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F-16 for Ukraine: West yet to agree on details of training for Ukrainian pilots

F-16 for Ukraine: West yet to agree on details of training for Ukrainian pilots F-16 Jets (Photo: GettyImages)

According to the Politico, the United States and European countries, members of the "fighter coalition" for Ukraine, have not yet fully agreed on the training arrangements for Ukrainian pilots to operate the promised F-16 jets, despite announcements regarding the delivery timeline of these aircraft.

Three American officials familiar with the discussions indicate that the partner countries have not yet reached a consensus on the preparation of Ukrainian aviators for flying F-16s. Denmark and the Netherlands lead the coalition of 11 supporting countries for the training program, but no country has publicly joined the initiative so far.

As stated by U.S. National Security Advisor John Kirby, the administration will act "as quickly as possible" to deliver F-16 fighters to Ukraine. A senior White House official also mentioned that the aircraft will be in Ukrainian skies "by the end of the year."

The discussions from the Western side come in the backdrop of Ukraine's statements about the need for additional military capabilities to break through Russian defenses on the battlefield. This week, Ukraine increased pressure on its allies to send F-16s, especially after Russia's exit from the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated on Tuesday that the jets could help defend the "grain corridor," which is crucial for global food security.

The publication highlights one proposal being discussed for the training, involving sending Ukrainian pilots to the United States for training with the Air National Guard's 162nd Fighter Wing, based in Tucson, Arizona, where foreign partners are already training to fly F-16s. However, two U.S. officials and one European official, speaking anonymously, stated that this idea did not receive support.

Another plan suggests sending American military pilots to Europe to train the Ukrainians outside of Ukraine. Nevertheless, according to two U.S. officials, no final decisions have been made yet.

"There’s collaboration ongoing. We are working with our partners and allies to determine the most practical way to implement this plan," said one U.S. official.

In the meantime, the "fighter coalition" has taken steps towards initiating the training process. Aerospace contractor Draken International has started recruiting retired military pilots for training Ukrainian aviators at a facility being built in Romania, which could become a regional F-16 training center.

According to European officials, another training center will be established in Denmark.

Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon representative, stated that European partners hope the training could commence this summer, most likely in Europe. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom plans to begin basic flight and language training for Ukrainian pilots within a few weeks, she added.

“In terms of any aircraft delivery or any additional timelines, I just don’t have anything for you today,” Singh said.

Despite the ambitious timelines, F-16 training cannot begin until the U.S. State Department officially approves the transfer of relevant training materials, such as operational manuals and flight simulators, which is subject to export restrictions and is yet to occur.

Furthermore, according to U.S. officials, the F-16 jets will not arrive in Ukraine before spring 2024.

“We’d probably get some pilots flying, training by the end of the year, but an actual F-16 with Ukrainian colors” is not likely before the spring," another U.S. representative told journalists.

F-16 Jets

For several months now, Ukraine has been engaged in intense negotiations to acquire modern F-16 fighter jets. During the recent NATO summit in Vilnius, the allies officially announced the formation of an aviation coalition. Additionally, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Romania confirmed that they would train Ukrainian pilots.

As previously reported, Ukrainian pilots were expected to begin F-16 training in August. However, the White House recently stated that Ukraine may receive the aircraft this year.