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Ukrainian Pilots Are in US Training on F-16s

Ukrainian pilots are being evaluated for training on advanced F-16 jets on US soil, according to new reports.

On Saturday, NBC News reported that two Ukrainians were “undergoing an assessment” in the US to see how long it would take them to complete training on aircraft including F-16 fighters.

Citing officials, the outlet said they were being evaluated in Tucson, Arizona, and further Ukrainian pilots could be on the way.

CNN also reported that Ukrainian pilots were in Arizona for “routine activity as part of our military-to-military dialogue with Ukraine,” quoting a US military official.

This “familiarization event” in Arizona is “essentially a discussion between the Air Force personnel and an observation of how the US Air Force operates,” the official said, according to the outlet.

The event is intended to assist Ukrainian pilots in becoming “more effective,” and to “advise them on how to develop their own capabilities,” the official said. This will include using simulators.

But “there are no updates to provide regarding F-16s to Ukraine,” the official added.

Ukraine’s government has long called for its Western backers to send advanced fighter jets to replace the Soviet-era aircraft it has been operating. But Kyiv’s supporters have so far resisted such demands.

During a whistle-stop tour of Britain, France and Belgium in February, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky renewed his appeal for jets, calling them “wings for freedom.”

During Zelensky’s visit to London, the British government announced that the UK would extend its training of Ukrainian forces to include fighter jet pilots.

This “will ensure pilots are able to fly sophisticated NATO-standard fighter jets in the future,” Downing Street said on February 8.

Britain having already formally indicated that it would start this training shows the US is “late” to action it should have started “a long time ago,” according to Glen Howard, president of Washington DC-based think tank the Jamestown Foundation.

Ukrainian pilots have a “burning desire to fly F-16s,” he told newsweek, suggesting they will already have some familiarity with the multi-role jet.

“This is a sensitive, practical but measured contingency against the high probability that the US does authorize the donation of some of these jets to Ukraine in the next few months,” former British military officer Frank Ledwidge told Newsweek.

Ledwidge suggested a decision about whether to furnish Ukraine with F-16s will be made “in due course,” and will likely require an assessment of air and ground crews.

Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for policy, said on February 28 a decision had not been made to provide F-16s by the US or any of Ukraine’s allies, and so “it doesn’t make sense” for the US “to start to train [Ukrainian personnel] on a system they may never get.”

He told the House Armed Services Committee that Ukraine could end up operating Swedish-made Gripens or the British air force’s Tornado jets, meaning training on F-16s would be of little use.

It would take three to six years to deliver advanced “new production” F-16s to Kyiv, he said.

The “most expeditious” timeline for training and delivery of F-16s to Ukraine would be around 18 months, he said.

Kahl added the US Air Force had suggested Ukraine would need somewhere between 50 and 80 fourth-generation aircraft over the long term to replace the country’s existing fighters.

Fourth-generation fighters are advanced aircraft but usually have limited, if any stealth capabilities, unlike the latest fifth-generation aircraft.

Ukrainian pilots are being evaluated for training on advanced F-16 jets on US soil, according to new reports.

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