U.S. To Help Train Ukrainian Pilots On F-16s
President Joe Biden informed world leaders on May 19 that the U.S. supports an international effort to train Ukrainian pilots on the Lockheed Martin F-16 and other fourth-generation fighters, the biggest move yet in the country’s quest to receive the multirole fighter.
Biden’s statement at the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, follows statements from other leaders such as UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte that the countries would form a coalition to provide Western combat jets for Ukraine in its war with Russia.
“Today, President Biden informed G7 leaders that the United States will support a joint effort with our allies and partners to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth-generation fighter aircraft, including F-16s, to further strengthen and improve the capabilities of the Ukrainian Air Force,” a senior administration official said in a statement to Aerospace DAILY. “As the training takes place over the coming months, our coalition of countries participating in this effort will decide when to actually provide jets, how many we will provide, and who will provide them.”
The training will take place outside Ukraine at sites in Europe, as opposed to the U.S.-led training site at Luke AFB Base, Arizona. The training will “require months to complete. We hope to begin this training in the coming weeks,” the official says.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pushed for months for international partners to provide the F-16. In a statement on Twitter, he wrote that he welcomed Biden’s decision to “support an international fighter jet coalition.” Zelenskyy was en route to the G7 summit, where he said he will discuss the implementation of the decision.
The Biden administration official points out that the U.S. and its allies and partners have focused on weapons and training for near-term operations, and that the support for F-16 training is part of its long-term commitment to Ukraine’s defense.
“Together with the short-term and medium-term security assistance packages we are providing Ukraine, President Biden is sending a powerful signal of how the United States and our allies and partners are fully united in ensuring Ukraine remains sovereign, independent, and secure with the ability to defend against and deter future attacks,” the official says.
While the training could start in the coming weeks, it is not clear where actual jets for Ukraine could come from. A few dozen F-16s may be immediately available, and more could be regenerated over a period of months from the Boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. Norway and the Netherlands, for example, agreed in 2021 to sell 12 F-16AM/BM Mid-Life Update (MLU) fighters to Draken International, which intended to offer the aircraft to the Air Force for aggressor training. But Draken appears not to have taken delivery of the 24 MLU-standard F-16s, putting their status in limbo.