The U.S. will lead a newly formed coalition focused on developing Ukraine’s air force in a bid to bolster that country’s long-term capability to defend itself against Russian aggression, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said today.

The announcement, unveiled by Austin following the 16th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Brussels, marks the formation of several distinct coalitions focused on building Ukraine’s future force capabilities. Those coalitions are comprised of the more than 50 countries that make up the UDCG.

“By leading this capability coalition, the United States will coordinate closely with Ukraine and other partners with the focus on developing Ukraine’s F-16 fighter aircraft capabilities,” Austin said.

Austin said Denmark and the Netherlands will join the U.S. in leading the effort to ensure Ukrainian forces can defend their skies.

The two European countries previously announced that they would supply Ukraine with F-16s. Norway has also joined the effort to outfit Ukrainian pilots with the U.S.-made jets.

The U.S. has joined the countries in training Ukrainian pilots and aircrews on how to employ and maintain the advanced fighters.

Austin also announced Estonia and Luxembourg will lead a group of countries focused on supporting Ukraine’s information technology infrastructure.

Lithuania will lead a separate coalition focused on neutralizing mines in Ukrainian territory.

“I’m also proud to announce that the United States will be joining several more of these coalitions as they form in the coming months, including those focused on Ukraine’s air defense, armor and artillery,” he said. “That shows how much we can do when we come together.

“It also shows American leadership matters,” he continued. “And as Ukraine’s troops face this key moment on the battlefield, we must ensure that America’s indispensable assistance to Ukraine continues to flow without disruption.”

Austin said the United States’ support for Ukrainian forces remains unwavering as evidenced by the more than $43.9 billion in U.S. aid that has flowed to Ukraine since Russia’s unprovoked invasion.

That figure includes the latest security assistance package valued at $200 million, which was announced by U.S. officials as the UCDG gathered for today’s meeting.

The latest package includes a series of air defense systems, as well as additional artillery and rocket ammunition, precision aerial munitions, antitank weapons, and equipment to counter Russian drones.

Austin said the U.S. is “in great company” as dozens of countries step up to aid to Ukraine.

“Some 50 other members of this contact group have committed more than $33 billion in direct security assistance to Ukraine,” he said. “In fact, the three biggest European donors to Ukraine — Germany, the United Kingdom and Poland — have all committed more than the United States as a percentage of gross domestic product. So have many other European countries, including Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and all three of the Baltic states.”

Several of those countries announced additional rounds of assistance as the contact group gathered in Brussels.

The display of unwavering unity comes at a critical time for global stability as Israel battles Hamas terrorists responsible for a series of deadly attacks over the weekend.

Following the attacks, the U.S. enhanced its military force posture in the region to strengthen its deterrence against further attacks.

That enhanced posture includes the positioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford Strike Group in the Eastern Mediterranean and bolstered Air Force fighter presence in the region.

The U.S. has also begun to flow military aid to Israel and will soon provide additional rounds to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system.

Austin reaffirmed U.S. support to Israel as he kicked off his remarks in Brussels.

“Like any other country, Israel has the right to defend itself,” he said. “As [President Joe Biden] says, Israel has a duty to defend itself.”

“And make no mistake, the United States will remain able to project power and to direct resources to tackle crises in multiple theaters,” Austin said. “So, we will stand firmly with Israel as we continue to support Ukraine.”

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