F-16 pilot training in Denmark is slated to start at Denmark’s Skrydstrup Fighter Wing in August. But other preparations for the fighters still need to be ironed out.

As a result, Ukrainian Air Force fighter pilots and politicians have been dealing with frustration over the ambiguity and seeming lack of coordination with regard to promises of F-16s. Estimates of when F-16s will be flying combat missions defending Ukraine ranges from months to over a year. They certainly won’t be here by the end of autumn as was previously hoped for and alluded to by political and military leaders both within Ukraine and among Ukraine’s allied supporters.

Over the past week and a half there has been more solid information about the inclusion of the “Viper” [what pilots unofficially call the F-16 “Fighting Falcon”] in the Ukrainian Air Force. We know the locations of training facilities in Denmark and Romania and the possibility that airframes may come from Denmark, Norway and/or the Netherlands. Nevertheless, August is nearly upon us and US-approved pilot and support training syllabuses along with overall infrastructure and maintenance plans still need to be ironed out.

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Here are some statements and announcements made in recent weeks by key players in the F-16 “Fighter Coalition” and other involved partners, giving timeframes between December 2023 and April 2024 or later.

Presumed Ukrainian Air Base Targeted by Russian Combined Missile and Drone Attack
Other Topics of Interest

Presumed Ukrainian Air Base Targeted by Russian Combined Missile and Drone Attack

The primary target of the strike was Starokonstyantyniv in the Khmelnytsky region, which is widely thought to be home to a vast Ukrainian air base.

US Secretary of State – July 23

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday cautioned that deliveries of the F-16s could take “months and months” once it’s determined the fighter jets are appropriate, but America’s support hasn’t wavered.

Blinken said that the US military aid to Ukraine so far has been what it needs, which to date has included ground-based weapons but no fighter aircraft that Zelensky and other Ukrainian leaders have been asking for since the full-scale invasion began. And the need has been borne out by the experiences of front-line soldiers and Ukrainian generals with Russian air superiority over the battlefields.

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Defending the appropriateness and amount of aid to Ukraine so far, Blinken told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria: “At every step along the way, in fact, going back before the Russian aggression when we saw the storm rising... We made sure, going back to Labor Day before the war [Sep. 6, 2021], Christmas before the war [Dec. 25, 2021], that they started to get in their hands the equipment they would need if the Russians went forward.”

“Every step along the way ever since, we’ve worked to try to get them what they need, when they need it,” the Secretary of State said.

“But it’s not just the equipment itself. It’s the training, it’s the maintenance, it’s the ability to use it in combined arms operations. All of that takes time,” he said.

Blinken further waffled on the dates by saying: “If a decision were made to actually move forward on the F-16s tomorrow, it would be months and months before they were actually operational.”

To make the timeline even less clear, the infrastructure of airfields suitable for the F-16 and the dispersal that would be required given the attacks of Russian cruise missiles and drones have yet to be built.

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US President Joe Biden – May to July

Biden’s administration had previously balked on providing F-16s to Ukraine due to worries about escalating the war into a direct confrontation between Russia and NATO. They also claimed that fourth-generation aircraft were not needed. But supporters of supplying the fighters have defended their value and argued that sending them would not risk provoking broader Russian aggression.

The Biden administration expects F-16 fighter aircraft will arrive in Ukraine near the end of this year, a top White House spokesperson said, indicating that US officials have a new-found sense of urgency to deliver the warplanes as quickly as possible.

But the White House and Pentagon have yet to formally approve the training program, which is required under US export restrictions.

US National Security Council – July 20-21

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told Fox News on Thursday: “Now look, the F-16s will get there probably towards the end of the year.

“But it’s not our assessment that the F-16s alone would be enough to turn the tide [in Ukraine].”

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Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan repeated Kirby’s remarks on Friday, saying the US is “moving rapidly” to get F-16s to Ukraine.

“We are going to push as fast as possible,” Sullivan said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

Sullivan said the US will meet “whatever timeline our European partners need.”

He added: “The United States will not be the hold-up in ensuring that this F-16 training can get underway.”

Sullivan said the main roadblock was that the European partners needed a few more weeks to create the necessary training infrastructure. He did not commit to a specific timeline for training or delivery.

