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Pentagon: US ready to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s if Europe lacks capacity

by Martin Fornusek and The Kyiv Independent news desk August 22, 2023 9:01 AM 2 min read
Netherlands' Air Force F-16 jetfighters take part in the NATO exercise as part of the NATO Air Policing mission, in Alliance members' sovereign airspace on July 4, 2023. (Photo credit: John Thys/AFP via Getty Images)
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The U.S. is willing to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets if European partners do not have enough capacity to train as many as Kyiv wants, Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh said on Aug. 21.

"(We're) open to training existing pilots if capacity is reached in Europe," Singh said.

"That's the condition. So, if Denmark and the Netherlands are taking the lead on training, if they just do not have the capacity ... to train as many pilots as Ukraine wants to send or plans to send, then we will ... help train stateside."

The Pentagon spokesperson clarified that the total number of pilots who will undergo the training will be determined by Ukraine.

However, she added that they all have to first receive "significant English-language training," which is expected to take some time.

After months of protracted discussions, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov confirmed on Aug. 19 that the first Ukrainian pilots, engineers, and technicians have started the six-month training session on F-16.

The training of Ukrainian pilots was previously announced to kick off in Denmark in late August, in partnership with the 11 nations included in the "fighter jet coalition," while Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said that some 70 Ukrainian pilots are currently preparing to start their training program in Denmark.

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, the first NATO members have confirmed they would provide their own F-16 aircraft to Ukraine once conditions are met. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that Kyiv is to receive fighter jets from Denmark and the Netherlands, without specifying the number.

Zelensky however said after meeting Rutte that Ukraine will get 42 F-16s in a "breakthrough agreement."

The Danish prime minister also announced the provision of 19 F-16 fighter jets, with the first batch of six planes expected to arrive close to the New Year.

While Ukrainian pilots have reportedly begun test flights on the Swedish Gripen jets as well, Stockholm has stopped short of pledging the aircraft itself.

Ukraine's Air Force comprises Soviet-made aircraft and is outnumbered by Russia's larger air force, thwarting Ukraine's ability to conduct counter-offensives. Air Force spokesman Yurii Ihnat said that the U.S.-made fighter jets have the potential to change the course of the war, providing Ukrainian troops with much-needed air superiority in occupied territories.

Ukraine war latest: Greece to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s; Ukraine advances southeast of Robotyne
Key developments on Aug. 21: * Ukraine advances southeast of Robotyne and south of Mala Tokmachka in Zaporizhzhia Oblast * Three square kilometers near Bakhmut liberated over the past week * Greece to take part in F-16 training for Ukrainian pilots * Ukraine’s Air Force says F16 jets can change…

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