Ukraine Criticizes US Delays in F-16 Pilot Training

A Ukrainian lawmaker has accused Washington of intentionally delaying the training of Ukrainian F-16 fighter pilots to avoid provoking Moscow.

The US is providing “excuses” for its failure to prepare enough Ukrainian F-16 fighter pilots to assist in the war effort, according to Aleksandra Ustinova, the head of the arms procurement commission in Kiev’s parliament.

Kiev’s backers in the so-called ‘F-16 coalition’ – the US, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands – have promised to deliver up to 60 American-made aircraft by the end of the year. Ukrainian pilots are being trained in the US and Denmark, while another training program in Romania is planned but has yet to begin.

So far, only eight Ukrainian pilots have completed training at the Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona, Ustinova told the British newspaper The Times in an interview published on Monday. An additional 12 are being trained in Denmark, she added.

The delay in preparation means that Ukraine is likely to only have 20 fully trained F-16 pilots by the end of the year, the lawmaker said. Ukraine previously asked the US for at least ten more slots in the training programs but was rejected, Ustinova noted.

Last week, Politico reported that Kiev’s efforts to get 30 more pilots into Western training facilities have been rejected. Ukrainian pilots have already faced language barrier issues, a senior DOD official told the news outlet. The Tucson base can only train 12 at a time, and Washington already has other countries’ pilots booked, the source added.

Ustinova questioned the US justification for the delays, suggesting they were deliberate.

“These are not arguments, they are excuses, and they keep coming up with them time and time again,” she stated. The training delays are likely motivated by Washington’s fear that a large-scale presence of US F-16s in the Ukraine conflict could be seen by Moscow as the integration of the country into NATO, Ustinova told The Times. “This is totally political.” 

F-16s are needed to help mitigate the impact of Russian glide bombs on the battlefield, a weapon that has proven devastatingly effective in the Ukraine conflict, Ustinova stressed. “These bombs are huge – from 500 kilos to 1,500 kilos,” and for Kiev, the only solution is to “bring them down is jet-to-jet.”

Moscow has repeatedly warned that Western arms deliveries will not change the course of the conflict, and only prolong it, causing more deaths. The Russian Parliament’s Defense Committee chair, Andrey Kartapolov, replied to Kiev’s statements about plans for some F-16s to be stationed outside Ukraine. Should the aircraft take off from foreign bases and be used to strike at Russian forces, both the jets and the facilities they are stationed at will be considered “legitimate targets,” Kartapolov warned.