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Pentagon: US to start training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s in October

by Dinara Khalilova and The Kyiv Independent news desk August 25, 2023 12:13 AM 3 min read
U.S. Department of Defense Press Secretary Gen. Patrick Ryder holds a press conference at the Pentagon on Aug. 22, 2023 in Arlington, Virginia. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
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The U.S. will start training Ukrainians to fly and maintain F-16 fighter jets in October following an English-language course for pilots, Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder announced on Aug. 24.

The training will take place at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona, facilitated by the Air National Guard’s 162nd Wing, according to Ryder.

“Although we do not have specific numbers to share at this time in regards to how many Ukrainians will participate in this training, we do anticipate it will include several pilots and dozens of maintainers,” the spokesperson said at a press briefing.

The English-language training is expected to begin in September, with an aim to provide additional instructions “given the complexity and the specialized English that’s required to fly this aircraft,” added Ryder.

On Aug. 21, the Pentagon said that the U.S. would train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets if European partners do not have enough capacity to train as many as Kyiv wants.

At the press conference, Ryder was asked why Washington had decided to organize the training now, just a week after the first Ukrainian pilots, engineers, and technicians started the six-month training session in Europe.

Reznikov: At least 6-7 months before Ukraine obtains F-16s
Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Aug. 22 that it will take at least six to seven months for Ukrainian staff and infrastructure to receive F-16 fighter jets pledged by Western allies.

“So really, 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, we know that as the Danes and the Dutch prepare to train those pilots, at a certain point in time in the future, capacity will be reached,” Ryder replied.

“So preemptively, acknowledging that and leaning forward in order to assist with this effort is the impetus for why we’re doing this now.”

The training of Ukrainian pilots was due to kick off in Denmark in late August in partnership with the eleven nations included in the "fighter jet coalition" led by Denmark and the Netherlands.

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F-16 fighter jets can change the course of events in Russia’s war against Ukraine, providing Ukrainian troops with much-needed air superiority in occupied territories, according to Air Force spokesman Yurii Ihnat.

Upon President Volodymyr Zelensky's visit to Greece on Aug. 21, Ukraine's Head of State said that the Greek government has also pledged to assist Ukraine with training its pilots on the F-16s.

At the same time, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway have confirmed they would provide their own F-16 aircraft to Ukraine once conditions are met.

Denmark has officially announced that it will provide Kyiv with 19 of its F-16 fighter jets, with the first batch of six planes expected to arrive by the New Year, according to Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

Upon meeting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Aug. 20, President Volodymyr Zelensky said the Netherlands would supply Ukraine with 42 F-16 fighter jets.

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First it was the tanks, now it’s the fighter jets. As Ukraine braces for another possible major Russian offensive in the upcoming weeks, Western leaders are yet again coming up with a variety of excuses why this time, they cannot justify supplying F-16 and F-35 fighter jets to Ukraine.

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