Ukrainian pilots will begin training on US-made F-16 fighter jets in August, top defense officials said on Tuesday during a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. The training process is expected to take at least six or eight months, with first “results” expected early next year.
The training center will be set up in Romania and will be operational next month, Dutch caretaker Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren has said. The center will be used to train Ukrainians, as well as pilots from other allied nations, according to the minister.
Ollongren has said she “assumes that it will take at least six to eight months before they will be able to fly and maintain such an F-16.”
“Hopefully, we will be able to see results in the beginning of next year,” Denmark’s acting defense minister Troels Lund Poulsen has said.
The development has been welcomed by Ukrainian Defense Minister Alexey Reznikov, who claimed it would ultimately benefit the US-led NATO alliance.
“F-16s will protect Ukraine’s skies and NATO’s Eastern Flank. The Ukrainian Air Force is prepared to master them as quickly as possible,” Reznikov tweeted.
So far, however, no Western country has pledged to actually supply F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. Potential deliveries of the jets will require permission from Washington, Ollongren said, noting that the US had not granted it yet.
According to Kiev, the F-16 training process was originally planned to begin back in June, but the country’s Western backers failed to live by their promises. Last week, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said one of the countries of the so-called “fighter jet coalition” – which involves, according to Ukraine, the US, UK, the Netherlands, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Portugal and France – had “miscalculated” when it made its original pledge on the start of training.
Kiev has been long demanding F-16s, as well as other modern aircraft from its Western backers, amid the ongoing hostilities with Russia. The potential deliveries had not materialized yet, with the country receiving only a limited number of older Soviet-made aircraft from several Eastern European nations instead.
Moscow has repeatedly urged the collective West to stop “pumping” Ukraine with weaponry, warning that delivering more and more sophisticated systems only risks a major escalation and inflicts more destruction on the country. Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin said F-16s “will burn” just like Western tanks used in the ongoing counteroffensive effort launched by Kiev in early June.
Thus far, Kiev has failed to achieve any major gains amid the push, losing multiple Western-supplied armored vehicles, including US-made Bradley IFVs and German-made Leopard 2 tanks in the process.
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