Pentagon To Train Ukrainian Pilots On F-16s In The US

(Photo by Val Gempis/U.S. Air Force via Getty Images)

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The U.S. will begin training an unspecified number of Ukrainian pilots and ground crew members on how to operate American-made F-16 fighters jets in October, taking an option the White House previously offered as a last resort, the Pentagon said Thursday.

The prospect of training Ukrainians on the American-made fighter jet on U.S. territory was put forward as a possibility only if European training capacity proved insufficient, a U.S. official told The New York Times in recent days. “Several pilots and dozens of maintainers” will begin training on Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona, in October to support the F-16 Training Coalition led by Denmark and the Netherlands, where training is already underway, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said.

“As we looked at our European allies providing this training, recognizing the fact that we want to do everything we can to help move this effort along as quickly as possible in support of Ukraine,” Ryder said. (RELATED: ‘Not Looking For A Third World War’: Biden Keeps Reversing Course On Giving Weapons To Ukraine)

“We know that as the Danes and the Dutch prepare to train those pilots, that at a certain point in time in the future, capacity will be reached. So pre-emptively acknowledging that and leaning forward in order to assist with this effort is the impetus for why we’re doing this now,” he added.

The announcement was timed to coincide with Ukraine’s independence day and reiterate support for Ukraine’s resistance to Russian aggression, as perceptions of Ukraine’s counteroffensive have dimmed.

President Joe Biden spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday, promising to expedite approval for the third-party transfer of other countries’ F-16s to Ukraine once training is completed, according to a White House statement.

“This is about the long-term support to Ukraine,” Ryder told reporters. “This is not about the counteroffensive that they’re conducting right now.”

The Pentagon could not give an exact number of Ukrainian troops who would receive training in Arizona — the total number will be up to Kyiv — or cap the training’s duration.

An pilot experienced in American systems and protocols could become familiar with the F-16 within five months, while pilots without that background could need eight months or longer, Ryder said.

Ukrainian pilots and ground crews will complete English language training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, in September to increase their comfort with the specialized jargon required to fly F-16s, Ryder added.

Denmark and the Netherlands agreed Aug. 20 to transfer some of their F-16s to Ukraine after months of talk on a multinational effort, supported by the U.S., to secure a fleet of the advanced U.S.-produced fighter jets for Ukraine’s use in defending its territory, according to the NYT. So far, the Danes have pledged 19 fighters and the Dutch up to 42; Norway also agreed to provide jets, Reuters reported.

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