The first five F-16s that will be used to train Ukrainian pilots as part of a European initiative touched down in Romania today. The arrival of the Dutch jets at the new training center is an important milestone toward the Ukrainian Air Force introducing F-16s itself, something that Kyiv long pushed for, and which is now also being assisted by a parallel training effort being run in the United States.
The Dutch Ministry of Defense announced today that the five F-16s had begun their delivery flight to the European F-16 Training Center (EFTC) located at the 86th Air Base, near Fetești, in southeast Romania. The ministry confirmed that the aircraft will be used to train both Ukrainian and Romanian pilots. Today, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also expressed his gratitude for the transfer of the first jets.
Online flight tracking today showed the jets’ transit to Romania, having departed from Gosselies in Belgium. The jets in question are single-seat F-16AM serials J-010, J-019, and J-366, and two-seat F-16BM serials J-064 and J-210.
“The Netherlands took the initiative to set up the EFTC and is making 12 to 18 F-16s available for this purpose,” the Dutch Ministry of Defense said in a statement today. “The fighter aircraft remain the property of the Netherlands.”
A photo provided by the Dutch Ministry of Defense shows one of the jets with its previous Dutch unit markings removed but with toned-down national insignia still in place.
In a statement of its own, the Romanian Ministry of Defense says that it will provide the 86th Air Base, as well as training facilities and “host nation support,” while the Netherlands supplies the F-16s, and Lockheed Martin provides the instructors and the maintenance.
“Considering the current geopolitical context and Romania’s strategic position in the Black Sea area, this center becomes essential for the cross-border cooperation and the strengthening of security and solidarity within NATO,” the Romanian Ministry of Defense adds.
At first, the former Royal Netherlands Air Force jets will be used for a refresher course for F-16 instructors who have been hired by the EFTC. After that, the training of new pilots will begin. Missions will only be flown in NATO airspace.
Ahead of this, it was announced in August that F-16-related training for Ukrainian pilots had already begun in Denmark and the United Kingdom, although not involving actual live flying in the Viper.
As to the jets themselves, it appears that 12 of these, at least, are aircraft that were previously used for training Dutch pilots in the United States. At one time, those dozen jets were to be sold to Draken International, a private company that planned to operate them for red air adversary support.
However, as we reported in the past, Draken, despite some flight testing from its Lakeland, Florida, base, never formally took delivery of the aircraft. Instead, in December last year, six of the jets made a surprise transatlantic flight, via Lajes in the Azores, to Gosselies, where they were expected to be overhauled by SABENA.
As well as the 12 jets that had previously been earmarked for Draken, the Netherlands may provide up to six more, which will likely be taken from its inventory in the Netherlands. As well as 24 jets which are still used in a frontline capacity by the Royal Netherlands Air Force, while F-35s deliveries continue, the Dutch also have a pool of 18 more jets kept in an operational condition that can be rotated with the frontline aircraft to reduce flight hours per airframe.
Ultimately, the EFTC may get more F-16s from other sources, too. Alongside the Netherlands, the lead nation, the training initiative involves Denmark, another F-16 operator. Furthermore, after the United States approved the re-export of F-16s to Ukraine, these two European countries have been joined by Norway and Belgium, which have also pledged aircraft to Kyiv.
Support for the EFTC is also coming from Lockheed Martin, with the U.S. company providing training and maintenance for the F-16s.
When reports of a Romania-based F-16 training center first emerged, The War Zone suggested that Draken might also be involved in this, based on a notice posted on the contractor’s careers page. This called for instructor pilots, maintenance production supervisors, crew chiefs, maintenance schedulers, and avionics/electrical technicians to work at Fetești Air Base.
The Draken posting was on the U.S. job section of the Draken website, suggesting the company was looking for Americans specifically and perhaps pointing to the likelihood that Lockheed Martin subcontracted Draken to run the training program. In July, Politico reported that Draken was indeed involved, citing an unnamed U.S. official.
With an expanding F-16 fleet, Romania also has a growing requirement for training on the type. Romania initially acquired 12 second-hand F-16s from Portuguese stocks, followed by another five from the same source, before finally agreeing to buy 32 from Norway.
For Ukraine, the training effort in Romania will complement similar endeavors in the United States. Late last month. The U.S. Air Force confirmed that Ukrainian pilots had begun training on F-16s in the United States.
“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 told The War Zone. “The training curriculum will align with the foundational knowledge and skills of each pilot and is expected to last several months. This follows President Biden and Secretary Austin’s decision to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s as part of the United States contribution to Ukraine.”
Before getting into the rest of the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up with our previous rolling coverage here.
NATO and the U.S. government reacted with dismay after Russia announced its decision to withdraw from the Cold War-era Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). Russia’s foreign ministry announced today that it would suspend its membership of the treaty for “as long as necessary.”
The CFE Treaty was signed by almost all of the 31 NATO member states and put verifiable limits on categories of conventional military equipment that could be deployed in and around Central Europe, with the aim of reducing Cold War arms escalations.
The treaty was signed in November 1990 and was fully ratified two years later.
