Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said Monday that the provision of F-16 fighter jets to Kyiv will give Ukraine’s military an “incremental” boost but said it wouldn’t be a “game-changer” in the conflict.
“The F-16 is a reasonable option for them for a whole bunch of reasons,” Kendall said. “It will give Ukrainians an increment of capabilities that they don’t have right now. But it’s not going to be a dramatic game-changer, as far as I’m concerned, for their total military capabilities.”
The US announced on Friday that it would sign off on European deliveries of F-16s for Ukraine, but there’s still a long way to go before the planes reach Kyiv. No countries have officially committed to sending their F-16s, and the current focus is on supporting training for Ukrainian pilots.
Estimates vary significantly on how long it might take to train Ukrainian pilots. Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy, previously said the training could take up to two years, but Kendall said he expected the Ukrainians to only need a few months.
“Everything we’ve done with the Ukrainians, they’ve shown a capacity to learn. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more motivated individuals, in terms of wanting to get into the fight and make a difference,” he said.
Kendall acknowledged that the West providing F-16s “is seen by some as an escalatory act on our part.” Russia has warned that sending the aircraft to Ukraine comes with “colossal risks,” a warning that was dismissed by President Biden.