US endorses allies providing F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine

President Biden told G7 leaders that the US will support a joint effort to train Ukrainian pilots, ITV News' political editor Robert Peston reports from Japan

The US has endorsed a plan for Ukraine pilots to train on American-made F-16 fighter jets supplied by allies, a senior US administration official said.

Ukraine will be able to get some of the planes from other countries—though not directly from the US.

It is a significant move from the White House, after US President Joe Biden previously refused requests from Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy to permit the use of the US-made aircraft.

The timing for when Ukraine will receive the jets - and which countries will provide them - remains unclear, but the official said the F-16s will not be used for Ukraine's upcoming counteroffensive against Russia.

President Biden told G7 leaders on Friday the US will support a joint effort to train Ukrainian pilots on the fourth generation aircraft, including F-16s.

G7 leaders pose for a family photo at the Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island in Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima prefecture, western Japan. Credit: AP

The G7 includes Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada and Italy, as well as the European Union.

The training is not expected to happen in the US, but instead take place entirely in Europe.

However, US personnel will take part in the training - alongside allies and partners. It's expected to start in the coming weeks and take several months to complete.

The decision marks a stark turnaround for Biden, who said earlier this year that he did not believe that Ukraine needed the F-16s.

The decision to support the training initiative reportedly came together very quickly, and was made by Biden following meetings with G7 leaders in Hiroshima, Japan - where the topic of F-16s to Ukraine was a key point of discussion.

“As the training takes place over the coming months, our coalition of countries participating in this effort will decide when to actually provide jets, how many we will provide, and who will provide them,” a US official said.

The official added: “To date, the United States and our allies and partners have focused on providing Ukraine with the vast majority of the systems, weapons, and training it requires to conduct offensive operations this spring and summer.

"Discussions about improving the Ukrainian Air Force reflect our long-term commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been pushing particularly hard in recent days for countries that have the jets in their stockpile to send them to Ukraine.

President Zelenskyy, who is on his way to the G7 meeting, tweeted to say he welcomed the "historic decision”.

“This will greatly enhance our army in the sky. I count on discussing the practical implementation of this decision at the #G7 summit in Hiroshima,” he added.

On Friday, Mr Sunak told ITV News Russia needs to understand "they can't just outlast us in this conflict, that we will continue to defend Ukraine."

Speaking to ITV News political editor, Robert Peston, the PM added: “One of the common topics of conversation I’ll be having and have been having with my fellow leaders is about the longer term security agreements that we put in place in Ukraine, to deter future Russian aggression.”

The prime minister tells ITV News' Political Editor Robert Peston the UK will continue to support Ukraine

Later on Friday, Mr Sunak and his fellow G7 leaders announced their vow to tighten punishments for Russia's 15-month invasion of Ukraine.

“Our support for Ukraine will not waver,” the G7 leaders said in a statement released after closed-door meetings, pledging “to stand together against Russia’s illegal, unjustifiable, and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine.”

“Russia started this war and can end this war,” they said.

Mr Putin’s nuclear threats against Ukraine, along with North Korea ’s months-long barrage of missile tests and China’s rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal, have resonated with Japan’s push to make nuclear disarmament a major part of the G7 summit.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...