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The United States is to lead a newly formed coalition focused on developing Ukraine’s air force in a bid to bolster the country’s long-term capability to defend itself against Russian attack.

The initiative was announced by US Defense Secretary Lloyd J Austin III on 11 October 2023 following the 16th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG) in Brussels. The meeting marked the formation of several distinct coalitions focused on building Ukraine’s future military capabilities that involve the more than 50 countries that make up the UDCG.

“By leading this capability coalition the United States will co-ordinate closely with Ukraine and other partners with the focus on developing Ukraine’s F-16 fighter aircraft capabilities,” Austin said.

He added that Denmark and the Netherlands will join the US in leading the effort to ensure Ukrainian forces can defend their skies, given that these two countries have previously announced that they would supply Ukraine with F-16s. However, this situation was somewhat complicated on the same day of Austin’s announcement when the US State Department gave Denmark approval to sell 24 F-16s to Argentina.

Meanwhile, Norway has also joined the effort to transfer F-16s to Ukraine and the United States is also training Ukrainian F-16 pilots and maintainers.

Additionally, Belgium announced on 11 October that it would supply several retiring F-16s to Ukraine.

Austin also announced that Estonia and Luxembourg will lead a group of countries focused on supporting Ukraine’s information technology infrastructure, while Lithuania will lead a separate coalition focused on neutralising mines in Ukrainian territory.

“I’m also proud to announce that the United States will be joining several more of these coalitions as they form in the coming months, including those focused on Ukraine’s air defence, armour and artillery,” said Austin. “That shows how much we can do when we come together.

“It also shows American leadership matters,” he continued. “And as Ukraine’s troops face this key moment on the battlefield, we must ensure that America’s indispensable assistance to Ukraine continues to flow without disruption.”

US Defense Secretary Lloyd J Austin III greets Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at NATO headquarters in Brussels on 11 October 2023. (Photo: US DoD)

Austin noted that more than USD 43.9 Bn (EUR 41.6 Bn) in US aid has flowed to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February 2022. That figure included the latest US security assistance package, valued at USD 200 M, which was announced by US officials as the UCDG gathered on 11 October. That latest package includes air defence systems as well as additional artillery and rocket ammunition, precision aerial munitions, anti-tank weapons, and equipment to counter Russian unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Some 50 other members of this contact group have committed more than USD 33 Bn in direct security assistance to Ukraine,” said Austin. “In fact, the three biggest European donors to Ukraine — Germany, the United Kingdom and Poland — have all committed more than the United States as a percentage of gross domestic product. So have many other European countries, including Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and all three of the Baltic states.”

Several of those countries announced additional rounds of assistance as the contact group gathered in Brussels.