By Lieven Dewitte
After months of negotiations, a handful of Ukrainian pilots are at long last in Arizona. They’re part of the first group of Ukrainians learning how to fly the F-16 fighter jet.
The small group of Ukrainian pilots first took English language courses in Texas before going to Morris ANG base in Arizona to start their flight training. The Air Forces 162nd Wing will lead the training. The 162nd is the primary F-16 training hub for the USAF. Every country currently flying the F-16 today was taught by the 162nd.
The Training Regiment starts in the classroom before the pilots move on to a simulator and then, finally, flying actual jets over the American Southwest.
Ukraine’s pilots will most likely see an accelerated training course as their skills are in dire need back home. Ukraine’s military has called out for F-16s since the earliest days of Russia’s full-scale invasion — a call that was only answered this summer.
The plane is no silver bullet in the conflict, but it’s a notable improvement to Ukraine’s stock of Soviet-era jets. It has multiple potential uses, including defending against Russia’s exploding drone barrages, bombarding Russian defensive positions on the front line, and — a more risky and therefore less likely scenario. Much of its capabilities will depend on the weapons it’s equipped with — and the effectiveness of the pilots flying it.
The United States is part of an 11-nation coalition to get F-16s to Ukraine. The Netherlands and Denmark are also training pilots and will give Ukraine its first batch of 42 F-16s. The planes should be in country sometime in the first part of 2024. Even with expedited training, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the earliest anyone can expect Ukrainian pilots to be flying F-16s against Russia would be next spring.