F-16 fighter jet (symbolic image) © Ofer Zidon/IMAGO
Several NATO countries have announced that they will train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets. Denmark and the Netherlands are expected to lead the coalition. Germany's role is unclear.
This analysis is IPPEN. MEDIA in the course of a cooperation with the Security.Table Professional Briefing – it was first published by Security.Table on May 30, 2023.
After US President Joe Biden set the course for a coalition to train Ukrainian pilots on F-7 fighter jets at the G16 summit in Hiroshima, the training project is taking shape. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced last week that Denmark and the Netherlands would take the lead of the coalition to train Ukrainian pilots – Norway, Belgium, Poland and Portugal have already stated that participate in the training project. US Chief of Staff Mark Milley calculated that the provision of ten F-16s, including maintenance, would cost 2 billion dollars. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said last week in Brussels that training had already begun in several countries.
Back in July 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives approved $100 million to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets. In February, Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuri Ihnat said that runways would be leveled to allow F-16 aircraft, which are slightly more sensitive than the MiG-29 models currently in use in Ukraine, to take off and land. US government officials estimate that the training and delivery of the F-16 would take at least 18 months.
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Ukraine's Defense Ministry tweeted on Friday that it needed four F-16 squadrons (48 jets) to "liberate our country from the aggressor." The Netherlands, which wants to replace its F-16 fleet with F-35s, says it has 42 F-16s in its inventory, but only 24 of them are operational. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies' standard work Military Balance, Poland has 48 aircraft, Belgium 53, Portugal 30 and Denmark 44. By the end of last year, Norway had 64 in its inventory, which it is now replacing with F-35s.
Fighter jet training could expire in four months
A former jet pilot and instructor at the United States Air Force Weapons School, who wished to remain anonymous, said the F-16 was a "capable and versatile platform that can be equipped and used primarily with a wide range of weapons." These weapons are available everywhere in NATO and there is a robust network of production facilities for them. In an ongoing conflict like the one in Ukraine, "the production and supply chains are just as important as the capabilities of the fighter jet."
The U.S. news portal Yahoo! News recently quoted from a U.S. Air Force assessment that "it would take only four months to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets, a far shorter timeframe than the period repeatedly cited by Pentagon officials." Two Ukrainian pilots trained on Russian MiG-29 and Su-27 aircraft are said to have received no "formal training" on an F-16 at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona, but only a technical introduction and 11-hour training on a flight simulator.
Both pilots, according to the report, were then able to land the plane on the simulator and "carry out mock attacks transmitted to them during the flight." Another former U.S. fighter pilot, whose name is known to the Table.Media editorial board, confirmed the report's assessment that four to five months of training on an F-16 would be enough, as they fly "very effectively."
Training of fighter jet pilots: Germany examines how it can participate
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz did not yet want to speak out in support of a fighter jet coalition, while Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said they were looking at how Germany could help. In any case, Germany has no F-16 aircraft that it could supply, other models would be unlikely.
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"In the case of the few Tornadoes that are still operational, there are currently 200 maintenance hours per flight hour and with the delivery of Eurofighters, the air force could no longer fulfill its obligations to NATO," Green defense politician Philip Krämer told Table.Media. "But I can well imagine that Germany will get involved with the shared use of airfields, the provision of compatible missiles and other training and support services." One training location could be the US Air Base in Spangdahlem in the Eifel, where F-16 jets are stationed.
Mirage and Gripen as alternatives to F-16 fighter jets
Before Biden made his U-turn, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron had publicly called for a coalition. However, even these two countries do not have F-16s to hand over.
It seems unlikely that France will provide its modern and expensive Rafale fighter jets. In March, the French Ministry of Defense confirmed that Ukrainian personnel would be trained on Mirage 2000 combat ets. Pilot training would not take place, the Ukrainians would only be trained in ground-to-air defense and survival training in the event of a plane crash. Another option would be the Swedish Gripen jets. Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson said that some Ukrainian pilots will be allowed to test the JAS 39 Gripen. (By Nana Brink and Gabriel Bub)