The United States has announced that it will begin training Ukrainian pilots to fly the F-16 in October.
“Following English language training for pilots in September, flight training for the F-16 is expected to begin in October at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona, with facilitation from the 162nd Air National Guard Wing,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Thursday at a news conference.
“Although we do not have specific numbers to share at this time regarding the number of Ukrainians who will participate in this exercise, we expect that it will involve many pilots and dozens of maintenance workers.”
Earlier on Thursday, two US officials told CNN that an announcement about the training program would come. Officials said pilots still need to undergo English language training before they can begin learning to operate the fourth-generation US aircraft. Language classes will also be held in the United States, at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
Lackland is home to the Defense Language Institute’s English Language Centre, which provides English language training to international military and civilian personnel.
Ukraine has provided a list of about 32 pilots ready to begin training for the F-16 fighter jets, according to another US official, but most of them do not yet have a strong command of English, a necessary requirement since the plane is ready. The guides are all in English.
One of the officials said the pilots, along with some personnel who will receive aircraft maintenance training, could arrive in the United States as early as next month. Once language instruction is complete, Ukrainian pilots will be able to begin training to fly the F-16s, one of the officials said. It is not yet clear how long it will take to train the pilots, who flew Soviet-era MiG and Sukhoi fighters, to fly more modern Western aircraft.
Ryder said Thursday that for American F-16 pilots, training can take anywhere from eight months for new pilots, to five months for more experienced pilots.
He explained that the training will include a number of specific instructions, including basic skills such as formation flight and basic combat maneuvers, for combat maneuvering, tactical interceptions, putting down enemy air defenses and how to deal with the force of gravity. All this in addition to training the logistics and maintenance staff.
“So, training all of those maintainers on how to maintain this aircraft so that it can stay in the air, training the ground support, the air traffic controllers, the refuelers, the communications associated with that — it all entails maintaining this platform.”
Ryder said on Thursday that the United States decided to proactively arrange for training of Ukrainian pilots on the F-16 fighter jets after realizing that training in Europe would eventually reach its maximum capacity.
“So, really, when we look at our European allies who are providing this training, aware of the fact that we want to do everything we can to help get these efforts moving as quickly as possible in support of Ukraine, we know that it’s like the Danes and the Dutch are getting ready to train those,” Ryder said. Pilots, at some point in the future, the capability will be reached.” “So proactively acknowledging that and leaning forward to help with that effort is the motivation for us doing it now.”
Morris Air National Guard hosted Ukrainian fighter pilots in March to assess how quickly they could learn to fly the F-16, a program that showed Ukrainian pilots demonstrated above-average capabilities in several different areas.
The base is also home to the 162nd Wing, part of the Arizona Air National Guard whose mission is to train international partners on the F-16. The unit has trained pilots from 25 different countries to fly the fourth generation aircraft.
Celebrating Ukraine’s Independence Day, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “The United States is proud to stand with Ukraine, and we will continue to ensure that it gets what it needs to fight for its freedom.” Echoing a promise often made by the Biden administration, he said in a statement that the United States would support Ukraine “for as long as it takes in its struggle for security and freedom.”
And earlier this week, Denmark and the Netherlands — the countries that lead the coalition to train Ukrainians to fly and operate the F-16 fighter jets — committed to sending planes to Ukraine. Denmark has pledged to send 19 F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine over the next few years. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the Netherlands would provide 42 F-16s to Ukraine, though the Dutch prime minister did not commit to providing all of them to Kiev.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Sunday that Ukrainian pilots and technical crews had already started training on the planes. The “minimum” for training is six months, Reznikov said, although it is up to the coaches to decide how long the course will be.
A Ukrainian Air Force spokesman said the F-16s could “change the course of events” and allow Kiev to achieve “air supremacy in the occupied territories”.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Morris Air National Guard Base hosted Ukrainian fighter pilots in March and is home to the 162nd Wing.
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