F-16s Won’t Make it to Ukraine Any Time Soon, Says Pentagon

F 16 fighter jets takes part in the NATO Air Shielding exercise near the air base in Lask,
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Advanced Western fighter jets won’t make it to Ukraine in time to be felt in the long-discussed Spring offensive, says the U.S., saying the F-16 was more about ‘long term’ defence.

Several European nations have started talking about training Ukrainian pilots in operating modern NATO jets with an eye to qualifying them on the F-16 platform in recent days since the United States appeared to cautiously green-light the donation of the fighter to Kyiv. But its deployment won’t be any time soon, the Pentagon has said, with no chance of Western jets playing a role in the long-trailed but yet to emerge Ukrainian Spring counter-offensive.

Pentagon Spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder made the remarks in response to a barrage of F-16 questions this week, replying that far from being imminent, the F-16s for Ukraine are “about the long-term commitment to Ukraine. These F-16s will not be relevant to the upcoming counteroffensive.”

The Brigadier said he wasn’t aware that any training of Ukrainian pilots on NATO aircraft had yet begun, and that it wasn’t likely to start for “weeks or months” to come. In terms of actually supplying aircraft — the United States at this moment doesn’t seem likely to actually directly give Ukraine F-16s, buit will allow European allies to give from their own, considerably smaller, stocks — Ryder said they were still at the talks stage and no timelines had yet been decided.

The United States would support those European nations in how to train Ukrainian pilots in Europe, however.

Several countries have expressed interest in joining what the United Kingdom and Ukraine announced as the ‘jets coalition’ earlier this month. While Britain does not operate F-16s themselves, the bulk of training of novice pilots would be done on jet trainer aircraft anyway. Reports state the process of bringing a rookie up to F-16 level for Ukraine could take up to two years.

Training already experienced pilots to convert to the new type could be much quicker, others suggest, perhaps just four months.

The Netherlands, Germany, France, and Poland have all said they would train pilots. Politico reports the Netherlands are likely to be the first country to actually hand over F-16s as their own in-service fleet are due to be replaced by newer fighters next year.

The European Union’s foreign affairs supremo Josep Borrell has even said training of Ukrainians on F-16s has already begun, a statement which was flatly contradicted by the Pentagon days later.


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