Lockheed ready to boost F-16 production

Oleg Burunov

Thus far, Washington has kept mum about providing Kiev with the F-16 fighters, or allowing other countries to re-export these US-made warplanes to Ukraine.
Lockheed Martin, the US largest defense contractor, has signaled readiness to boost its production of F-16 fighters as some of Ukraine’s allies consider delivering the single-engine jets, which were first introduced in 1978, to Kiev.
The aerospace company’s chief operating officer Frank St. John told a UK newspaper on Thursday that there was “a lot of conversation about third party transfer of F-16s”.
The British press recall-ed in this vein that Lock-heed Martin is not directly involved in talks pertaining to the potential supply of the fourth-generation F-16 jet fighters to Ukraine.
In an apparent nod to the Ukrainian conflict, St. John added that Lockheed Martin was “going to be ramping production on F-16s in Greenville [South Carolina] to get to the place where we will be able to backfill pretty capably any countries that choose to do third-party transfers to help with the current conflict.”
The newspaper also cited an unnamed US defense official as saying that “along with our [Washington’s] international allies and partners, we are in regular communication with the Ukrainians on their needs and requests.”
The official, however, stressed that “at this time, we have nothing to announce regarding F-16s.”
The remarks came after Ukrainian President Volod-ymyr Zelensky expressed his gratitude to Kiev’s allies for pledging tank deliveries, but added that he had asked NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg for more assistance.
“We have to unlock the supply of long-range missiles to Ukraine, it is important for us to expand our cooperation in artillery, [and] we have to achieve the supply of aircraft to Ukraine. And this is a dream. And this is a task,” Zelensky noted.
This followed Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra making it clear last week that Amsterdam looks into delivering the F-16s to Kiev.
The Netherlands’ air force has a fleet of 40 US-made F-16s, with seven other NATO countries in Europe flying the same wa-rplanes, including Poland and Norway. Germany, which doesn’t fly the F-16s, ruled out sending its warplanes to Ukraine. “I made clear very early on that we wouldn’t be sending combat aircraft and I’ll say that again here,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters.
On Wednesday, he greenlighted the delivery of 14 German Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, in what was followed by US President Biden announcing the supply of 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Kiev.
Commenting on Berlin’s move, the Russian embassy in Germany warned in a statement that “this extremely dangerous decision shifts the Ukrainian conflict to a new level of standoff.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov for his part told reporters that Western countries’ arms supplies to Kiev testify to their direct and growing involvement in the Ukrainian conflict.
“There are constant statements from European capitals and from Washington that the sending of various weapons systems, including tanks, to Ukraine in no way means the involvement of these countries or the alliance in the hostilities that are taking place in Ukraine. We categorically disagree with this,” Peskov added.
Moscow has repeatedly cautioned that the US and its allies’ military aid to Kiev adds to prolonging the Ukrainian conflict. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that NATO countries “play with fire” by supplying weapons to Kiev, and that any convoy of arms for Ukraine will become a legitimate target for Russian forces.