The Pentagon has issued a warning that the ongoing controversy and potential government shutdown in Congress could have a detrimental impact on the training of Ukrainian pilots. These pilots are currently undergoing training to fly American-made F-16 fighter jets against Russian forces. Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh stated that a government shutdown could disrupt the training process as civilian trainers may be furloughed, leaving uniformed personnel to compensate for the loss of personnel.
Singh highlighted the potential strain on active-duty trainers who may have to take on additional roles if civilian employees are sent home during a shutdown. She emphasized that this situation would undoubtedly impact training efforts. The training of Ukrainian pilots is crucial, as they are currently taking language classes at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas to learn the specialized English skills required to operate and maintain F-16s. Flight and maintenance training are scheduled to begin next month at Morris Air National Guard Base in Arizona.
The looming shutdown stems from disagreements between lawmakers in Congress over government funding. If a resolution is not reached, non-essential services could be shut down. Some House Republicans have indicated that they will only support a short-term resolution to keep government paychecks flowing if it includes significant spending cuts. The deadline to reach a compromise is rapidly approaching, with less than three days remaining.
Singh further expressed that a shutdown would be the worst-case scenario for the Pentagon, and they are keen to avoid making painful decisions, such as military service members and furloughed civilian staffers going without pay. Over 1 million military personnel could be affected by a shutdown.
The training of Ukrainian pilots has been deemed essential due to the ongoing conflict with Russian forces. The Netherlands and Denmark have already agreed to provide dozens of F-16s to Ukraine, pending approval from US President Joe Biden’s administration. Denmark has already begun training eight Ukrainian pilots. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky sees the F-16 deal as a breakthrough agreement in their fight against Russian forces. However, US officials have downplayed the fighter jet’s potential impact on the conflict, with Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall stating that it won’t be a game-changer in Ukraine.
The length of training for Ukrainian pilots will depend on their proficiency, according to the Pentagon. Typically, it takes about eight months to train a relatively inexperienced US pilot to fly the F-16, while more advanced pilots can be brought up to speed in about five months.
In summary, the potential government shutdown in Congress poses a significant threat to the training of Ukrainian pilots to fly American-made F-16 fighter jets. The absence of civilian trainers during a shutdown could hinder the training process, putting additional strain on uniformed personnel. The duration of training for Ukrainian pilots is contingent on their proficiency level. Avoiding a shutdown is crucial to ensure the continued progress and preparedness of Ukrainian pilots in their fight against Russian forces.