Ukraine Wants To Retake Control Of The Skies — The Problem? Their Pilots Aren’t Ready For Combat


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Jake Smith Contributor
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Ukraine is gearing up to utilize fighter jets for a key air offensive against Russia, but it’s unclear when the country will actually have trained fighter pilots to fly them, The New York Times reported on Monday.

The NATO alliance and European partners are shipping F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine to bolster Kyiv’s ongoing counteroffensive against Russia, which has largely stalled out as of last year. Though the plan is to deploy by the summertime, only a handful of the promised fighter jets have been delivered thus far, and it’s unclear when Ukrainian pilots will be ready to fly them, as they have yet to complete training, according to NYT. (RELATED: Pope Francis Tells Ukraine To Have ‘The Courage To Negotiate’ With Russia)

Ukrainian pilots began training last August at the Skrydstrup Air Base in south Denmark, while they waited for a new training center in Romania to be built, according to NYT. The training process, which typically takes years, has been condensed into months amid the urgent need to get the jets in the air — but the pilots’ lack of English-speaking abilities and understanding of Western flying methods has slowed the training process down beyond the timeline that allies had hoped for.

French military personnel look on next to a Dassault Rafale fighter jet at Fetesti Air Base, in the commune Borcea, near the town of Fetesti, Romania on October 19, 2023. Three Dassault Rafale jets from the 30th fighter squadron from Mont-de-Marsan, south-west of France, took part in the Eagle mission which aims to protect NATO territory since the start of the war in Ukraine, against any possible Russian attack. (Photo by Daniel MIHAILESCU / AFP)

The Fetesti air base in southeast Romania, which was first announced at a NATO summit in July, is now completed, and air instructors are available to start training Ukrainian pilots with the available F-16 jets on base, according to NYT. The Ukrainian pilots have yet to arrive at the base, however, and it is unclear when they will get there to start the training.

Twelve pilots have completed training at the Denmark location, and eight pilots are scheduled to start training there sometime in the summer, according to NYT. It is unclear when they will begin training at the Fetesti base in Romania, despite promises from the West the base would play an urgent role in preparing the pilots.

Even when the pilots complete the necessary training, there’s a question of many how many F-16 jets will be available to them at that point; NATO and European allies have collectively promised to ship 45 jets, but so far only six will have been delivered by the time the Ukrainian pilots are ready to start flying them, according to NYT. Demark committed to sending the first six in the later spring months.

The other allies that have promised to send Ukraine the fighter jets haven’t set a timeline for delivery, according to NYT. The Netherlands has promised to send 24 of the 45 jets, but will not do so until Ukraine is ready for them.

More broadly, Ukraine is urging its allies to deliver more military aid for its fight against Russia, but the U.S. Congress is becoming increasingly conflicted at the prospect amid growing concerns that Kyiv does not have an endgame strategy and may not be able to secure a military victory. President Joe Biden urged Congress to pass more aid for Ukraine Thursday during the State of the Union.

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