Pilots have yet to complete the necessary English language lessons and won’t start combat training until January
The first batch of Ukrainian pilots are not expected to complete training on US-made F-16 fighter jets before next summer, the Washington Post reported on Friday, citing senior government and military officials in Kiev.
According to the outlet, only six pilots are set to go through the first round of training, with two other pilots being reserved as backup candidates. Although they are all fluent in English already, officials say the pilots still need to attend four months of English lessons in Britain to learn specific terminology associated with the sophisticated jets.
Only after they have completed these language courses will the pilots be able to start combat training. Ukrainian officials told the Washington Post that this will likely happen no sooner than January and that the F-16 training program will take six months.
A second group of about the same size is expected to be prepared to fly the jets by the end of 2024, the officials added, expressing their dismay at the sluggishness of the process. “This is called dragging it out,” one of the sources told the outlet, noting that he was reluctant to be too critical of US and European benefactors out of fear of appearing ungrateful.
US officials have also told the Washington Post that another 20 Ukrainian pilots are ready to start English courses, with most of the country’s best pilots expected to remain in Ukraine during their language training as they continue to fly sorties in Soviet-era planes.
Last week, Politico also reported that, according to US sources, out of the 32 pilots Ukraine had hoped to train on the F-16s, only eight had sufficient English skills to take part in the instruction program.
Kiev has been demanding for months that its Western backers supply it with the US-made fighter jets, arguing that they are crucial to its ongoing counteroffensive operation and would ultimately help Ukraine “win the war” with Russia.
However, the sentiment has not been shared by Washington, which has suggested that the aircraft would have a limited impact on the battlefield due to extensive use of air defense systems by Russian forces in Ukraine.
Russian officials have repeatedly warned the West that the delivery of F-16s to Ukraine would lead to an escalation of the conflict, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggesting that the US-made jets could potentially carry nuclear weapons.
August 11, 2023 at 10:02PM