The first group of six Ukrainian fighter pilots to receive training on U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets won’t complete the program until the summer of 2024 after Western countries pushed back training for months, The Washington Post reported Friday.
Ukraine began lobbying for the fighter jets soon after Russia invaded with a view of utilizing the advanced Western jets on the battlefield as soon as possible, while Western nations see the F-16 delivery as something to reinforce Ukraine’s post-war military, according to the Post. Denmark and the Netherlands volunteered to head an instruction program after the U.S. softened its position on the F-16s in the spring of 2023, but the training’s start date faced repeated delays.
President Joe Biden denied Kyiv’s requests for more than a year, relenting in May to back training for Ukrainian troops on the U.S.-made F-16 but not direct deliveries. Biden is hesitant to provide Ukraine with any American weapons he believes would augment Ukraine’s offensive capabilities to the point of attacking inside Russia, fearing Moscow might retaliate against the West. (RELATED: Biden Asks Congress For Additional $24 Billion In Military, Economic Aid For Ukraine)
“The president has given a green light and we will allow, permit, support, facilitate and in fact provide the necessary tools for Ukrainians to begin being trained on F-16s, as soon as the Europeans are prepared,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN in mid-July.
“In May, President Biden signed off on the transfer of fourth generation aircraft including F-16s for Ukraine as part of our efforts to strengthen Ukraine’s military over the long term, and we’d like to see training begin for Ukrainian pilots on F-16s as soon as possible,” a National Security Council spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Leaders in Kyiv hoped they would be operating F-16s by September, but now there is little prospect those expectations will be borne out, according to the Post. Ukrainian military commanders say they require the advantages of modern airpower to conduct successful counteroffensive campaigns, pushing entrenched Russian forces out of Ukrainian territory.
A major counteroffensive Ukraine launched earlier this summer has slowed to a grinding pace in the south as troops come up against of miles of Russian trenches and vast minefields.
Six pilots, equivalent to half of a squadron, will complete the first round of training, two Ukrainian officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to address a sensitive matter, told the Post. First, they have to attend four months of English tutoring in Britain along with Ukrainian ground crews to become familiar with the complicated terminology surrounding the jets.
English lessons will push back the start of the formal training until at least January, and the instruction itself could take up to six months, according to the Post. A second group of six pilots will complete the training after the first round is completed.
“This is called dragging it out,” one Ukrainian official told the Post.
Ukrainian leaders say their pilots have been practicing English in between their missions flying Soviet aircraft.
“It was not possible to train pilots and other personnel in Ukraine in this terminology due to the lack of experience in working with such terminology,” Brig. Gen. Serhii Holubtsov, aviation chief for Ukraine’s air force, told the Post.
This article has been updated with comment from a National Security Council spokesperson.
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