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Ukraine frustrated with US over F-16 pilot training

A Ukrainian lawmaker has accused Washington of deliberate delays so as not to antagonize Moscow

The US is making “excuses” for its failure to prepare sufficient numbers of Ukrainian F-16 fighter pilots to aid the war effort, the head of the arms procurement commission in Kiev’s parliament, Aleksandra Ustinova, has claimed.

Kiev’s sponsors in the so-called ‘F-16 coalition’ – the US, Belgium, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands – have pledged to deliver up to 60 American-made aircraft by the end of this year. Ukrainian pilots are being trained in the US and Denmark, while a separate training program in Romania is planned, but is yet to begin.

So far only eight Ukrainian pilots have received training at the Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona, Ustinova told British newspaper The Times in an interview published on Monday. An additional 12 are being trained in Denmark, she added.

The delay in preparation means Ukraine is likely to only have 20 fully trained F-16 pilots by the end of this year, the lawmaker said. Ukraine earlier asked the US for at least another ten spots in the training programs, but was refused, Ustinova noted.

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Last week, Politico wrote that Kiev’s efforts to get 30 more pilots into Western training facilities have been rebuffed. Ukrainian pilots have already hit language barrier issues, a senior DOD official told the news outlet. The Tucson base can only train 12 at a time, and Washington already has other countries’ pilots booked, the source added.

Ustinova questioned the US justification for the delays, suggesting it was deliberate.

“These are not arguments, they are excuses, and they keep coming up with them time and time again,” she stated. The training delays are likely motivated by Washington’s fear that a large-scale presence of US F-16s in the Ukraine conflict could be viewed by Moscow as the integration of the country into NATO, Ustinova told The Times. “This is totally political.” 

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F-16s are needed to help mitigate the effect of Russian glide bombs on the battlefield, a weapon that has shown devastating effectiveness in the Ukraine conflict, Ustinova stressed. “These bombs are huge – from 500 kilos to 1,500 kilos,” and for Kiev, the only solution is to “bring them down is jet-to-jet.”

Moscow has repeatedly warned that Western arms deliveries will not change the course of the conflict, and only prolong it, causing more deaths. The Russian Parliament’s Defense Committee chair, Andrey Kartapolov, replied to Kiev’s statements about plans for some F-16s to be stationed outside Ukraine. Should the aircraft take off from foreign bases and be used to strike at Russian forces, both the jets and the facilities they are stationed at will be considered “legitimate targets,” Kartapolov warned.

June 19, 2024 at 11:22AM

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