The US Department of Defense on Monday said that it has no plans to send F-16 jets scheduled for delivery to Taiwan to Poland instead, calling speculation raised by a US media report “not accurate.”
The comments by Pentagon spokesman John Kirby followed a report in the New York Times on Sunday, which said that the administration of US President Joe Biden was exploring ways to supply Polish Soviet-made fighter jets to Ukraine to aid in its war against Russia, as Ukrainian pilots are more familiar with Russian-made jets.
One option was to send US-made F-16s to Poland as replacements, the report said, although “Polish officials seemed less than enthusiastic.”
With the next tranche of F-16s for export set to go to Taiwan, those fighter jets were an option, the report said, adding that US officials were reluctant to delay Taiwan’s F-16 program.
Asked in a CNN interview on Monday whether F-16 jets meant for Taiwan could be provided to Poland, Kirby replied: “That rumor is not accurate.”
However, he did acknowledge that Washington would not “stand in the way” if any nation did want to provide fighter jets to Ukraine.
In that regard, the US has started to have conversations about how it could “backfill,” or replace, jets transferred to Ukraine by another nation, including “what kind of aircraft, where would they come from and how do you get them,” Kirby said.
However, he said that the US did not have “any answers” at the moment and that there was “no proposal on the table.”
Meanwhile, White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday confirmed that the administration has been consulting with Poland and other NATO allies on the possibility of transferring jets to Ukraine, but said the decision was ultimately up to Warsaw.
Aside from the question of how to transfer Polish jets to Ukraine, the issue of providing replacement jets to Poland was also logistically complex, given that procuring new planes and transferring weapons systems often takes years, Psaki said.
Washington in 2019 approved the sale of 66 F-16Vs to Taiwan in an US$8 billion deal, with delivery expected to start next year and extend through 2026.
The 66 F-16Vs are to be deployed at Chihhang Air Base in Taitung County.
Meanwhile, Taiwan is also upgrading its F-16A/B jets to the more advanced F-16V format.
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