The United States has begun training Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets, the US Air Force said on 25 October. A “small number” of Ukrainian pilots began training earlier this week at the Arizona Air National Guard’s 162nd Wing in “F-16 fundamentals,” a service spokesman said. “The curriculum will address the basic knowledge and skills of each pilot and is expected to last several months,” the US Air Force spokesman said in a statement provided to Air & Space Forces Magazine.
The 162nd Wing trains pilots at Morris Air National Guard Base, located at Tucson International Airport. It is the only unit in the US Air Force that trains foreign pilots on these aircraft as part of its daily mission. The wing has trained more than two dozen countries to fly the F-16. “They’re very familiar with how we train foreign military pilots,” said Lt. Gen. Michael A. Loh, director of the Air National Guard, in September.
A typical pilot training course lasts about six months. However, U.S. officials have indicated that Ukrainian pilots are unlikely to follow a standard model, as the course will be tailored to Ukraine’s needs to defend its skies from Russian aircraft, drones and missiles. European countries are also training Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s.
F-16 pilot training typically involves a significant amount of classroom and simulator time in addition to airborne training. Foreign F-16 pilots must also undergo English language training, which Ukrainians began last month at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
“For Ukraine, it will be tailored to exactly what they need to do, which is multirole, both air-to-air and air-to-ground,” Michael Loh said. “We will train them to do the full range of multifunctional tasks that we can expect according to their theory of conflict.”
Ukrainian pilots are expected to start flying F-16s no earlier than 2024. European countries have promised to provide Ukraine with used F-16s. The United States has committed to train several pilots and technicians to join the coalition of countries working to provide Ukraine with F-16s.
General James B. Hecker, the commander of the US Air Force in Europe, said in a September interview that the US would train “about 10 pilots”. The Pentagon has said that the US will also train “dozens” of technicians, although the US has not said whether this training has begun.
The US has not committed to providing F-16s. The transfer to Ukraine of the robust multi-role fighter jet, of which there are around 3,000 in the world, requires US government approval, and the Biden administration has indicated that it will sign off on it this summer.
The 162nd Wing’s training “follows the decision by President Biden and Secretary Austin to train Ukrainian pilots on the F-16 as part of the United States’ assistance to Ukraine,” the US Air Force spokesman said.
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