A training enterprise to support the promised delivery of F-16s to Ukraine continues to take shape. To meet expectations, the ink on a training concept emerging at this week’s NATO Vilnius meeting is figuratively “wet,” with myriad details still to be resolved.
A document provided to MS&T from Morten Kaus, Press Chief at the Danish Ministry of Defence, noted for this evolving program, defense leaders from an interesting mix of nations: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the UK share the conviction to further support Ukraine against Russian aggression. Accordingly, this NATO effort to support the Ukrainians in defense of their airspace calls for establishing a joint coalition on training of the Ukrainian Air Force in operating and maintaining F-16 fighter aircraft. “The coalition is led by Denmark and the Netherlands,” the document read.
Four Training Phases
Through various training tracks, which will be carried out in concert by the members of the coalition, Ukrainian fighter pilots and support personnel will be trained to operate, support and maintain the F-16s at a basic tactical and technical level. “There will be a possibility to include other types of fighter aircraft at a later stage,” the document significantly noted.
The Ukrainian pilot training effort has a wide aperture, covering language training, flight training and then conversion to the F-16 platform. The document added, “The intended training audience ranges will include pilots with different levels of experience, technicians, support staff and mission planners. The timing of training will depend on qualifications of the personnel.”
The coalition has agreed to support the training with language experts, pilots, ground crew, instructors, aircraft or funding as appropriate. Cédric Maes, spokesperson at the Belgian Ministry of Defence, confirmed, “Belgium will provide instructors for the training of the pilots, and has proposed its outstanding industrial network for the maintenance of the F-16s. It is too soon to be able to provide the details” on this contribution to the nascent plan. The spokesperson added, “Discussions with the other partners continue, and in the next coming weeks more concrete information will be available, after political approbation from the Belgian government.”
The alliance document also noted Ukraine is expected to provide qualified personnel able to pass necessary language, health and security tests.
The intent of the agreed-to F-16 training concept is to commence training of teams of pilots and ground crews over a period of six months.
F-16 Training Sequence
The F-16 working group expects the Ukrainian F-16 training program to consist of: selection of personnel; preparation and mandatory language training; theoretical and practical training on F-16s; and end of training.
Lieutenant Colonel M. (Mark) van de Beek, Army spokesperson in the Netherlands Ministry of Defence, provided additional details. He noted, in part, the plan calls for training to start in the UK with a language assessment and training, followed by training on F-16 simulators and onboard the F-16 in Denmark. “This is to start this summer,” with the NATO document further emphasizing, “All training will take place at various locations outside of Ukraine, including Skrydstrup Fighter Base, Denmark.” Significant military and simulation and training industry capacity exists to support F-16 training at this site and elsewhere in Denmark, and in other nations.
LtCol van de Beek pointed out that at the same time, a training center will be set up in Romania. “At this training centre both Ukrainian and other Eastern European countries will be trained on F-16s. The Netherlands will support the setup of this training centre and will provide F-16 airplanes to be used for training,” he added.
Wednesday evening (12 July), Alex Curry, Communications Manager, Greenville Site & F-16, for Lockheed Martin, initially noted LM is working closely with the US government to support its response to the conflict in Ukraine. In terms of this training thrust, the corporate spokesperson added, “Lockheed Martin has supported F-16s worldwide for decades, including pilot and maintainer training. We are committed to working with Romania to ensure that their pilot training meets their national security requirements.”
Wither the Aircraft?
There continues to be conjecture and speculation in the media about the transfer of F-16s to Ukraine. A significant data point was provided late on Wednesday by LtCol van de Beek, who noted, “At this time the decision to provide Ukraine with F-16s has not been made. The amount of F-16s – I cannot disclose at this time – will start as soon as possible, planning on Quarter 4 of this year. Most likely this will start with a few airplanes and scale up from there.”
As of July 12, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency and other US government offices having oversight on the transfer of US-based Lockheed Martin-built F-16s had not publicly declared their authority to transfer these fourth-generation fighters to Ukraine.
Progressing to “Wheels Up”
The transfer of F-16s to Ukraine and the establishment of a supporting training enterprise for that nation’s air force continues to quickly evolve. Many details need to be completed at the NATO, national and industry levels to begin this program. MS&T and this author will continue to follow, and report and comment on the training readiness aspects of this major weapons platform transfer.