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'Deliberate delays' to F-16 training will mean more jets than pilots, Ukrainian MP says

by Elsa Court and The Kyiv Independent news desk June 18, 2024 5:11 PM 3 min read
Norway's Defense Minister Bjoern Arild Gram sits in the back of an F-16 aircraft at Bodø airport, Norway, where the final preparations are being made before two Norwegian F-16 aircraft are sent to Denmark to be used in the training of Ukrainian pilots on Jan. 3, 2024. (Jan Langhaug / NTB / AFP via Getty Images)
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The U.S. is "deliberately delaying" F-16 training for Ukrainian pilots, resulting in a situation where there will be "fewer trained pilots than fighter jets," Ukrainian MP Oleksandra Ustinova said to the Times in an article published on June 17.

Ukraine is expected to receive the first F-16 jets this summer, a year after Denmark and the Netherlands founded the "fighter jet coalition" with nine other countries at the NATO summit in Vilnius in July 2023.

The coalition pledged to help provide Kyiv with F-16s and train Ukrainian pilots and technical staff to operate the U.S.-made fourth-generation jets.

Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Norway have so far pledged more than 70 jets to Ukraine to be delivered from 2024 onwards.

Ustinova, the head of Ukraine's special parliamentary commission on arms and munitions, estimated that Ukraine will have only 20 pilots who have fully completed the F-16 training program by the end of 2024.

According to Ustinova, twelve pilots are being trained in Denmark, and only eight pilots are being trained in Arizona.

Time will play in Ukraine’s favor once F-16s and more Western aid arrive, Syrskyi says
With the gradual arrival of military aid, including the first batch of F-16 fighter jets, time will favor Ukraine, while Russia’s chances of success will decrease, Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces Oleksandr Syrskyi said on June 17.

The U.S. Air National Guard said in May that the first batch of Ukrainian pilots had completed their training, and will continue additional training in Europe. The U.S. Air National Guard did not specify how many pilots had completed the training.

"A third training program in Romania has yet to begin," the Times said, despite the fact that Romanian Defense Minister Angel Tilvar announced in November 2023 that the F-16 pilot training center in Fetesti, 130 kilometers east of Bucharest, was officially open.

Ustinova described the situation as "totally political."

The delay is likely motivated by Washington's concerns that "the large-scale presence of American F-16s in action in Ukraine could be viewed by Moscow as the integration of the country into NATO," the Times said.

"Everything we have been asking, we actually received, but six months later," she told the Times.

Le Monde also reported on June 17 that the French Air and Space Force had committed to training 26 Ukrainian pilots in the southwest of France.

"This is a significant effort, given that the French Air Force normally certifies around 30 pilots a year, after four or five years worth of training," according to Le Monde.

The training program "officially began in March," and there are currently "10 Ukrainian pilots present for the time being."

The pilots are training using Alphajets fitted with a panel that simulates the instruments in the cockpit of an F-16, and being trained primarily by "reservists in their 50s," Le Monde said.

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