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Politico: Stalled US F-16 training program frustrates Ukraine

by Abbey Fenbert June 6, 2024 4:00 AM 3 min read
An F-16 performs during the Air Show in Radom, Poland on August 26, 2023. Photo for illustrative purposes. (Jakub Porzycki/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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Kyiv wants the United States to train more Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets, but the U.S. says there are limited spots and too many customers from other nations, Politico reported on June 5, citing Ukrainian and U.S. officials.

Several countries, including the U.S., have pledged to assist Ukrainian aviators with the necessary training under the F-16 coalition framework. The first Ukrainian pilots began their training at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona, last October.

Ukraine says it has 30 pilots prepared to start the training program in Tucson, but U.S. President Joe Biden maintains that the program only has space for 12 students at a time, three officials told Politico.

The same availability issues reportedly also affect training facilities in Denmark and Romania.

Over the past several weeks, Kyiv has officially requested that the U.S. train the additional pilots at the Tucson facility. The U.S. has not granted the request, citing committments to other nations in line for F-16 training at the base.

"We understand they don't want to break those contracts, but they could move their American pilots to a different base for training," Ukrainian lawmaker Sasha Ustinova told Politico.

Defense minister: Ukraine may receive first F-16s ‘very soon’ but half of military aid arriving late
Russia has 500,000 troops in Ukraine and near its borders and is preparing to involve another 200,000-300,000, aiming to “open a new front in the north to start using all their manpower, firing power,” Umerov said.

Maj. Erin Hannigan, a spokesperson for the Arizona National Guard, confirmed the limitations in training slots to Politico and said there were compounding reasons for the lack of slots.

"On top of the Ukrainian students, there are multiple other countries that have reserved training throughout the year," Hannigan said.

"The number of foreign student pilots and where they come from is not determined by our schoolhouse, there are many other factors that play a part in the numbers such as funding, country requests, graduation of students from English learning, and allotment."

A total of 20 Ukrainian pilots are anticipate to complete F-16 training by the end of 2024. That number is only half of the 40 aviators needed to operate a full squadron of 20 F-16 jets.

Eight new pilots will begin training at the facility in Romania, while another eight are set to undergo training at the Tucson base. For the rest of the year, across all training sites, only four spots will be available for Ukrainian pilots, one official told Politico.

Ukraine will not have a full squadron of pilots before the end of 2025, a former U.S. Defense Dapartment official told Politico.

F-16s for Ukraine: When will they arrive and what can they do?
The General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon is an American air superiority fighter that Kyiv has begged for since the start of the full-scale invasion and is expected to finally start receiving this year. It’s a versatile workhorse of a jet that’s fought in dozens of wars and is

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