June 25, 2024

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The United States begins training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets

The United States begins training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets

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The Pentagon said Thursday that the United States will begin training pilots for Ukrainian fighter jets in Arizona this fall.

Airmen are expected to begin training at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson in October after completing English language instruction in September at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

“The United States will soon begin training Ukrainians to fly and maintain F-16 fighter jets to support international efforts to develop and strengthen Ukraine’s long-range defenses,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Patrick Ryder.

Ryder said the United States does not yet have an exact number of pilots that will be included, but said the Pentagon expects the training will include several pilots and dozens of crew members to maintain the advanced fighter jets. Ukraine will select the participating pilots.

American officials have indicated that they would be open to training Ukrainian pilots inside the United States if European capacity is not sufficient. Ryder said the US decision was a preemptive move designed to ensure that the international program can operate as needed.

Kiev’s European allies aim to deliver the F-16s to Ukraine once the training is completed. The United States said it would support the transfers but would not supply its own aircraft.

“We are talking about months, not weeks,” said Ryder, adding that the planes were intended to support Ukraine’s long-term security rather than the current counterattack.

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The US program is intended to complement other training efforts in Europe, including those of Denmark and the Netherlands. On Sunday, the two countries pledged to donate F-16s to Ukraine, and Norway said on Thursday it would provide the fighter jets as well.

Denmark began training eight Ukrainian pilots to fly the F-16 earlier this week.

Part of the US effort will be to assess the skills of individual pilots to help determine how long training will take.

F-16 training for US pilots without much experience typically lasts eight months, while more experienced pilots train for five months or so.

“A lot is going to depend on those individual pilots,” Ryder said.

The White House later confirmed that US President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday.

The White House said Biden “affirmed the United States’ commitment to support Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression no matter what it takes,” and said the two leaders discussed plans to train Ukrainian pilots on the F-16s.

Additional reporting by Lauren Vidor