F-16 training planned for Ukrainian pilots
It could take less than half the time — just four to six months — to train Ukrainian fighter pilots to fly American-made F-16 fighter jets than it took the Biden administration to allow it.
This assessment, taken from an internal US Air Force document and a former NATO commander, can only represent a few pilots at a time and only applies to those with flight experience. up-to-date on Ukraine’s fleet of Soviet-era jet aircraft. But it does mean Ukraine could have one of the last sophisticated weapons it says it needs to deter Russia sooner than originally planned.
For more than a year, the United States had balked at giving Ukraine the fighter jets, which the Biden administration feared could be used to strike Russian territory. The administration changed its position last week, saying it supported the formation.
But while President Biden has made it clear he will allow the jets to be sent to Ukraine, he would not predict when they might be delivered. He described as “highly unlikely” their participation in the counter-offensive that Ukraine is expected to launch in the coming weeks. US officials said the planes would help Ukraine defend against Russia in the long term.
Training Ukrainian pilots is a necessary first step for the country to begin receiving a jet aircraft capable of outmaneuvering most other warplanes, while carrying almost any bomb or missile in the arsenal of the US Air Force.
On Tuesday, Poland said it was ready to train Ukrainian pilots. It will join a coalition created by Britain and the Netherlands to supply F-16s to Kiev, but Poland could perhaps draw on a better comparative experience: its forces switched to F-16s from of Soviet aircraft, and Poles might find it easier to communicate with their Slavic-speaking colleagues across the border.
Here’s a look at how the training might unfold.
How long will the training last?
The Air Force’s internal assessment, dated March 22, concluded that at least some Ukrainian pilots could be trained to fly the F-16 in four to five months.
The assessment, which was first reported by Yahoo News and verified Monday by an Air Force spokesperson, was based on a 12-day assessment of two Air Force officers. Ukrainian Air Force who underwent flight simulations at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona. ., during the winter.
The report found that both pilots still needed certain technical skills, including an understanding of western cockpit instruments and proficiency in US-standard formation flying with other aircraft.
According to one projection, which included time for specialist English lessons, around four pilots would be in each class, with between 12 and 14 pilots completing the training over a 12-month period. The assessment was shared with seven NATO states, including Poland, which have flown F-16s. It was also given to Bulgaria and Great Britain.
But he did not say whether the pilots would graduate “combat-ready” – a term Philip M. Breedlove, a retired US Air Force general who is a former NATO commander and trainer of F -16, said to be a necessary basis for determining how long the formation would take.
If the pilots had recently and regularly flown over Ukraine, they would likely need four to six months of training, Gen Breedlove said. On Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he would offer some of his most experienced pilots “in order to shorten the training process”.
What should Ukrainian pilots learn?
General Breedlove, who flew F-16s for about 60% of his military career, including combat missions in Kosovo, said there are two major differences between this fighter jet and planes of the era. Soviet which make up the bulk of the Ukrainian fleet.
“The biggest change they’re going to encounter is the cockpit,” he said, which is how pilots use sensors, control panels and weapon systems. Most older Soviet jet planes, he said, require pilots to “reach, turn, change and flip switches — and all those things that keep you from concentrating on fighting the other plane. , or precisely on the dropping of the bomb”.
The electrical pulses that are part of the F-16’s more sophisticated technology allow for easier control of flight systems, which means the cockpit layout is different.
The other difference is “manual throttle and stick” or “HOTAS” technology, a system that includes a so-called air combat override switch to allow F-16 pilots to pass ground bombing targets. to engage in air-to-air combat without letting go of the controls. Switching from activity to activity on a Soviet-era MiG-29, which Ukrainian pilots currently fly, requires “some pretty tedious cockpit changes,” Gen Breedlove said.
On an F-16, “you should never take your eyes off the fight,” General Breedlove said. “It’s something much more intuitive and much, much, much easier to navigate under stress.”
When and where will they be trained?
Last week, even before Mr Biden agreed to participate, British and Dutch leaders announced an international coalition to supply Ukraine with F-16s and training to fly them. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak then said training would begin this summer; On Monday, Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra predicted it would start “very soon”.
Beyond Poland, it’s not yet clear where the pilots will be trained, and U.S. and European officials said Monday that many of those details still need to be ironed out. Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway have all signaled they are ready to help, either training Ukrainian pilots or moving their F-16s to Kiev.
It is likely that American pilots will participate in the training effort for Ukraine, especially as the United States helps train other countries that buy the F-16 from its Maryland-based manufacturer, Lockheed. Martin. The United States has F-16s stationed at two air bases in Europe — Spangdahlem in Germany and Aviano in Italy, Gen. Breedlove said.
He said “some of the most experienced F-16 pilots in the world are now part of the NATO Air Force” as the US Air Force is largely transitioning to a fighter jet more advanced, the F-35.
General Breedlove said the West should not underestimate how quickly Ukrainian pilots could master the F-16, given their performance on other weapons systems.
“They exceeded our expectations every time,” he said.