On May 23, EU Foreign Secretary Josep Borrell said that pilot training for future F-16 pilots is now underway in NATO countries, including Poland. However, Polish officials say this is not yet in progress.

The apparently conflicting accounts come after US President Joe Biden said Washington would not block other countries with F-16s from transferring them to Ukraine. For its part however, the US stopped short of promising US aircraft for Ukraine, or new aircraft from Lockheed-Martin, the jet’s manufacturer.

It remains unclear from Borrell’s remarks whether he was referring to training using the F-16 itself or via other aircraft in preparation for flying the F-16.

“I am happy that, finally, the training of pilots for the F-16 has started in several countries. It will take time, but the sooner the better,” Borrell said. Later, in a video interview tweeted by DW Europe, he mentioned Poland as a NATO member already conducting pilot training.

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However, Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told DW Europe in a brief video interview: “We are ready to start this training but it hasn’t started yet.

“How many pilots? We are open,” Blaszczak said. “It depends on our possibilities.”

The Polish position

Supplies of aircraft from Poland to Ukraine are unlikely to come from the 48 F-16s that Poland already has. The Polish Air Force began receiving factory-new F-16 Block 52+ jets in 2006 to fulfill its NATO mission requirement for the defense of NATO in Eastern Europe, which continues to this day.

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Blaszczak addressed this very point, stating: “Poland is located on the eastern flank of NATO. So, we have some obligations concerning not only protecting Polish air, but… protecting, for instance, Baltic states’ air.”

“Of course, we are open to suggestions,” he added

Poland signed a letter of offer to receive 32 F-35 fifth-generation fighters on Jan. 31, 2020. These aircraft are scheduled for delivery in 2024.

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Other EU and NATO countries’ positions

According to Forbes: “Belgium, Denmark, and Norway are reportedly willing to supply Ukraine with F-16s. These countries, along with the Netherlands, have an estimated 125 F-16s between them.”

Both Norway and the Netherlands have replaced their F-16s with F-35s, while Belgium and Denmark are still using their jets as operational aircraft with NATO commitments similar to Poland.

The UK – which does not have F-16s – has committed to training Ukrainian pilots. Whilst not specifying the level of training, one possibility is that it will focus on new pilots going through basic training with the plan to send them to transition courses after earning their wings.

Likewise, Germany has also said it would be willing to train Ukrainian pilots and – similarly to the UK – does not have F-16s.

US focused on partnership commitments

At a Pentagon briefing on May 23 , US Department of Defense (DoD) spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder discussed Ukraine acquiring F-16s:

F-16s for Ukraine is about the long-term commitment to Ukraine, Ryder asserted. "These F-16s will not be relevant to the upcoming counteroffensive.”

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A DoD report said: “Right now, no number of F-16s, any indication of where those aircraft will come from, or when they will be delivered, has been revealed. What has been revealed, however, is that the US will participate with partners and allies in training Ukrainian pilots on how to use the aircraft.

According to the DoD, training might begin in the next few weeks or months, but it has not confirmed who would likely conduct the training, in which European countries it would take place, or where the F-16s would come from. Ryder did say the US would be involved, however.

That training will take place outside of Ukraine at sites in Europe, Ryder clarified.

"But in terms of... when that training will begin, how those jets will be provided, who will provide them, were continuing to work with our international partners on that front."

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