An anonymous US official told Politico that Kirby’s remarks are “aspirational,” and that the Biden administration is still working to finalize plans to deliver the jets and train Ukrainian pilots because of sensitive technology that could be transferred.

F-16 “Fighter Coalition” for Ukraine

A coalition of 11 nations, led by Denmark and the Netherlands, has taken initial steps to make the training program a reality. European officials said they hoped to begin the training in Denmark in August, and a follow-on training center would be set up in Romania. Reportedly, the UK will soon start English language instruction for Ukrainian pilots.

Danish Defense Ministry officials told the New Voice of Ukraine: “We initially plan to train two teams, comprising a total of 10 to 12 pilots and some auxiliary personnel for aircraft maintenance.” They also said that “around 30 to 40 technicians are also scheduled for the training.”

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Actual F-16 Fighter Aircraft

So far, no countries have committed to sending F-16s from their own fleets to the battlefield after training concludes. Norway has plans to send two trainer aircraft for Ukrainians to learn on, but that has not been announced publicly, according to a Norwegian defense official cited by Politico.

While Denmark and the Netherlands will soon have recently retired F-16s available, no plans for transfer from either country have been announced.

One of the advantages of F-16s from Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands is that – unlike US F-16s – they are equipped with drag parachutes to make them able to land on short, prepared dual-use highway/runway airstrips. This would be helpful in dispersing the aircraft to avoid being targeted by Russian missiles and drones.

President Volodymyr Zelensky – July, shortly before the NATO Summit of July 11-12

President Zelensky has pressed Ukraine’s Western allies to deliver the fighters as soon as possible.

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“We have agreed, we have pressed, and we have a coalition of countries that are ready to start training for Ukrainian pilots. [But] there is no schedule for training missions, and they’re delaying it. I don’t know why they’re doing this.”

Prior to that, on June 21, Zelensky said that Ukraine could receive its first F-16s within six to seven months, that is December or January.

Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov – July 11

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said the F-16s would not arrive before the New Year, although the Defense Ministry had previously hoped they would come this fall.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba – July 12

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba predicted that the first F-16 fighter jets would appear in Ukraine by April 2024. The training of Ukrainian pilots should begin in August, possibly at the beginning of September, in parallel with preparing legal decisions necessary for the transfer of aircraft.

“Simultaneously [with the beginning of pilot training in August], the necessary legal arrangements for the aircraft’s transfer will be underway. I believe that if the first F-16s will be flying in Ukrainian skies, piloted by Ukrainian aviators, by the end of the first quarter of next year – it will be in accordance with the schedule,” Kuleba said.

F-16 manufacturer Lockheed-Martin International Relations VP – July 17

Lockheed-Martin recently gave the most concrete information, including training locations and timelines that will likely stretch out to late 2024.

According to Ray Piselli, Vice President for International Relations at Lockheed-Martin, manufacturer of the US-made F-16, the Danish Skrydstrup airbase will host the initial phase of the training. The Skrydstrup Fighter Wing currently has F-16s that will soon be replaced with fifth-generation stealthy F-35s.

Piselli said that following initial training in Denmark, pilots will go to Romania where a training center will be set up near Fetesti, at the 86 Borcea airbase. Romania will provide the infrastructure, while the Netherlands supplies the F-16 aircraft.

Lockheed Martin will supervise the pilot training through its subcontractor, Draken International, a US firm, Piselli said.

Draken has reportedly bought 12 F-16s from the Norwegian Air Force and has begun recruiting F-16 instructor pilots for the program. There is no evidence indicating those airframes would find their way to Ukraine.

Lockheed-Martin says the F-16 program will begin with the “screening and selection of Ukrainian personnel [pilots, maintainers, support staff], language courses, and theoretical as well as practical preparation. The key objective is to equip the Ukrainian Air Force with the fundamental skills and conditions for flying and maintaining F-16 fighter aircraft.”

Piselli repeated information from other sources, including the “Fighter Coalition” that the Netherlands and Denmark are “spearheading the development of the training program.” At the same, The New Voice of Ukraine reported that Danish officials have refrained from directly answering questions about whether Denmark will donate their own F-16 aircraft to Ukraine.

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