Ukrainian pilots finish F-16 training in US – media

Ukrainian pilots finish F-16 training in US – media

The first batch of Kiev’s trainees has reportedly completed preparation at a military base in Arizona

Ukraine has reportedly moved a step closer to deploying US-made fighter jets against Russian forces, getting its first batch of pilots through an F-16 training program in Arizona.

An undisclosed number of Ukrainian pilots completed their F-16 course at the Arizona Air National Guard Wing in Tucson, Politico reported on Thursday. Their graduation marks a “crucial first step toward putting modern, American-made fighter jets in Ukrainian skies,” Air National Guard spokesman Erin Hannigan told the media outlet.

The pilots are now heading to Europe for additional training, Politico added, citing an unidentified person familiar with their movements. Norway, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands have pledged to give Kiev a combined 60 F-16s.

The original F-16A entered service in the US Air Force in 1980. Some Ukrainian officials have touted the aircraft as a potentially major boost to the country’s military capabilities. However, Politico reported last month that Russia has already developed countermeasures against them. US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall warned last year that F-16s would not be a “dramatic game-changer” in the Ukraine conflict.

The US-made fighter jets will start arriving in Ukraine in the coming months, beginning with a batch off five F-16s, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said last week.

US President Joe Biden initially refused to allow F-16s to be transferred to Ukraine, citing the potential to trigger a wider conflict with Russia. He relented last year, agreeing to allow for training of Ukrainian pilots and donations of the jets by European allies.

Moscow has warned that Western arms shipments only prolong the bloodshed in Ukraine without affecting the conflict’s outcome. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in March that any F-16s supplied to Kiev would be shot down by Russian forces, noting that the fact that the jet can potentially carry nuclear weapons will be taken into account.

“Of course, if they are used from airfields of third countries, they become a legitimate target for us, wherever they are located,” Putin added.

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