Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen (R) react as they sit in a F-16 fighter jet in the hangar of the Skrydstrup Airbase in Vojens, northern Denmark (Getty Images)

BELFAST — The long-awaited first tranche of F-16 fighter jets are in the process of being transferred to Ukraine from their European owners, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the NATO public forum in Washington today.

“The transfer of F-16 jets is underway, coming from Denmark, coming from the Netherlands,” he said. “Those jets will be flying in the skies of Ukraine this summer, to make sure that Ukraine can continue to effectively defend itself against Russian aggression.”

In a supporting joint statement, US President Joe Biden, Dutch Prime Minister Dick Schoof and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen confirmed the transfer of F-16s is in motion but added they were “unable to provide additional details at this time due to operational security concerns.”

It remains unclear how many aircraft have been included in the first tranche of deliveries or where they will be based.

The US and European leaders also spoke of their gratitude to Belgium and Norway “for committing to provide further aircraft, and to the other members of the Air Force Capability Coalition for their support.”

The deliveries of the fourth-generation aircraft represents a major potential uplift in capability for Ukraine, which has been largely relying on Soviet-era MiG-29 and Su-27 combat jets to counter Russia’s invasion, though officials and experts have said it won’t be a silver bullet.

Analysts have consistently said that the second hand, US-made planes will be readied to intercept Russian cruise and other surface-to-air missiles, or potentially deployed as air support assets for ground operations.

Armed with AGM-88 HARM (high-speed anti-radiation missile) weapons, capable of striking Russian surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, the aircraft could also be pivotal to developing “local air superiority,” according to a 2023 RAND report.

Last month, however, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank noted that Ukraine needs 12 F-16 squadrons, equivalent to 216 aircraft, if it is to successfully develop air support for land-based operations, by dedicating four squadrons each to suppression of enemy air defense, air interdiction and counter air operations.

Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway have all agreed to supply around 80 F-16s under an air force capability coalition for Ukraine, which includes 16 nations in all. Additionally, Denmark, Romania, the UK and the US host Ukraine pilot training for the jet.

“I am grateful to the United States, Denmark, and the Netherlands for taking practical steps to achieve the goal of all Ukrainians: to strengthen the Ukrainian air force with F-16s,” said Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on X (formerly Twitter). “F-16s will also be used to bolster Ukraine’s air defense. I am confident that they will assist us in better protecting Ukrainians from brutal Russian attacks, such as this week’s strike on the Okhmatdyt children’s hospital in Kyiv.”

I am grateful to the United States, Denmark, and the Netherlands for taking practical steps to achieve the goal of all Ukrainians: to strengthen the Ukrainian air force with F-16s.

I am grateful to Belgium and Norway for their commitment to providing us with their F-16 jets.…

— Volodymyr Zelenskyy / Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) July 10, 2024

He also noted that the air force capability coalition is expected to be “strengthened even further” as new “participants” are set to join it. Speaking on the sidelines of the NATO forum, Zelenskyy also emphasized that Ukraine needs a significant number of aircraft to effectively counter Russian forces.

The F-16 announcement comes on the heels of Biden and a host of European leaders committing to the supply of five additional air defense systems to Ukraine.

Setting out the plans in a separate joint statement, issued Tuesday, they said more Patriot batteries will be donated by the US, Germany, and Romania, while the Netherlands will donate Patriot components as part of a collaboration with “other” partners, that will result in the supply of one full Patriot system. Additionally, Italy will supply one SAMP-T system.

“These five strategic air defense systems will help to protect Ukrainian cities, civilians, and soldiers, and we are coordinating closely with the Ukrainian government so that these systems can be utilized rapidly,” said the world leaders.

They are also working to deliver “additional strategic air defense systems” for Ukraine.