Sunday, July 21, 2024

The United States agrees to train Ukrainian F-16 pilots in Arizona


The Pentagon said Thursday that the United States will begin directing Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s in Arizona this fall, as the Biden administration moves to expand the American role in the fighter jet training program amid intense pleas from Kiev.

brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said the training at Morris Air National Guard Base near Tucson, led by the Air National Guard’s 162nd Wing, is expected to begin in October. He added that the training will include dozens of Ukrainian maintenance personnel and at least several pilots, who will first undergo English language training at another base in Texas in September, but the exact numbers have yet to be determined.

The Biden administration’s decision to host F-16 training for Ukraine, following earlier statements that training in the United States would only occur if demand exceeded the capacity of the European countries leading the training program, reflects the conclusion that the cap will be reached “at a certain point.” . point in time in the future.”

“We want to do everything we can to help move these efforts forward as quickly as we can in support of Ukraine,” Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon. “So proactively acknowledging that and leaning forward to help with that effort is the motivation for us doing it now.”

The announcement follows complaints from Ukrainian officials that the training was going too slowly to meet their country’s wartime needs. Two months into the anticipated counterattack, Ukrainian forces are struggling to advance into heavily mined enemy-held territory defended by Russia. President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government has called for the F-16s, saying Ukraine needs a larger air force to contain the Russian attacks.

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Training in Europe, led by Denmark and the Netherlands, is just beginning to take off. Just this week, eight Ukrainian pilots F-16 training has begun in Denmark. Danish officials say they plan to provide 19 F-16s to Ukraine.

The United States, which manufactures the plane, must give other countries using the plane permission to fly warplanes to Ukraine or train Ukrainian pilots.

President Biden’s decision this spring to support Ukraine’s F-16 training, after refusing those requests for more than a year, followed a similar pattern in which the United States initially objected to providing Ukraine with certain weapons systems but later acquiesced to its requests as Ukraine’s host country. The conflict has evolved. The United States is Ukraine’s biggest supporter in its war to expel the Russian invaders.

But even after supporting the provision of the F-16s to Ukraine, U.S. officials have described the planes as a tool in Ukraine’s long-term defense rather than a short-term solution to the country’s battlefield challenges.

Ukrainian officials, seeking to speed up the training process, have warned in recent weeks that the first pilots may not be ready to fly the F-16s in Ukraine until next summer. Meanwhile, US officials described the program as being largely constrained by the availability of Ukrainian pilots with sufficient experience to speak English and fly other aircraft. It is not clear if plans to conduct the training in the United States as well as Europe might change the expected schedule for Ukraine.

Ryder described a multi-step process that involved assessments of the Ukrainian pilots’ skill levels. He said initial training for F-16 pilots usually lasts eight months, and more advanced training can take another five months. The pilots will receive instruction in areas including air combat maneuvers and weapons use, and will undergo centrifuge training that simulates the effect of the powerful gravitational force that F-16 pilots experience in flight.

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“This will help you move from a basic pilot mindset to a fighter pilot mindset,” he said.

Rader described the unit at Morris as the Air National Guard’s “Prime Minister’s F-16 Training Wing,” which has trained pilots from more than 25 countries.

He said launching a program to fly and maintain and repair aircraft like the F-16 was a big undertaking, even for countries with experienced pilots flying other aircraft.

“This is a high-performance aircraft with significant tail logistics and maintenance, so … ground support training, air traffic controllers, refueling, communications associated with that … everything that is required to maintain this platform,” he said.