In a strategic move to fortify Ukraine’s air capabilities, the United Kingdom has successfully concluded basic training for Ukrainian combat air pilots, enabling them to embark on F-16 fighter jet proficiency in Denmark.
Simultaneously, the Netherlands has pledged 18 F-16 fighter aircraft, solidifying international support against Russian aggression.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) initiated the training programme in August, encompassing flying and English language training for six seasoned Ukrainian pilots. This initiative is part of the international Air Force Capability Coalition, where allies collaborate to enhance Ukraine’s air defences.
As the first cohort advances to F-16 training in Denmark, ten Ukrainian trainee pilots remain in the UK for further practical flight training, including aviation medicine and centrifuge training.
The defence secretary highlighted the UK’s commitment to ensuring Ukraine possesses a modern air force. “Together, we’re now going further by ensuring Ukraine has a modern air force in the future, formed around the highly capable fourth-generation F-16 fighter jet. Combined with training from the world-leading RAF, this is a significant step forward from Ukraine’s current Soviet-era capabilities.”
The UK has been providing military aid to Ukraine, from deliveries of M270 MLRS and Nlaw anti-tank weapons to training Ukrainian troops in the UK, according to GlobalData’s intelligence on “The UK Defence Market 2023-2028” report.
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The defence minister of Ukraine, Rustem Umerov, commended the rapid and effective program, emphasizing its significance in preparing Ukrainian pilots for F-16 operations, “Ukraine highly values the pilot training that the UK and other partners are providing, to help us prepare for operating F-16s in Ukraine.”
Once the RAF training concludes, the pilots will undergo advanced flying training overseen by Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United States.
The Netherlands Ministry of Defence recently announced the commitment of 18 F-16 fighter aircraft to Ukraine, marking a step in strengthening Ukraine’s defence against Russian attacks.
In November last year, The Netherlands strategically deployed five F-16 fighter jets to the European F-16 Training Centre (EFTC) in Romania, signalling a collaborative effort to reinforce Ukraine’s air defence capabilities. Under Dutch ownership, these training aircraft facilitated a refresher course for instructors and prepared Ukrainian and Romanian pilots for missions.
Ukraine is set to receive F-16 aircraft from NATO allies as early as Spring 2024, according to US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III.
Before the F-16s are transferred, stringent criteria must be met, including licensing and infrastructure readiness in Ukraine. The aircraft will undergo inspections and modifications, focusing on preventing undesirable end-use. The commitment underscores the collective effort to equip Ukraine with defence capabilities amid ongoing geopolitical challenges.
The UK’s dedication to training Ukrainian recruits extends beyond air forces, with plans to train an additional 10,000 in the first half of 2024 as part of Operation Interflex. The collaborative support aims to empower Ukraine to resist Russian forces, further manifested in the £4.6bn ($5.8bn) worth of military aid, including long-range missiles, main battle tanks, and logistical support.