Ukraine and 11 other nations have formalized a plan to train pilots, maintainers and support staff to operate F-16 Viper fighters, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov announced Tuesday in a Tweet.
While the broad outlines for the training program were discussed in May, Reznikov said that the memorandum signed during the NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania on Tuesday outlines the terms.
The training will start in August in Denmark, and a training center will be set up in Romania, Reuters reported, citing officials on the sidelines of the NATO summit. The War Zone posited that Romania would be the epicenter for Ukraine's F-16 training initiative in mid June. You can read all about why Romania made sense here.
Reznikov also opened the possibility "of including other types of fighter aircraft in the program. The coalition is ready to consider other means of granting [Ukraine] fully functional F-16 capabilities." He provided no specifics.
Officials in Kyiv, from President Volodymyr Zelensky on down, have continuously pushed for more modern aircraft than its current fighter fleet consisting of Soviet-designed Su-27s and MiG-29s. You can read more about how any F-16s heading to Ukraine could be armed here and about where they might come from here.
As we reported in May, a U.S. Air Force assessment earlier this year of Ukrainian pilots who came to the U.S. for simulator testing found that they could be trained in basic operations of American-made F-16 Viper fighter jets in around four months, far quicker than the Pentagon had previously suggested.
On May 25, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced after a virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group that Denmark and the Netherlands would lead a European coalition to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighters. That came after U.S. President Joe Biden earlier that month finally signed off on training Ukrainian pilots on Vipers.
In addition to Denmark and the Netherlands, Reznikov announced in his Tweet that Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, and the United Kingdom also signed the memorandum.
“F-16s will protect Ukraine’s skies and NATO's Eastern Flank,” he said. “The Ukrainian Air Force is prepared to master them as quickly as possible. Ukraine will win.”
While the training will begin at the end of the summer, the first Ukrainian pilots won't likely qualify on F-16s until next year. And there are no hard plans in place yet for when, or even if, Ukraine will get Vipers for those pilots to fly.
Though there seems a great momentum now to make that happen, the success or failure of Ukraine's ongoing counteroffensive will likely have been determined by the time F-16s show up.
We will continue to monitor this ongoing story as developments warrant.
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