Denmark, Netherlands To Lead Ukraine F-16 Training

A U.S. Air Force F-16 in Ukraine in 2011.

Credit: U.S. National Guard

Denmark and the Netherlands will lead a group effort to train Ukrainian pilots on Lockheed Martin F-16s following a green light from the U.S., with training expected to begin within months, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says.

In addition to leadership from the Dutch and the Danish, Austin says Belgium, Norway, Portugal and Poland have offered to contribute. Other countries may join soon, Austin told reporters following the 12th meeting of dozens of nations focused on providing military aid to Ukraine. 

In addition to these countries, Austin says he hopes that others could contribute funding to the effort since standing up a Ukrainian F-16 contingent will not be cheap.

The U.S. has been hesitant to approve F-16s for Ukraine, instead focusing on near-term efforts such as ground-based air defenses to help protect the country’s skies. Austin says there continues to be “very lethal airspace, and so we wanted to focus and have been focusing on the things Ukraine needs to defend itself.”

The “committee” of European nations will need to decide on the sourcing of the jets, along with plans for maintenance, sustainment and munitions. In order to effectively contest Russia in the air, Ukraine will need a “substantial amount” of fourth- and fifth-generation fighters and this will also take a “considerable length of time,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley says. 

Milley warned that “there’s no magic weapons in war; an F-16 is not and neither is anything else.” Early in the war, Ukraine needed a defense against mechanized armor and to keep airspace clear to protect against Russian close air support, and previous batches of aid reflected that. The F-16 decision is based on a “much longer view,” he says.

Brian Everstine

Brian Everstine is the Pentagon Editor for Aviation Week, based in Washington, D.C. Before joining Aviation Week in August 2021, he covered the Pentagon for Air Force Magazine. Brian began covering defense aviation in 2011 as a reporter for Military Times.