US Begins 'Training Assessment' For Ukrainian Pilots On F-16s
The White House has so far ruled out calls to provide the Ukrainian government with F-16 fighter jets, but clearly the idea is still on the table and Biden may be close to pulling the trigger amid intense administration discussions.
"Two Ukrainian pilots are currently in the United States undergoing an assessment to determine how long it could take to train them to fly attack aircraft, including F-16 fighter jets, according to two congressional officials and a senior U.S. official," a weekend NBC report indicates.
"The Ukrainians’ skills are being evaluated on simulators at a U.S. military base in Tucson, Arizona, the officials said, and they may be joined by more of their fellow pilots soon," the report continues.
The officials additionally said 10 more Ukrainian pilots are expected to join the program soon, and they may arrive in the US this month.
The officials emphasized that this does not yet constitute a fighter jet training program for Ukrainian pilots, and that actual aircraft will not be flown - only the advanced flight simulators. But clearly if F-16s are approved, this will form the basis of formal training on the jets.
One of the main reasons for the hold-up in approving jets for Ukraine, apart from the fact that Russia is vowing severe and unpredictable escalation, is the significant time investment of the training, which could take at least a year or years.
Colin Kahl, defense undersecretary for policy, recently told the House Armed Services Committee that the US has "not started training on F-16s" and that the delivery timeline is about 18 months. The training program for F-16s also happens to be about 18 months.
"So you don’t actually save yourself time by starting the training early in our assessment," said Kahl. "And since we haven’t made the decision to provide F-16’s and neither have our allies and partners, it doesn’t make sense to start to train them on a system they may never get."
So by all accounts, even if the Biden administration were to approve jets for Ukraine tomorrow, it could take years before they are piloted by Ukrainians in the skies of the conflict.