• Belgium will send 30 F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, however it must avoid use over Russia.
  • Zelenskyy has emphasized Ukraine's need for enhanced air defenses against Russia.
  • The F-16s are part of a $1 billion aid package, with delivery over four years.

Belgium agreed to send 30 US-made F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine as long as they aren't flown within Russian territory.

"F-16 jets will be provided to Ukraine as soon as possible. Our aim is to be able to provide first aircraft before the end of this year, 2024," Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced Tuesday while hosting President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. "Everything which is covered by this agreement is very clear, it is for utilization by the Ukraine Defense Forces on Ukraine['s] territory."

Zelenskyy has been vocal about Ukraine's need for improved air defenses against Russia and to rebuild its air force battered from two years of war. The 30 F-16s will be delivered over the course of the next four years as part of a promised $1 billion aid package from Belgium, boosting Ukraine's future fleet to an estimated 85 F-16s.

The total number is important because Ukraine is expected to lose many F-16s in what may be its most dangerous battlefield in five decades of flying.

In addition to defending Ukraine's airspace, F-16s customized with long-range missiles can improve Ukraine's strike capacity — a useful step as Kyiv tries to halt Moscow's momentum on the battlefield.

"Our task is to use the first F-16 on the battlefield this year and in such way fortify our positions," Zelenskyy said.

Netherlands, Denmark and Norway have previously offered up dozens of F-16s to support Ukraine. The US Air Force is also training Ukrainian pilots to fly them.

Ukraine could still strike into Russia from its own airspace with the F-16, but the usage restriction limits the plane from deeper attacks and the sight of a US-made plane overflying Russian land; the US has imposed similar caveats on other weapons.

While Ukraine awaits the gradual flow of military aid from the US and other allies, Russia's summer offensive has kicked off.

Ukraine's current air defense deficiencies have allowed Russia to launch continuous barrages of deep strikes beyond Ukraine's lines.

Experts from the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington DC-based think tank, have noted that Russia may have started its offensive too early and lacks the adequate manpower on its front lines needed to "conduct a successful operation to envelop, encircle, or seize Kharkiv City."

Despite Russia's soldier shortage, Ukraine continues to struggle to make up for its own manpower and resource deficits.

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