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The House Armed Services Committee has determined the possibility of sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine “is not a wise use of the resources that are necessary to win the fight,” according to the top-ranking Democrat on the committee.
“The honest truth is the cost of trying to get the F-16 up and ready to operate in Ukraine, even if we basically said there’s nothing more important than that one weapon system, and spent all of our time and all of our resources on doing it, best case scenario, we could maybe get some operational F-16’s into Ukraine within a year, maybe eight months if we really pushed it,” ranking member Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington, said at a hearing on Ukraine oversight.
Smith added that the F-16 would “struggle to survive” on the battlefield.
“You don’t just have to train the pilots,” said Smith. “You have to train the mechanics, you have to have airfields that can accommodate the F-16 and you have to have the spare parts to make it work.”
More on the divide over supplying F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine: As some outspoken Republican lawmakers threaten to block future aid to Ukraine, a small group of House GOP members who traveled to the country recently vowed to consider a list of key weapons and other crucial necessities during a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, sources familiar with the meeting told CNN.
Zelensky, who met with House Foreign Affairs committee chairman Michael McCaul and four other House GOP members, told the group he planned to send them a list of weapons, which includes F-16 fighter jets, that he believes are necessary to speed up the end of the war with Russia.
Zelenky’s specific goal of obtaining US F-16 fighter jets has become an increasingly controversial ask. Both President Joe Biden and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have previously opposed such a move due to concerns about how it could escalate the conflict.
But the argument against providing F-16s is becoming more difficult to make as senior military leaders have privately acknowledged to GOP lawmakers in recent days that those weapons would help Ukraine win the war, according to a source familiar.
Last week, Gen. Christopher Cavoli, supreme allied commander for Europe and head of US European command, told 10 GOP lawmakers in a closed-door briefing that F-16s would help Ukraine win. Asked if that was the case, Cavoli said “yes,” the source said, confirming details first reported by Politico.
While Cavoli’s comments go further than what senior US officials have said publicly, they also reflect diverging views within the Pentagon – notably splitting with the more cautious approach of Milley who has long been wary of any move that could provoke Russian escalation, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
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With previous reporting from Alayna Treene and Zachary Cohen