The US is expected to announce that it will host training for Ukrainian F-16 pilots, according to two US officials.
It is unclear exactly when the training program will begin and it is not expected to include a large number of pilots, the officials said. The pilots still need to go through English language training before they can begin learning to operate the fourth-generation American jets. The language classes will also take place in the US.
Ukraine put forward a list of approximately 32 pilots who are ready to begin training on F-16 fighter jets, according to another US official, but most did not have a strong enough command of the English language yet, a necessary requirement since the jet’s instrumentation and manuals are all in English.
The pilots, along with some personnel who will receive training on maintaining the aircraft, could arrive in the US as soon as next month, one official said. Once the language instruction is complete, the Ukrainian pilots will be able to begin training to fly the F-16s, one official said. It is not yet clear how long it will take to train the pilots, who have flown Soviet-era MIG and Sukhoi fighters, to fly more modern western jets.
A Defense Department spokesman pointed to comments from Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder on Tuesday, who said the US was “prepared to support a training effort here in the continental United States if capacity is reached in Europe.”
It is unclear where the US will conduct the training, but officials said one option would be for it to take place at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tuscon, Arizona. The base hosted two Ukrainian fighter pilots in March to evaluate how fast they can learn to fly the F-16, a program which showed the Ukrainian pilot demonstrated above average abilities in several different areas.
Davis-Monthan is also home to the 162nd Wing, a part of the Arizona Air National Guard whose mission is to train international partners on the F-16. The unit has trained pilots from 25 different countries to fly the fourth-generation jet.
In honor of Ukrainian Independence Day, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “The United States is proud to stand with Ukraine, and we will continue to ensure that it has what it needs to fight for its freedom.” Repeating a promise often made by the Biden administration, he said in a statement that the US will support Ukraine “for as long as it takes in its fight for security and freedom.”
Earlier this week, Denmark and the Netherlands – the two countries leading the coalition to train Ukrainians to fly and operate F-16 fighter jets – committed to send aircraft to Ukraine. Denmark pledged to send 19 F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine over the next several years. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky said the Netherlands would provide 42 F-16s to Ukraine, though the Dutch Prime Minister did not commit to providing all of them to Kyiv.
On Sunday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukrainian pilots and technical crews have already begun training on the jets. Reznikov said the “minimal term” for the training is six months, though it would be up to the instructors to decide how long the course will run.
The spokesman for Ukraine’s Air Force said F-16s can “change the course of events” and allow Kyiv to achieve “air superiority in the occupied territories.”