The US and other nations continue to provide a broad range of war materiel to Ukraine. Belatedly, the oft-discussed transfer of F-16s to Ukraine is gathering speed.
Two defense leaders in nations with the capacity to transfer F-16s to the embattled nation and help establish an initial training enterprise for Ukrainian pilots and maintenance personnel provided MS&T with conceptual, near-term milestones for establishing Ukrainian F-16 units.
Major (NLDAF) Wilko ter Horst-Delstra, Spokesman and Senior Communication Advisor for the Netherlands Ministry of Defense, pointed to a letter sent June 15 by Netherlands Minister of Defence Kajsa Ollongren to the nation’s House of Representatives. The document first verified the Netherlands and a number of other European countries are working to ensure that the training of Ukrainian pilots to fly the F-16 can start as soon as possible. “To this end, a training centre is being set up in an eastern European NATO member state. Furthermore, the Netherlands is again contributing to the strengthening of Ukraine’s air defence.” The military spokesperson added, “In the short term, our focus is on organizing the F-16 training as soon as possible. Therefore, the delivery of F-16s is not an issue at the moment and it will also require an additional (political) decision-making process.”
Any transfer of non-US F-16s to Ukraine would require US government approval as Lockheed Martin, the fourth-generation fighter’s OEM, is US based. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency, through the Office of Secretary of Defense, did not respond to MS&T’s query on whether any nation had requested US approval for such a transfer.
Morten Kaus, Press Chief, Danish Ministry of Defence, also provided a statement attributable to Acting Minister of Defense Troels Lund Poulsen, in which the leader noted during the last few weeks he had several opportunities to discuss with his colleagues possible models for training of Ukrainian pilots and support staff for the F-16 jets. “I am very pleased to see that the coalition behind training pilots and support staff for F-16 continuously broadens. It will be an important strategic step in the long term. The first step is to find out which countries want to be involved in carrying out the training mission. We will continue working on this.” Of significance, the acting minister concluded, “My hope is that we’ll be able to present a concept in time for the summit in Vilnius [meeting of NATO Heads of State and Government this July 11-12] and that the training will commence later this summer.”
An Evolving Enterprise
While no F-16s have migrated to Ukraine’s air order of battle, a conceptual training program to support an initial tranche of the aircraft for that nation’s air force is taking shape according to these and other NATO leaders. Most telling, during the recently concluded NATO Defense Ministers meetings in Brussels to prepare for the Vilnius Summit in July, one potential joint plan openly discussed called for prospective Ukrainian pilots to receive training at the Danish Air Force base Skrødstrup in Southern Jutland, where F-16s are based.
F-16 Pilot Training Capability
In August 2022, the Danish Defence Acquisition and Logistics Organization and the Royal Danish Air Force announced a full suite of new F-16 simulators, known as Deployable Advanced Readiness Trainers (DART), were ready for training at the service’s F-16 base.
DART was developed jointly on the industry side by IFAD and ArenaLogic.
MS&T was initially referred to a DALO document from last August, which noted in part, “DART now more closely resembles a real simulator, albeit a static one. The cockpit resembles that of real aircraft, while the many screens give a real sense of the airspace in which the aircraft is flying.” The project evolved to provide four simulators.
Denmark-based Arenalogic developed and owns the four F-16 simulators integral to the DART system. Tomas Eilsø, Arenalogic’s founder and a military pilot training community innovator, noted his company has been independently developing the F-16 simulators since 2008. He added that, while the DART simulation center comprises his company’s F-16 simulators, it also includes “IFAD’s JTAC and instructor station which have been integrated to offer a combined product from the two companies.”
DART was developed jointly on the industry side by IFAD and its subcontracted company ArenaLogic, the latter being responsible for the actual flight aspects of the simulator.
MS&T was initially referred to a DALO document from last August, which noted in part, “DART now more closely resembles a real simulator, albeit a static one. The cockpit resembles that of real aircraft, while the many screens give a real sense of the airspace in which the aircraft is flying.” The project evolved to provide four simulators. The document continued: “The capacity of four simulators offers some advantages as it allows pilots to train in the same tactics as flown in an actual aircraft where the ability to focus on four planes working as a unit is ideal.”
DALO and RDAF are focused in one instance on concurrency, with the DART weapons package being configured to remain up-to-date with weapons already on the aircraft, or scheduled for fitting. While an electronic flight bag tablet is integrated into DART, so too is the Link 16 network, “connecting the simulator to actual aircraft flying in the airspace. This means the pilots can view each other on their respective screens, talk to each other and see when a pilot delivers weapons.”
As a result, DART training students can learn and rehearse tactical air-to-air and air-to-ground and other missions with air control wing fighter controllers, JTAC personnel and other aircraft – expanding the distributed mission and, by extension, the LVC envelope. Benny Graff Mortensen, President and CEO at IFAD, added the DART system also includes an AI server.
[Editor’s note: viewers can observe Danish F-16 pilots using DART at Danish Ministry of Defence]
IFAD and Arenalogic’s presence in the NATO F-16 training community is significantly expanding. The Funen, Denmark-based IFAD has also delivered the DART solution to the Portuguese Air Force. Arenalogic is the prime contractor for two Belgian Air Force F-16 DART centers. “So four air bases in Europe are using the DART system for F-16 pilot training,” Mortensen concluded.