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NYT: Ukraine could deploy F-16s as soon as July, but only a few

NYT says Ukraine may deploy six of some 45 promised F-16 jets by July to counter Russian air support, as the country urgently needs more weapons amid a munitions shortage.
A Danish Air Force F-16BM combat trainer aircraft during a training flight. Photo via mil.in.ua
NYT: Ukraine could deploy F-16s as soon as July, but only a few

Several countries pledged F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine last year, but delivering them and training pilots have been challenging. Ukraine might initially start with only about six, out of the total of some 45 pledged, The New York Times says.

Ukraine seeks F-16 fighter jets to counter Russia’s air superiority at the frontline, where Russian aircraft maintain an edge with longer-range capabilities despite Ukraine’s dense air defenses. The United States approved the transfer of F-16s from Denmark and the Netherlands last August, pending completion of pilot training. Training of Ukrainian pilots and ground personnel is ongoing, and Ukraine has yet to operate any F-16s.

So far, twelve pilots are expected to be combat-ready to fly F-16s by this summer after 10 months of training in Denmark, Britain, and the United States. However, by the time the pilots return to Ukraine, only about six F-16s may have been delivered out of the approximately 45 fighter jets promised by European allies, according to NYT.

While fighter aircraft are commonly described as being organized into squadrons of 24 aircraft, the Air Force actually organizes F-16s into squadrons of 15, 18, or 24 aircraft. Thus, less than a full squadron of F-16s may start operating in Ukraine in the summer.

According to CNN sources, the first four Ukrainian pilots are expected to complete their training by summer.

No training in Romania yet

The next class of eight Ukrainian pilots is scheduled to arrive in Denmark at the end of the summer, with their training start date at Romania’s Fetesti air base uncertain, as per NYT. Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and Belgium have committed about 45 F-16 jets to Ukraine, with Denmark sending the first six in late spring and 13 more by 2025. The Netherlands, pledging 24 jets, will hold them until Ukraine is ready.

About 50 Ukrainian technicians are being trained in Denmark to support the F-16s, with Western defense contractors accompanying the jets into Ukraine until sufficient Ukrainian crews are trained, NYT says. Additionally, repairing Ukraine’s military runways could delay the F-16s’ deployment, while Ukrainian leaders are also eager for more artillery and munitions for the ground war against Russia.

NYT noted that the new training center in Romania, created to teach Ukrainian pilots to fly the F-16 warplane, is ready with flight instructors and jets, but the pilots have yet to arrive, highlighting the confusion and chaos in NATO’s rush to supply F-16s and the uncertainty of when training will begin at the Fetesti air base.

Ukraine needs F-16s, but timeline still uncertain

Ukraine urgently needs more weapons, including F-16 fighter jets, to address shortages in artillery and ammunition amid delayed American military aid. Ukrainian President volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier emphasized the importance of having new fighter jets to defend against Russian threats.

Uncertainty surrounds the delivery of F-16 jets to Ukraine, including the timeline, quantity, pilot training speed, and maintenance personnel availability. The training of Ukrainian pilots on Western F-16 jets is advancing rapidly, compressing years of learning into months, but is still slower than hoped.

Denmark’s defense minister, Troels Lund Poulsen, stated in an email to NYT that the training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16s is progressing well in Danish airspace, but the learning curve will determine its duration, as Denmark leads the European effort to provide these jets, considered the last major weapon needed by Ukraine to prevail.

Not a game changer

Previously, the US Biden administration, after initial reluctance, allowed allies to provide Ukraine with F-16s, which are being replaced by F-35 warplanes in some European militaries. However, American officials, including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, have cautioned that F-16s alone will not be decisive in the war and that training Ukrainian pilots will take considerable time.

In an earlier video address, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that the F-16 fighter jets will be in Ukrainian skies this year.

Regarding Ukraine’s future use of the F-16 jets, NATO chief Stoltenberg noted that Ukraine has the right to self-defense, including striking legitimate Russian military targets outside its borders.

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