Ukrainian pilots may start flying F-16 fighters in Ukraine this winter, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
The first Ukrainian pilots with good English skills could be trained within five months. Ukraine’s military officials believe Ukrainian pilots could be flying F-16s in combat as early as February 2024, a more optimistic timetable than previous estimates, the WSJ reported, citing officials from Ukraine and the US.
The first group of just under ten Ukrainian pilots will begin training in September or October at the Air National Guard Base in Tucson (Arizona, the US), according to the WSJ. They will be the first Ukrainian pilots to fly the F-16 fighter jets. At the same time, dozens of Ukrainian pilots will start studying technical terminology in English at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio (Texas, the US).
However, unlike the Ukrainian side, the US officials are more reserved in their plans and are not so optimistic about how quickly Ukrainians can complete the training, the WSJ reported. The F-16s require approximately 16 hours of ground maintenance per every hour in the air, according to the WSJ. Thus, training technicians may be more complicated than training pilots.
Therefore, the Ukrainian pilots will not be ready for combat flights on F-16s until at least mid-2024 and possibly much later, the WSJ reported, referring to unnamed US officials.
On the other hand, Ben Hodges, The US Lieutenant General (retired), the former commanding general of the US Army in Europe, believes that US officials are overly concerned about the English proficiency of Ukrainian pilots. Ben Hodges cited a conversation with a high-ranking Air Force officer who privately told him that flight training could be completed in just three months, which is two months faster than even the Ukrainians themselves believe, according to the WSJ.
“They need to fly a plane, they don’t need to be able to read Shakespeare,” Ben Hodges said.
The US Department of Defense representatives told the WSJ that the training of pilots is only one of many obstacles preventing the F-16 fighters from entering the Russo-Ukrainian war. Currently, Ukrainian pilots are flying Soviet-era MiG and Sukhoi aircraft, attacking Russian ground targets and defending Ukrainian airspace. It is unknown how many experienced pilots Ukraine is ready to take from the battlefield for training in Europe and the US at this point, according to the WSJ.