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US to begin training Ukrainian pilots and crews on F-16s

US Air Force F-16 Aggressor at Red Flag 16-02. Ukrainian F-16s may be painted similarly if their MiG and Sukhoi fleets are any measure. (Janes/Gareth Jennings)

The US is to train Ukrainian pilots and support personnel to fly and maintain the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, a US Department of Defense (DoD) spokesperson told reporters on 24 August.

Scheduled to begin in October, the training is to take place at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona, under the auspices of the 162nd Fighter Wing, the US Air Force's (USAF's) primary training base for foreign F-16 crews.

“Although we do not have specific numbers to share at this time in regards to how many Ukrainians will participate in this training, we do anticipate it will include several pilots and dozens of maintainers,” the spokesperson said. The decision about how many people to train is up to Ukraine, he added.

How much time the Ukrainians will spend learning to fly F-16s is unclear. US pilots typically take eight months to train on the airframe, while experienced pilots can reach the same skill level in five, the spokesperson said.

“What you don't want to do is rush a pilot, train him in a high-performance aircraft, and send [him in] not fully prepared,” said the spokesperson.

Following successful training, crews would then receive F-16s from Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway, all of which have pledged to donate their excess F-16s to Ukraine; their Fighter Falcon fleets are being replaced by newer F-35s. More countries may yet join; the spokesperson said requests to re-export F-16s to Ukraine will be expedited through the approval process.

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