play a direct role in the provision of F-16 aircraft or training to Ukraine, preferring to allow European partners to shoulder the responsibility.

Ubiquity of US fighters in Europe

The provision by Denmark and the Netherlands of F-16 fighters to Ukraine has been made possible due to the two countries’ acquisition of the US F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighter, with the programme being led by Lockheed Martin.

So successful has the F-35 fighter been in Europe’s own acquisition programmes – the platform has never lost a competition into which it entered – that the aircraft is becoming the nominal air combat platform across Nato. Indeed, the success of Lockheed Martin in particular in Europe is marked, with the company either having supplied or committed to the supply of its F-16 and/or F-35 platforms to a range of countries on the continent to date, including Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Turkey, and the UK.

Another factor to consider is that Lockheed Martin is still making new-build F-16 fighters, now in the Block 70/72 configuration, with the production line running until at least 2026. With Denmark and the Netherlands both looking to sell on their existing F-16 fleets, the removal of these secondhand platforms from the international market could in turn offer opportunities for the US to profit.

Turkey could be customer for additional F-16 fighters, with Ankara and Washington recently coming to an agreement in exchange for Turkey’s approval of Sweden’s entry into Nato. Turkey’s acquisition could be for up to 40 new F-16 Block 70/72 aircraft and upgrade packages for up to 79 of Turkey’s existing F-16 fleet.

Nato member Turkey was removed from the US-led F-35 programme in 2019 after Ankara signed a deal to acquire the S-400 air defence system with Russia.