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U.S. Begins Training Ukrainian Pilots to Fly F-16s at Arizona Base

(Photo by MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Micaela Burrow, Daily Caller News Foundation

Ukrainian pilots began training on F-16 fighter jets at a U.S. Air National Guard Base in Arizona earlier this week, the Air Force said Wednesday, according to media reports.

A small number of pilots arrived at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, for English language training in September and, upon completion, transferred to Morris Air National Guard Base in Arizona for an expected six months of training on the F-16 fourth-generation fighter jets, according to Politico. The move was a last resort for the Biden administration, which agreed to train Ukrainians on the American-made fighter jet on U.S. territory only if European training capacity proved insufficient.

“The 162nd Wing, Arizona Air National Guard, began training a small number of Ukrainian pilots this week in F-16 fundamentals,” an Air Force spokesperson said in a statement to Fox News.

“The training curriculum will align with the foundational knowledge and skills of each pilot and is expected to last several months,” the spokesperson said, according to Air and Space Forces Magazine.

First, the pilots will receive classroom instruction and practice on simulators before moving on to fly the actual jets, as is typical for most Air Force training programs, Politico reported. The entire program may be accelerated amid urgency to get fighter jets into combat in Ukraine.

In September, Gen. James Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, said “up to 10” Ukrainian pilots would be part of the program, according to Air and Space Forces Magazine.

However, F-16s are not expected to be operational in Ukraine until 2024, according to Air and Space Forces Magazine. The U.S. has not committed to provide its own jets, leaning on European countries to provide the platform while the U.S. gives instruction in operations and maintenance.

Program stipulations require the administration to approve any transfers of F-16s from one country to another.

Ukraine began lobbying for the fighter jets soon after Russia invaded with a view of utilizing the advanced Western jets on the battlefield as soon as possible, while Western nations see the F-16 delivery as something to reinforce Ukraine’s post-war military, according to The Washington Post. Denmark and the Netherlands volunteered to head an instruction program after the U.S. softened its position on the F-16s in the spring of 2023, but the training’s start date faced repeated delays.

The 162nd Wing is the only unit in the Air Force responsible for training foreign pilots to operate the U.S.-made fighter jet and has trained pilots from more than two dozen countries, according to Air and Space Forces Magazine.

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