A quickening pace of high-level and behind-closed-doors meetings last week continued to shape the nascent Ukrainian F-16 program. Commitments were gained to transfer fourth-generation F-16s to the nation. The foundation to train Ukrainian pilots and maintainers was solidified as Denmark announced the start of training for these two groups. This recent progress aside, it is increasingly evident Ukrainian Air Force-piloted F-16s will not be flying missions until early 2024.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated on August 18 that his nation’s approval for the transfer of US-based Lockheed Martin built F-16s would come after consultation with Congress and after completion of training for Ukrainian pilots on the aircraft.
The following week, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh clarified some of what would need to happen for US Government approval to come. “In order for the third-party transfer to be completed, there are certain criteria that have to be met, including the English language training [and] other things like logistics on the ground,” she said. “So once [those] criteria [are] met, we'll be in a position to authorize the transfer.”
The major development in terms of US support to the evolving F-16 training enterprise was Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder’s statement of August 24 that the US DoD will begin training Ukrainians to fly and maintain F-16 fighter jets in the coming months. The training is expected to begin in October at the Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona, and will be facilitated by the Air National Guard's 162nd Wing.
This US-led training is “in support of the international effort to develop and strengthen Ukraine's long-term defenses," Ryder added.
Retired US Air Force Brig. Gen. John Teichert addressed the significance of the Tucson site in an article posted in June, when he told this editor: “Additionally, the 162nd Wing in Tucson, Arizona should play a major role in this effort as an organization that specializes in foreign F-16 training.”
The Pentagon Press Secretary added the complete training pipeline would likely take several months, depending upon the pilots’ proficiency coming into the course. “Part of this training will be assessing the individual pilot’s skill level, which will help to determine how long that training will last,” he said, and added, “Your basic, new F-16 pilot with not a lot of training on the US side, that training typically lasts about eight months."
Across the Atlantic, on August 24, a Norwegian Ministry of Defence press release quoted that nation’s Prime Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, as saying, “We have already decided to train Ukrainian fighter jet pilots and announced in the summer that we would provide two Norwegian F-16 jets for training purposes. We are planning to donate Norwegian F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, and will provide further details about the donation, numbers and time frame for delivery, in due course.”
The donation of these jets will be carried out in close cooperation with allies. Denmark and the Netherlands have also announced that they will be donating F-16P fighter jets.
Is it 19, “several dozen” or other numbers of Danish F-16s reported in media outlets that will be transferred to Ukraine? This August 25, Morten Kaus, Press Chief at the Danish Ministry of Defence, told MS&T, “The correct number is 19 and we expect the first to be donated around the new year and onwards.”
Denmark is also advancing another major development in training. This August 25, Louise Hedegaard, Public Affairs Adviser in the Executive Office at Defence Command Denmark, told MS&T, “The Danish Armed Forces have begun training Ukrainian pilots.” Specifically, Ukrainian pilots, technical specialists, and other support personnel have deployed to Skrydstrup Air Base. The group consists of 73 Ukrainians, of which eight are pilots.
A command press release dated August 24 said in part, “Before initiating the actual training, all Ukrainian personnel must go through a security-clearance process. Furthermore, they have to complete a health check, and go through English-language screening to ascertain whether they have the proficiency to complete the training program conducted in English.” Once all the initial aspects are in place, the practical F-16 training will commence. “This will take place in Skrydstrup, and will be run by Danish instructors. It is expected that other nations will participate in the effort in as well,” the document added.
On August 20, a Netherlands Ministry of Defence press statement noted the nation’s Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, informed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that his nation will supply F-16s to Ukraine. The document continued, when Zelenskyy visited the Netherlands in May, “He was informed during that visit that the Netherlands intended to train Ukrainian military personnel to operate F-16s.”
This August 24, Major Wilko ter Horst-Delstra, Spokesman, Royal Netherlands Airforce, told MS&T that he had no additional information to provide on his nation’s contribution to this nascent F-16 program. He emphasized, “As our minister said, it takes time.”
As aspiring Ukrainian F-16 pilots complete training in Denmark, the NATO F-16 coalition‘s eyes also remain fixed on Romania as a probable regional F-16 training hub. That additional training would be conducted at a level to be determined by F-16 OEM Lockheed Martin.
And finally, on August 20, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was quoted in numerous media outlets as stating his nation would help train Ukrainian F-16 pilots. As of this August 25, there was no official announcement on the Hellenic Ministry of National Defence website regarding this pledge. The ministry did not respond to this editor’s inquiry for additional details of the senior-level commitment to train future Ukrainian pilots.