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Ukrainian Air Force General Says Some F-16s Will Be 'Stored Outside' Ukraine

Ukrainian Air Force Brigadier General Serhiy Holubtsov
Ukrainian Air Force Brigadier General Serhiy Holubtsov

The chief of aviation in Ukraine's Air Force says some of the dozens of advanced F-16 aircraft pledged to Kyiv by Western allies will be stored abroad to avoid them being hit in Russian attacks in Ukraine.

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Brigadier General Serhiy Holubtsov told Donbas.Realities of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service in an extended interview that such warplanes abroad will help maintain an operational fleet corresponding to the country's Western-trained pilot corps.

"There are a certain number of aircraft that will be stored at secure air bases, outside of Ukraine, so that they are not targeted here," Holubtsov said, "And this will be our reserve in case of need for replacement of faulty planes during routine maintenance."

President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have stepped up warnings since the full-scale invasion began in February 2022 that they might target Ukrainian war assets stationed abroad, although doing so could risk escalation with NATO.

The storage abroad of planes or other Ukrainian military assets could "pose a serious danger of NATO being drawn further into the conflict," Putin said last year.

NATO and its members' leaders, including most recently German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on June 2, have repeatedly warned they are prepared "to defend every square inch" of alliance territory.

The head of the Russian Duma's Defense Committee, Andrei Kartapolov, was quoted by RIA Novosti last week as saying NATO bases hosting Ukrainian F-16s would be regarded as "legitimate targets."

Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway have combined to pledge more than 60 F-16s to Ukraine since Washington reluctantly gave approval for the U.S.-designed planes to be provided by allies.

But Holubtsov said more countries could do so as they gradually replace aging F-16s with F-35 aircraft.

The New York Times reported in March that Ukraine might receive just six out of dozens of the U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets promised by its Western allies by July, in part because Ukraine wasn't fully prepared to maintain or fly them despite the ongoing training of Ukrainian pilots in the West.

Holubtsov said his estimate of the number of F-16 squadrons needed to gain air superiority locally was evolving especially with the provision of U.S. Patriot surface-to-air missile systems playing "a major role" that could combine with F-16s as the latter became available.

Ukraine has struggled to defend the area around the northeastern city of Kharkiv since a new Russian offensive began there as Kyiv's allies ran into delays in hoped-for provision of weapons, artillery, and other military equipment.

U.S. President Joe Biden's administration recently said it had changed its approach to allow Ukraine to use U.S.-provided weapons to strike at Russian forces and other legitimate military targets in Russia.

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    Yaroslav Krechko

    Yaroslav Krechko is a TV host and correspondent for Donbas.Realities of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. Krechko, who has worked for RFE/RL since 2017, covers defense, security, and intelligence topics, and has covered the conflict in eastern Ukraine since it began in 2014.

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    Donbas.Realities is a regional news outlet of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

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