Exclusive — Pentagon Tells Senators It Opposes Sending F-16s to Ukraine, Citing Costs, Time Constraints

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hear
Mariam Zuhaib/AP

The Pentagon dismissed the idea of sending advanced U.S. fighter jets to Ukraine in a recent letter to a bipartisan group of senators, saying the move would be cost prohibitive and take too long to be beneficial for Ukrainians as they continue their war with Russia.

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told the eight senators in the March 21 correspondence, obtained by Breitbart News, that while combat planes are on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s wish list of items, they are only the “seventh priority capability area” and would “likely consume a large portion” of the department’s remaining funding.

The group of eight lawmakers, led by Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), had written in a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on March 14 that they believed Austin needed to “take a hard look” at sending Ukraine F-16s specifically because they could be a “game changer on the battlefield.”

Kahl wrote back to them, “The Department assesses that F-16 aircraft would not provide Ukraine with a significant capability advantage in the near term due to the current battlefield environment.”

Read a copy of the letter below:

Kahl cited timing and costs as reasons behind the department’s decision to withhold the U.S. aircraft.

Training Ukrainian pilots, he said, would take at least a year, while refurbishing used F-16s to send to Ukraine could take 18 months and sending the country brand new ones would take about six years.

Kahl also noted the United States has provided $33 billion in taxpayer-funded security assistance to Ukraine.

Ukraine Tensions US Ukrainian servicemen unpack shipment of military aid delivered as part of the United States of America's security assistance to Ukraine, at the Boryspil airport, outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 11, 2022. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday the Ukraine crisis has grown into "the most dangerous moment" for Europe in decades, while his top diplomat held icy talks with her Moscow counterpart who said the Kremlin won't accept lectures from the West.

Ukrainian servicemen unpack a shipment of military aid delivered as part of the United States of America’s security assistance to Ukraine, at the Boryspil airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, February 11, 2022. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

“The Department assesses the cost of a substantial number of new F-16 aircraft would be significant,” he wrote, noting as an example that 72 new F-16 aircraft would cost more than $10 billion plus maintenance and other expenses.

“If the United States were to support these costs, it would likely consume a large portion of the remaining U.S. security assistance authority and funding available to the Department,” he warned.

He offered to provide a “more fulsome analysis” in a classified briefing.

Kelly’s office did not respond to a request for comment on his reaction to the Pentagon’s position.

Like President Joe Biden in his response in a recent ABC interview to questions about F-16s, Kahl left open the possibility that the Pentagon’s stance could change if circumstances in Ukraine change, though it remains unclear what the Biden administration’s specific end goal is as it continues to provide other military supplies.

In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) asked Austin if he thought there was a “real chance” of “significant Ukrainian advancements” against Russia before the winter, to which Austin affirmed there was.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) pressed Austin on F-16s at the hearing, observing that “some of our allies are providing planes” but that the U.S. would be able to provide the best ones. Austin replied by emphasizing that the lengthy duration of time delivering F-16s would take would not be advantageous given “spring fighting season is in front of us.”

Two armed US-made F-16V fighters fly over an air force base in Chiayi, southern Taiwan on January 5, 2022.

Two armed US-made F-16V fighters fly over an air force base in Chiayi, southern Taiwan, on January 5, 2022.

The Pentagon rejecting escalating U.S. military power in Ukraine by sending F-16s comes as pressure builds on the Biden administration to ramp up its support for the country.

In February, Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME) led 15 House Republicans and Democrats in asking Biden to “provide Ukraine with increased air superiority capability, including the F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft requested by Kiev, or similar fourth-generation aircraft, as soon as possible.”

They contended, “The provision of such aircraft is necessary to help Ukraine protect its airspace, particularly in light of renewed Russian offensives and considering the expected increase in large-scale combat operations.”

Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) recently told NBC’s Meet the Press he was frustrated that Biden has “slow-rolled critical military weapons systems,” adding that “it took nine months to get them the Patriots and I fear the same thing is happening right now with the F-16s​.”

Views on if or how to support Ukraine have been varied, however, and not all members are on board with U.S. taxpayers funding a multibillion-dollar overseas war that has no clear foreseeable ending.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has vowed that the House will not continue to support writing a “blank check” to Ukraine, and 11 House Republicans, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), announced in February they were backing a “Ukraine Fatigue Resolution” to end all funding to Ukraine and urge instead for a peace agreement.

Write to Ashley Oliver at aoliver@breitbart.com. Follow her on Twitter at @asholiver.


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