Ukraine is confused because the US is slow in training F-16 pilots

The US and its allies have not been able to train enough F-16 pilots as Ukraine wants and this makes Kiev confused when fighters produced by Washington are about to be brought to this country.

Politico reported that Ukrainian officials are calling on the US and other countries to increase F-16 pilot training for Kiev. Ukraine is said to be increasingly confused with the current situation, saying that with the current training rate, it will be difficult for them to have enough pilots to operate the fighter team about to be transferred to Kiev.

According to Politico, Ukraine last year had 30 qualified pilots who immediately began training to fly the F-16 in the US. However, according to a source, the US seems to have told Ukraine that its training program only accepts a maximum of 12 pilot students per course. Two other facilities in Denmark and Romania also have similar problems with the number of training slots.

This is considered a major obstacle for Ukraine as they want to speed up F-16 operations as quickly as possible to stop Russia’s advance on the battlefield.

Ukraine has begun calling on the West for F-16 aid since 2022 but has been repeatedly refused. By May 2023, the US will allow countries that buy F-16s produced by Washington to transfer this fighter to Ukraine.

Since then, Western countries have begun efforts to train Ukrainian pilots. A pilot will have to go through a course that lasts many months to be able to control the fighter fluently. 

Since last year, the first Ukrainian pilots began training at Morris Air National Guard base in Tucson, Arizona, USA.

Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium plan to begin delivering 60 F-16s to Ukraine this summer.

Western countries have repeatedly emphasized that the F-16 will be transferred to Ukraine as long as Kiev is ready to operate, meaning they must have enough pilots, technicians, airport infrastructure, bases, and equipment.

This is a big challenge for Kiev as they are used to operating Soviet-standard fighter squadrons as well as Ukrainian bases that are constantly attacked by Russia. On the other hand, according to Politico , sources say that with the current pace of pilot training, Ukraine is unlikely to have enough people to fly the F-16 fleet soon.

The source said that Ukraine has continuously lobbied US lawmakers to push the government to speed up F-16 pilot training activities. However, the US side said that, in addition to the fact that each training course only has a limited number of training slots, there are also other countries waiting in line to wait for their pilots to participate in training.

These are countries that have purchased American F-16s with training packages and Washington cannot break its commitment. Sasha Ustinova, a Ukrainian lawmaker, acknowledged the situation to Politico .

US Air Force spokeswoman Laurel Falls said the National Guard is planning to train a total of 12 Ukrainian pilots by the end of September in Tucson. In addition to Arizona, the training facility in Denmark also has limited capacity and is preparing to close in November. The third program, located in Romania and will be run by contractors, is not yet operational and if The activity will only have a small number of training slots.

Maj. Gen. Erin Hannigan, a spokeswoman for the Arizona National Guard, confirmed the restrictions related to training Ukrainian pilots.

This official said there are many reasons for this, such as the order of training requirements, the training budget and the requirement that students’ English must be up to standard before being trained.

In total, Ukraine is expected to have 20 F-16-capable pilots this year, only half the number of 40 needed to operate a fleet of 20 jets.

Difficult to change the situation

Meanwhile, US officials have warned for months that the F-16 will not make as big a difference to Ukraine on the battlefield as Kiev expected.

While the jets “will give Ukraine a capability that it doesn’t have right now… it won’t be a significant game changer in my opinion,” the US Air Force secretary said. Frank Kendall said.

For example, in the Kharkiv region, a US official said Ukraine would not be able to fly F-16s to the border with Russia or into Russian territory, because Moscow’s air defense system would easily detect and shoot them down.

On the other hand, at the current rate of training, an anonymous former US official told Politico that Ukraine will not have enough pilots to operate a full fleet until the end of 2025.

Another issue is the weapons the F-16 will use. Ukraine plans to deploy F-16s to intercept Russian cruise and ballistic missiles fired at Kiev’s infrastructure.

Those missions require precision air-to-air missiles from the United States and dozens of NATO allies. A NATO official said many of those countries are hesitant to donate these weapons in large quantities to Kiev because they are very expensive.

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