Lockheed Martin ready with F-16s as Ukraine allies revive fighter jet debate

Lockheed Martin said it is ready to meet demand for its F-16 jets as some of Ukraine’s closest European allies reinvigorate efforts to supply fighter jets to Kyiv.

The decision by the United States and Germany to send tanks to Ukraine reignited talks, which European defense officials said were at an early stage.

Frank St John, chief operating officer of Lockheed Martin, America’s largest defense contractor, told the Financial Times that there was “a lot of talk about third-party transfer of F-16s” – whereby countries would re-export their US aircraft to Ukraine. to defend its airspace. Lockheed is not directly involved in talks regarding the potential delivery of military aircraft to Kyiv.

However, St John said the company is “going to ramp up F-16 production in Greenville, South Carolina to get to a place where we can pretty much fill in any countries that choose to do third-party transfers to help with the current conflict.

The White House has rejected Ukrainian calls for modern fighter jets such as the F-16 over fears they will be used to strike Russian territory. The US government must approve sales or transfers to third countries of US-made fighter jets, which means European countries would need political support from the Biden administration.

“Along with our international allies and partners, we are in regular communication with Ukrainians about their needs and demands,” a US defense official said. “At this time, we have nothing to announce regarding the F-16s.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has ruled out sending jets to Ukraine. “I made it clear early on that we would not be sending fighter jets and I repeat that here,” he said on Wednesday. Germany does not use F-16s.

EU member states re-exporting F-16s directly to Ukraine are among a series of options, European officials said, noting that US-made jets could also be sent by Western states to former Warsaw Pact countries which could then send their Soviet-designed aircraft to Kyiv.

Early in the war, Poland offered to send its Soviet-made MiG-29 fighter jets to the Ukrainian Air Force, with an iteration of the proposal involving the United States sending F-16s to replenish the Polish Air Force. The initiative was scrapped in March, after Washington deemed it too gradual.

Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said last week that the Netherlands would consider any request to send F-16s with “an open mind” and that there were “no taboos” on the military support. The Netherlands has about 40 F-16s and is phasing them out through the purchase of more advanced F-35s.

Besides the Netherlands, seven other European NATO countries use F-16s, including Poland, Norway and Romania.

Several of Lockheed’s weapon systems have played key roles on the Ukrainian battlefield, including the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (Himars), Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS), missile Javelin and the more recently supplied Patriot missile defense system, including its accompanying PAC-3 missiles. The company invested in their production ahead of US government restocking contracts that it is confident will come.

Additional reporting by James Politi in Washington