Ukrainian defence minister Oleksii Reznikov has said he expects the first F-16 fighter planes from the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway to be ready to deploy within six months.
Reznikov’s comments to a podcast for German newspaper Bild will step up pressure on the Dutch government to speed up delivery of the planes.
Last week the defence ministry said the first aircraft would not be available until the end of next year because the Dutch air force is still training its own pilots and technicians on the new F-35 jets, which are replacing the F-16s.
Ukraine expects all 42 Dutch F-16s to be transferred eventually, but currently 24 are needed to carry out Nato duties while the others are tied up in a dispute with a US defence company which has signed a deal to buy them.
Caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte did not say how soon the jets could be delivered when Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the Netherlands a week ago.
Reznikov said he expected the European jets to be ready to go into service next spring. “We’ve started the training courses for our pilots, engineers and technicians. That can take at least six months, maybe a little longer,” he said.
“We need to end Russia’s air superiority, as well as on the the battlefield. F-16 jets have become a part of air defence.
“We can increase our capacity in the air and protect the airspace around our cities. That would be a big breakthrough for us – a very big one.”
Denmark has said it hopes to supply six of its 19 F-16s to Ukraine before the end of this year, with another eight being send next year as it completes the transition to F-35s.