The National Guard still has enough money on hand to finish training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets despite the U.S. running out of funds to send additional weapons and assistance to Kyiv, the head of the Guard Gen. Dan Hokanson said Thursday.
President Joe Biden announced in August that the U.S. would begin training Ukrainian pilots on the F-16 as part of a multinational effort to provide Ukraine with the advanced fighter jets. Pilot training began in October at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona.
Since then, the Ukraine war fund that the U.S. has used to send billions of dollars in other weapons systems and assistance to Ukraine has run out of money while Congress has struggled to pass new aid.
The lack of funding has meant the U.S. has not been able to send any new weapons packages to Ukraine despite a brutal bombardment campaign by Russia. But the pilot training has been able to continue, Hokanson said.
“We do have the resources to continue the training that’s already started,” Hokanson said, and get that initial tranche completed this year. “If we decide to increase that, obviously we’ll need the resources to train additional pilots and ground support personnel.”
The latest legislation that would have approved more than $60 billion in aid for Ukraine was scuttled by a small group of House Republicans earlier this week over U.S.-Mexico border policy; a last-ditch effort Thursday the Senate was again trying to get support for a standalone bill that would fund both Ukraine and Israel’s defense needs.
Ukraine’s leaders have asked for fighter jets from the West since the earliest days of the war. For the first year and a half, the U.S. and other allied partners focused on providing other weapons systems, citing the jets’ cost, concerns about further provoking Russia, the number of deadly air defense systems Russia had covering Ukrainian airspace and the difficulty of maintaining the jets.
Ukraine’s leaders have argued that the F-16 is far superior to their existing fleet of Soviet-era warplanes. In some cases, the U.S. has found ways to deliver some of the advanced capabilities without providing the actual jets.
For example, Air Force engineers found ways to modify the HARM air-to-surface anti-radiation missile so that it could be carried and fired by Ukrainian-flown MiGs. The missile and its targeting system enable the jet to identify enemy ground radars and destroy them.
Tara Copp is a Pentagon correspondent for the Associated Press. She was previously Pentagon bureau chief for Sightline Media Group.