US backs training of Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16, other fighter jets

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon flies over Afghanistan, March 17, 2020. The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a compact, multi-role fighter aircraft that delivers war- winning airpower to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Matthew Lotz)

The US has told its allies it will back a joint international effort to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 and other modern fighter jets, marking a significant boost to Western support for Kyiv as it prepares a major counter-offensive.

The Guardian reports that Joe Biden has already informed fellow leaders attending a G7 summit in Japan of his decision, a senior administration official said, adding that the plan would include training “in fourth-generation fighter aircraft, including F-16s, to further strengthen and improve the capabilities of the Ukrainian Air Force”.

The fourth generation category includes Britain’s Eurofighter Typhoon and France’s Mirage 2000.

“As the training takes place over the coming months, our coalition of countries participating in this effort will decide when to actually provide jets, how many we will provide, and who will provide them,” the senior official said. “This training will take place outside Ukraine at sites in Europe and will require months to complete. We hope we can begin this training in the coming weeks.”


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The German vice-chancellor’s comments come after both the US and the UK said they would not supply jets
The decision represents a dramatic shift in stance by Washington, which had previously presented the supply of F16s to Ukraine as unfeasible. The speed of the U-turn took some allies by surprise.


There had been reports that the US would give a green light for other states to make preparations to supply Western fighter jets, but even close allies did not expect Biden to support direct US involvement in a training programme.

“Things are moving really fast in Japan. Faster even than we had hoped,” one European diplomat said.

Yehor Cherniev, the deputy chair of the Ukrainian parliament’s national security committee, said F-16s could be in operation within four months of the start of training.

“When we will have well-trained pilots, the F-16s will be in the sky over Ukraine and will help us to move forward,” Cherniev said. “It’s important to us, not just as one more tool for our air defence system, but also to cover our infantry from the sky because, without it, we would have more losses.”