F-16 sand Beyond: Europe Ramping Up Ukraine Military Support After US Aid Bill



The passing of the US aid bill has been met with palpable relief in Europe. Resounding bipartisan support for the bill in the US Congress is viewed by Europe as representing the geopolitical return of the West. Moreover, US military support to Ukraine was granted despite the possibility of the return of Donald Trump as US president in the next presidential election.

In the context of the European Parliament elections scheduled for June 2024, the issue of European military support to Ukraine is a sensitive issue. Indeed, some political parties are trying to use the question of European military support to Ukraine for short-term political advantage. This is particularly true in Hungary, Slovakia, the Netherlands, Poland and France. As a result of the European parliamentary elections, a larger proportion of pro-Russian members is expected in the legislative body. These future European deputies will be opposed to open-ended European support for Ukraine. This will not have a significant effect on funding decisions given the limited role of the European Parliament. Overall, support for Ukraine is an internal political issue in European states because of the question of the cost of the war and the risk of a new economic crisis for European citizens in the hypothesis of a long-term military confrontation. 

Regarding the military debate, European states are facing the choice of providing Ukraine with comprehensive military support in the air defense sector. According to some pro-Ukrainian voices in the European debate, European states could coordinate and pool their resources in order to provide defensive weapons to Ukraine to improve its air defense capabilities. Concerning long-range surface-to-air missile batteries (80 kilometers to 160 kilometers), the United States and European states could work together to provide the US Patriot or the Franco-Italian SAMP/T-Mamba. Both systems can intercept and destroy Russian ballistic missiles that the Ukrainian military is unable to stop today. If this package is provided to Ukraine, the Ukrainian sky will not be open anymore to Russian missiles. France is particularly well placed to contribute to this effort: Paris could provide at least one SAMP/T-Mamba battery and the Aster 30 missiles it uses, as well as two Thales GM 200 radars. Beyond the possibility of an increase in French military support to Ukraine, the Baltic states are clearly considering the point that Ukraine is also defending their security. 

Beyond the political and military issue, there is also the question of European economic capacity. The European defense industrial base is not sufficient to match Russia’s defense sector. Russia’s rapid transition to a war economy has been supported by strong political will and a discourse of unity. European and US military support to Ukraine will probably increase in 2025 but this effort will probably not be sufficient to change the military situation on the front lines in the short-term. The EU and its member states have mobilized  €32 billion in military support for Ukraine. This includes €6.1 billion under the European Peace Facility to support the delivery of military equipment. In March 2024, the European Council established a dedicated Ukraine Assistance Fund worth €5 billion. This brings the total financial support allocated via the European Peace Facility to €11.1 billion. There is also a specific European effort to increase the production capacity of ammunition and missiles, following the adoption of the Act in Support of Ammunition Production (ASAP). 

According to Ukrainian sources, new European aid to Ukraine did not show an uptick in recent months, despite the fact that US aid came to a complete halt. In January and February 2024, European countries allocated a total of about €6 billion in aid to Ukraine, almost all of it for the military. The US decision to provide Ukraine with military support is key for European leaders who are unable to compensate for the loss of US military support. 

This renewed US military aid is also a strong signal to Ukrainian soldiers and society at large. Nevertheless, with the US presidential election coming at the end of 2024, the uncertainty over what a Trump victory would mean for US foreign policy, including for Ukraine, remains. Ukraine will receive its first F-16 jets in June-July 2024. This is a very significant step for Ukraine as it hopes to be able to counter Russia’s air superiority for the first time since the beginning of the war in February 2022. European states such as Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Belgium have committed to sending F-16s to Ukraine, according to Reuters. The Netherlands has pledged to provide 24 units, Norway 22, Denmark 19 and Belgium an unspecified number. The first deliveries are expected in mid-2024, but the F-16s could arrive even before the start of summer, said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on the sidelines of a European Council meeting on Thursday, April 18, 2024. In addition to the equipment delivered as part of the new US aid package, the Ukrainians are counting on the arrival of F-16 fighter jets to regain the initiative on the ground against the Russian army. Nevertheless, European-trained Ukrainian F-16 pilots will not be ready until late 2024. 

Pilot training in Europe is less advanced, with only 10 Ukrainians currently undergoing training on European soil. According to a military source, the 10 Ukrainian pilots training in Europe are relatively inexperienced, which explains the length of their training journey. To be successful in military terms for Ukraine, US military support should be combined with increased European military support. It remains to be seen whether European states will be willing to offer continued military support to Ukraine given the possible rise of far-right parties in the European Parliament and the potential return of Trump to the US presidency. Consequently, 2025 may be a decisive year for the future of US and European military support to the Ukrainian military in the context of Kyiv’s war against Russia. 

Editorial Team