US will train Ukrainian F-16 pilots, ground crews

An F-16 assigned to the 162nd Wing, Morris Air National Guard Base, Tucson, Ariz., soars over the skies during a recent training Mission. Morris ANG Base is home to the Air National Guard’s premier F-16 fighter pilot training unit, the 162nd Wing. It is one of the largest ANG wings in the country and resides next to the Tucson International Airport. The wing shares use of the runway, security and fire control with the airport. Guardsmen provide ready forces in support of civil authorities and wartime operations. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Hampton E. Stramler)

The Defense Department will begin training Ukrainians to fly and maintain F-16 fighter jets in the coming months, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said today.

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.

The U.S.-led training is “in support of the international effort to develop and strengthen Ukraine’s long-term defenses,” Ryder said.

The Netherlands and Denmark have announced their intentions to make F-16 aircraft from their fleets available to Ukraine.

Pentagon Press Secretary U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder conducts a press briefing at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Aug. 24, 2023. (DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Cesar J. Navarro)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken signaled the United States’ willingness to approve the third-party transfer of the U.S.-made F-16s to Ukraine in a letter to his European counterparts last week.

“The training provided by the United States will complement the F-16 pilot and maintenance training that’s already underway in Europe and further deepens our support of the F-16 training coalition led by Denmark and the Netherlands,” Ryder said. “Moving forward we will remain in close consultation with the Danes, the Dutch and other allies to ensure U.S. training complements the broader coalition training efforts.”

Ryder added that by announcing the training, the U.S. is preempting any training capacity constraints in Denmark and the Netherlands’ training pipeline to ensure the aircraft are fielded to Ukraine as quickly as possible.

He said Ukraine will ultimately determine the number of pilots that will require the training.

During a briefing last week, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said U.S. approval for the transfer would come after consultation with Congress and after completion of training for Ukrainian pilots on the aircraft.

Ryder said 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 pilots’ skill level, which will help to determine how long that training will last,” he said. “Your basic, new F-16 pilot with not a lot of training on the U.S. side, that training typically lasts about eight months.”

That training includes a series of courses ranging from basic flight training to instruction on fighter fundamentals, weapons employment, combat maneuvering and tactical intercepts among other concepts.

He said training for more experienced pilots could be completed in about five months.

Beyond flight training, Ryder said the F-16s require significant logistics and maintenance training for ground support personnel that ensures the aircrafts remain combat capable.

Prior to flight training, the pilots will receive language training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, beginning in September.

The language training will ensure that all pilots have sufficient language skills to be able to fully comprehend the “complexities and specialized English required to fly the aircraft,” Ryder said.

The announcement further underscores the United States’ long-term solidarity with Ukraine as it defends itself from Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III highlighted that commitment earlier today in a statement marking Ukraine’s 32nd anniversary of its independence.

“The Ukrainian people have inspired the world with their courage and resolve to defend their right to live in a sovereign, democratic and free country,” he said.

“Today, as Ukraine commemorates another year of independence, the United States remains steadfast in our commitment to ensure that it can celebrate many more,” he said. “We will support Ukraine for as long as it takes in its fight for its security and freedom.”