Belgium will not be supplying aircraft to Ukraine, but the country is willing to train Ukrainian fighter pilots to fly F-16s if provided by other countries, confirmed the cabinet of Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.
Ukraine has long been asking for modern, Western fighter jets in its fight against Russia. Just last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Italy, Germany, France and the UK to set up a so-called "jet coalition."
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron made it clear on Monday that they wanted to train Ukrainian pilots to fly modern, Western fighter jets. "Several more European countries are willing to do this," said Macron, adding that talks with the US are also ongoing.
Belgium is one of the countries that wants to train Ukrainian pilots, specifically on how to fly F-16s, De Croo's cabinet confirmed to De Morgen. "The issue of F-16s was also raised during the meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Prime Minister at the summit in The Hague earlier this month. We said that we cannot supply aircraft, but we can train pilots."
Requesting American permission
Belgium is unable to deliver F-16s because the country's aircraft is all being used for the defence of the Baltic (NATO allies Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and Benelux airspace.
Additionally, Belgium's F-16s are being phased out of circulation once they reach 8,000 flight hours, which will be the case for two aircraft at the end of 2023. Both aircraft will then be used for spare parts for the rest of the Belgian fleet and for educating and training technical personnel, VRT reports.
The Belgian Air Force has been flying the F-16 from US manufacturer Lockheed Martin since the late 1970s, and therefore has a wealth of experience with the aircraft that the Ukrainian Air Force lacks.
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Whether other countries will still send fighter aircraft towards Ukraine remains to be seen. Given that F-16s are US-made, however, sending them would require permission from the US first.
Last Friday, the Belgian government also gave the go-ahead for a new €92 million aid package for Ukraine. Half of that amount will go to military support, and the rest will be used to support the civilian population and ensure the Belgian diplomatic presence in Ukraine.