In a statement, NATO said:
“Allies condemn Russia’s decision to withdraw from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), and its war of aggression against Ukraine which is contrary to the treaty’s objectives. Russia’s withdrawal is the latest in a series of actions that systematically undermine Euro-Atlantic security. Therefore, as a consequence, allied states parties intend to suspend the operation of the CFE Treaty for as long as necessary, in accordance with their rights under international law. This is a decision fully supported by all NATO allies.”
The United States said it would suspend treaty obligations from December. The White House National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, said that Russia’s war against Ukraine and its withdrawal from the treaty “fundamentally altered” circumstances related to it and transformed participants’ obligations.
Russia claims that the U.S. drive to expand NATO further eastward means that member countries have been “openly circumventing” the treaty’s restrictions. Moscow also argued that the admission of Finland into NATO and Sweden’s application to join also meant the treaty was now dead.
“The CFE Treaty was concluded at the end of the Cold War, when the formation of a new architecture of global and European security based on cooperation seemed possible, and appropriate attempts were made,” the Russian Ministry of Defense added.
It is worth noting that Russia had already suspended its participation in the treaty in 2007 and then ceased active participation altogether in 2015. As a result, little is expected to change functionally now. At the same time, the Russian government's formal withdrawal makes the possibility of it returning to compliance in the future much more complicated and can only throw the CFE's overall future into question.
Ukraine is gearing up to face a renewed Russian assault on the town of Avdiivka, in eastern Ukraine, reports suggest. Russian forces have made several recent attempts to surround the city, but these have so far been unsuccessful.
“The third wave will definitely happen. The enemy is regrouping after a second wave of unsuccessful attacks,” Vitaliy Barabash, head of the Avdiivka military administration, said.
According to Barabash, Russia is likely “ready” to launch its next full-scale assault against Avdiivka, although this has been put on hold due to poor weather conditions.
Meanwhile, and despite relentless artillery fire, it’s estimated that around 1,500 of the city’s 30,000 pre-war residents remain. Most of these are now confined to basements, which serve as makeshift bomb shelters.
Unverified Russian accounts suggest that fighting is still raging around Krynky, the town in the Russian-occupied Kherson region where Ukrainian troops say they are maintaining a bridgehead across the Dnipro River.
At least one photo posted to social media, plus unconfirmed Russian accounts, suggest that Ukrainian forces on the left bank of the river are now also deploying armored vehicles. The photo below apparently shows a BTR-4 Bucephalus amphibious 8x8 wheeled infantry fighting vehicle being used in support of the operation.
Reports that Ukrainian armored vehicles are crossing Dnipro also point to the likely use of temporary pontoon or other combat bridging capabilities. Many of the established spans across the river have been damaged in the course of the fighting.
A previously unreported Russian combat aircraft loss has come to light. A photo posted to social media shows the wreckage of a Russian Aerospace Forces Su-24M Fencer-D strike aircraft, serial number RF-92025, which was purportedly brought down by Ukrainian air defenses in the Donetsk region either this year or last. Compared to more modern types, the Su-24M has apparently seen relatively limited use in Russian hands. Previously, however, at least 10 examples have been documented as having been lost or damaged in combat during the conflict, mainly during Ukrainian attacks on their airbases.
Russia has been making extensive use of UMPK glide bombs in recent months, with these weapons apparently proving to be especially difficult targets for Ukrainian air defenses. The photos below document the failure of one of these weapons, somewhere in the Kherson region and confirm that these combined wing and guidance kits are also now being fitted to smaller bombs, in this case, 250 kilograms, or 551 pounds. The guided bomb kits are also mated to 500-kilogram and 1,500-kilogram bomb bodies.
Russian authorities claim that they foiled an attempted Ukrainian drone attack this morning, saying that they shot down drones over the Black Sea and the annexed Crimean peninsula. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, Ukraine launched 17 drones toward Crimea, AFP reported.
“Anti-aircraft defenses destroyed nine Ukrainian drones and eight others were intercepted over the Black Sea and the territory of Crimea,” the Russian Ministry of Defense added.
The Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, said that falling debris injured one person, leaving them seriously injured, but that there was no other serious damage.
Drone attacks remain a concern for Kyiv, too, especially going into the winter months, with fears that there will be a sustained campaign against Ukrainian energy infrastructure.
Ukrainian President Zelensky said today that Ukraine has deployed more Western air defense systems, as it prepares for a second winter of Russian attacks on its energy facilities, AFP reports.
“I received reports on the receipt of ammunition, hardware, and equipment over the past day,” Zelenskiy said on social media.
“Additional NASAMS systems from partners have been put on combat duty. Timely reinforcement of our air defense before winter,” he added.
As we have discussed before, NASAMS, or National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, is uniquely well suited to what the Ukrainian needs, with its primary armament being the widely available AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM).
Ukraine continues to put other Western military aid to use, which in turn, as can be expected, is leading to combat losses. The picture below from the Russian Ministry of Defense is said to show a Ukrainian CV9040C infantry fighting vehicle from Sweden, which has been at least damaged and looks to have been abandoned, in the vicinity of the hotly contested town of Bahkmut.
Weaponized commercial drones continue to be routinely employed in the fighting in Ukraine. The clip below reportedly shows a Ukrainian first-person view (FPV) type chasing down a lone individual.
That is all for now. This story will be updated when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.
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