Ukrainian F-16 pilots trained by Europeans will not be ready before the end of 2024


Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren and Romanian Defense Minister Angel Tilvar at the European F-16 Training Center at Fetesti Air Base in southern Romania on April 17, 2024. BART BIESEMANS / REUTERS

Beyond the materials delivered as part of the new American aid, the Ukrainians are counting on the arrival of F-16 combat planes to regain the initiative on the ground against the Russian enemy. Four European countries have so far committed to delivering units of this multirole American fighter, renowned for its versatility and compactness, to Kiev: the Netherlands have promised twenty-four, Norway, twenty-two, Denmark, nineteen and Belgium, an unspecified number. First deliveries expected in mid-2024, but F-16s could arrive “even before the start of summer”indicated Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, on the sidelines of a European Council, Thursday April 18.

Driver upgrades are less advanced, at least those provided by European countries. For the moment, only ten Ukrainians are in training on the soil of the Old Continent. After six months spent in the United Kingdom, where they learned to master the basics of combat aviation in English, four of them arrived in France at the beginning of March, for a so-called “advanced fighter” phase, during from which they will be introduced to the different tactics implemented on Western fighters (air-to-ground bombing, air defense, etc.). The six other Ukrainian pilots still across the Channel are expected in France in the coming weeks.

Scheduled to last approximately six months, this phase takes place at an air base in the south-west of France, the precise location of which is kept confidential as a security measure. In addition to around fifty simulator sessions, the French training intended for Ukrainians provides for eighty hours of flight on Alpha Jet, a Franco-German twin-jet used by the French Air Force to train its pilots until the beginning of 2023 – they are now learning on Pilatus PC-21s, a two-seater plane with a Swiss propeller. France still has forty-three Alpha Jets, including a dozen still used by the Patrouille de France, which are gradually being withdrawn from service.

An important effort for the French army

According to a military Source, the ten Ukrainian pilots training in Europe are far from seasoned, which explains the length of their journey. Their average age is between 21 and 23, and six of them had never sat on a fighter plane before arriving in the UK. The other four only flew in Ukraine on Aero L-39s, a Czech training aircraft very common in the countries of the former Warsaw Pact. This youth and this inexperience can be explained by the shortage of pilots in Ukraine, many of them having been killed or injured since the start of the conflict: nearly a hundred Ukrainian planes have been destroyed or damaged by the Russians these last two years, according to the site Oryxwhich compiles the material losses of both belligerents based on visual evidence.

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