Significant movements occurred over the past few weeks regarding Ukraine’s future western fighter capability. From the first F-16 pilots graduating to President Zelensky announcing a French Mirage 2000 deal, then the US refused training for 30 Ukraine pilots. And now, there are indications the US is quashing other options for pilots.

From a well-placed, unnamed US government source, Ukraine does in fact have 30 pilots qualified to enter the US F-16 training pipeline as reported earlier this week from Ukraine. With the recent graduation of F-16 pilots from the US and those from training sites in Europe, Ukraine is likely to have between 15 and 20 pilots, for 60 airframes. That is a horrible aircrew to aircraft ratio. 

Arizona National Guard’s Public Affairs Officer, Maj. Erin Hannigan, shared that the 162nd Wing in Tucson is the primary training pipeline for foreign F-16 pilots. She also clarified that the unit trains 30 pilots annually, based on funding allocated from the Secretary of the Air Force’s International Affairs division. When asked if the 162nd could surge training efforts, Maj. Hannigan stated the 162nd has no surge capacity. Hence, even if the 162nd prioritized Ukrainian pilots over those that have already been slated for training, they might be able to train 15 more this year.

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This information generates more questions than answers. Did the Air Force, Department of Defense, and White House know the primary foreign training F-16 schoolhouse never had the capacity to train the number of pilots required by Ukraine? What was the US plan to generate enough pilots for realistic crew ratios?

Europe’s Final Fate
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Europe’s Final Fate

Despite looming negatives, Europe must “stand on its own feet,” but America cannot simply pull the plug without causing serious political and economic difficulties.

When the US and allies knew Ukraine would receive approximately 60 F-16s, it’s hard to fathom which Air Force staff officers believed 15-20 pilots would be enough. Most likely, Air Force officers knew this number was inadequate, and likely offered up solutions such as re-tasking another State’s Air Guard F-16 unit as a training unit dedicated to Ukraine. Creative officers on the Air Staff could likely craft a dozen other viable plans to train Ukraine’s pilots if US leadership demanded it. If there’s one thing the US military does well, it is planning. Clearly, there was no plan to generate pilots commensurate to the number of aircraft. 

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This inadequate pilot production rates is perhaps the crux of why Zelensky announced the French fighter deal. Macron plans to deliver Mirage 2000s, trained aircrew and maintainers in six months. If true, it will be a black eye on the Biden administration which has long claimed they are ‘moving on F-16s as fast as possible…’ nearing two years to deliver. 

The simple truth is the Biden administration’s “F-16s for Ukraine” rhetoric doesn’t match their actions. Along with under-resourcing F-16 pilot training, the Biden administration:

U.S. leadership is playing Jekyll and Hyde. To the public, they parrot a “full support” narrative for Ukraine. Behind closed doors, however, support is lacking. It’s perhaps not surprising Zelensky welcomes the French Mirage 2000 offer. And if France delivers in six months as Macron stated, it will be just one more black eye on a US administration that has long promised they’re moving “as fast as possible” on F-16s. 

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and reflect neither the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the US Government; nor do they necessarily reflect those of Kyiv Post. 

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