The first group of Ukrainian pilots undergoing training on US-made F-16 fighter jets is not expected to complete their training until next summer, according to senior government and military officials in Kiev. The Washington Post reported that only six pilots will go through the initial round of training, with two additional pilots serving as backups. While all of the pilots are already fluent in English, they will attend four months of specialized English lessons in Britain to learn the terminology specific to the F-16 jets.
After completing these language courses, the pilots will then begin combat training. Ukrainian officials anticipate that this will likely start no earlier than January, and the F-16 training program itself will take an additional six months. Officials expressed frustration with the slow progress, with one source stating, “This is called dragging it out.” However, they are reluctant to criticize their US and European benefactors for fear of appearing ungrateful.
US officials also informed the Washington Post that another 20 Ukrainian pilots are ready to start English courses. Most of the country’s top pilots will remain in Ukraine during their language training, continuing to fly sorties in Soviet-era planes. Last week, Politico reported that out of the 32 pilots Ukraine had hoped to train on the F-16s, only eight had sufficient English skills to participate in the instruction program.
Kiev has been pressuring its Western allies for months to supply it with US-made fighter jets, arguing that they are crucial for its ongoing counteroffensive operation and would help Ukraine “win the war” with Russia. However, the US has expressed skepticism about the impact of these aircraft on the battlefield due to the extensive use of Russian air defense systems in Ukraine.
Russian officials have repeatedly warned the West that delivering F-16s to Ukraine would escalate the conflict. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov even suggested that the US-made jets could potentially carry nuclear weapons.
It is clear that the training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets is facing significant challenges, including language barriers and delays in the training process. The frustration with the slow progress reflects the urgency felt by Ukrainian officials in bolstering their military capabilities in the face of ongoing conflict with Russia. However, concerns and skepticism from the US and Russia further complicate the situation. As the training program continues, it remains to be seen how these factors will impact Ukraine’s ability to effectively utilize its new fighter jets.