Ukrainian pilots are in U.S. for training assessment to fly Western combat aircraft

Ukrainian pilots training united states
U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, assigned to the 121st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron.

Two Ukrainian pilots are currently in the United States undergoing an assessment to determine how long it could take to train them to fly combat aircraft, including F-16 fighter jets, according to two congressional officials and a senior U.S. official.

Ukrainians' skills are being tested in simulators at a U.S. military base in Tucson, Arizona, and could soon be joined by more of their peers, a US government official told NBCNews. U.S. authorities reportedly approved the transfer of up to 10 more Ukrainian pilots to the US for evaluation later this month.

It is the first time Ukrainian pilots have traveled to the U.S. to have their skills evaluated by U.S. military instructors. Officials said the effort has two goals: to improve the pilots’ skills and to assess how long a proper training program might take.

“The program is about assessing their abilities as pilots so we can better advise them on how to use capabilities they have and we have given them,” an administration official said.

Two administration officials stressed that this was not a training program and said the Ukrainians would not fly any aircraft during their stay in the U.S., and would only do simulator flight hours.

Almost since the beginning of the conflict, Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been asking his Western allies to supply him with Western fighters, with which he can confront the Russian Air Force. And while military aid to Ukraine is growing, the issue of Western fighter jets remains unresolved in Kiev’s favor.

While some NATO countries, such as Poland and the Netherlands, have publicly expressed their readiness to supply some of their F-16s to the Ukrainian Air Force, this could be done only with U.S. authorization, and the Biden administration remains reluctant on the issue.

Undersecretary of Defense Policy Colin Kahl testified before the House Armed Services Committee that the U.S. had not made the decision to supply F-16s and neither had its allies and partners. He also said that the U.S. had “not begun training (Ukrainian pilots) with the F-16s” and that the lead time for F-16 delivery is “essentially the same” as the training lead time, about 18 months, for upgraded secondhand aircraft.

“So you don’t actually save yourself time by starting the training early in our assessment,” said Kahl, who is the under secretary of defense for policy. “And since we haven’t made the decision to provide F-16s and neither have our allies and partners, it doesn’t make sense to start to train them on a system they may never get.”

Image: USAF/Senior Airman Taylor Crul

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