US agrees to train Ukraine’s F-16 pilots in Arizona

The Pentagon said Thursday that the U.S. will begin instructing Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s in Arizona this fall, as the Biden administration moves to expand the U.S. role in the fighter jet training program amid strong appeals from Kiev.

Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said training at Morris Air National Guard Base near Tucson, led by the Air National Guard’s 162nd Wing, is expected to begin in October. The exercise will involve dozens of Ukrainian maintenance personnel and at least several pilots who will receive English-language training at another base in Texas in September, but the exact numbers have not yet been determined.

The Biden administration’s decision to conduct F-16 exercises for Ukraine followed earlier reports that US-based instruction would only occur if European countries’ ability to lead the instruction program was “reached at a certain time” and that their limits could be reached. indicates the time in the future.”

“We want to do everything we can to move this effort quickly in favor of Ukraine,” Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon. “So early on, acknowledging that and leaning forward to help this effort is the impetus for why we’re doing this now.”

The announcement follows complaints by Ukrainian officials that training is moving too slowly to meet their country’s wartime needs. Two months into the much-anticipated counteroffensive, Ukrainian forces have been struggling to break into enemy-held territory heavily mined and defended by Russia. President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government has requested the F-16s, saying Ukraine needs more air power to counter Russian attacks.

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The practice is just taking off in Europe, led by Denmark and the Netherlands. This week, eight Ukrainian pilots Began training on F-16s in Denmark. Danish officials say they plan to deliver 19 F-16s to Ukraine.

The US, which manufactures the plane, must allow other countries that fly the jet to transfer fighter jets to Ukraine or train Ukrainian pilots.

President Biden’s decision this spring to train Ukraine on F-16s followed a similar pattern, after more than a year of denying those requests, with the U.S. initially reluctant to provide some weapons systems to Ukraine but later complying with its demands. A conflict has arisen. The United States is Ukraine’s biggest supporter in its fight to oust Russian invaders.

But even after supporting the delivery of F-16s to Ukraine, U.S. officials view the aircraft as a tool for Ukraine’s long-term security, rather than a short-term solution to the country’s battlefield challenges.

Ukrainian officials are seeking to speed up the training process, warning in recent weeks that the first pilots in Ukraine may not be ready to fly F-16s until next summer. U.S. officials, meanwhile, described a plan that was largely hampered by the availability of enough experienced Ukrainian pilots who could speak English and fly other planes. It is unclear whether plans to conduct training in the United States and Europe will change Ukraine’s planned timeline.

Ryder described a multistep process involving assessments of Ukrainian pilots’ skill levels. Initial training for F-16 pilots typically lasts eight months, and advanced training can take five more, he said. Pilots will receive instruction in areas including air combat maneuvers and weapons deployment, and undergo centrifugal training that simulates the effect of the powerful G-force experienced by F-16 pilots in flight.

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“It helps you transition from a basic pilot mindset to a fighter pilot mindset,” he said.

Ryder described the unit at Morris as the Air National Guard’s “premier F-16 training unit,” which has trained pilots from more than 25 countries.

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

“This is a high-performance aircraft with a significant logistics and maintenance tail, so … ground support training, air traffic controllers, fuels, and associated communications … are essential in maintaining this base,” he said.

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