A “small number” of Ukrainian pilots began F-16 training in the US this week, according to an Air Force spokesperson.
The pilots will train with the 162nd Wing of the Arizona Air National Guard, a unit that specializes in training international partners on the fourth-generation fighter jet. The training is expected to last “several months,” the spokesperson said.
The flight training began after the pilots completed language training in San Antonio, TX, home to the Defense Language Institute English Language Center.
The US is also planning to train approximately 200 Ukrainian personnel on maintaining the complex jet once they complete their language training.
For months, Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky made urgent requests for F-16 fighter jets to better fight back against barrages of Russian drone and missile attacks.
This summer, a coalition of nations led by Denmark stepped forward and began training Ukrainian pilots on the US jets. The Netherlands, Denmark and Norway have pledged to provide Ukraine with the fighter jets at the conclusion of the training program.
Because of the limited capacity of European countries to train a large number of Ukrainian pilots on F-16s, the US announced in August that it would train a small number of pilots as well.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US would approve the third-party transfer of the jets to Ukraine as soon as the training is completed. Because F-16 fighter jets are American technology, the US has to approve their transfer if another country wants to send their own F-16s to Ukraine.
“You have my assurances that we will expedite approval of the requisite Third Party Transfer requests in time to enable delivery when the training is completed, including required notification to our Congress,” wrote Blinken in letters to his Dutch and Danish counterparts in August.
Even so, Ukrainian officials have not been optimistic about their chances of getting the jets before the end of the year. Instead, Ukraine expects to receive them sometime next year.
In May, the US hosted two Ukrainian pilots to assess their abilities to fly advanced fighter jets. The Ukrainian Air Force consists of Soviet-era MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets with older technology. The pilots, who were assessed using flight simulators, showed “above average” skills, according to a review of their performance.
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