The Dutch Defense Ministry on Tuesday announced the first five of its promised F-16 fighter aircraft have arrived at Fetesti Air Force Base in southeast Romania, intended for training Ukrainian and Romanian pilots.

This summer, the United States green-lighted the use of the American-made jets from NATO members Denmark and the Netherlands, to train pilots who are used to flying mostly Soviet-made aircraft. In all, the Dutch government has allotted 12 to 18 planes for the program. The fighters will “only fly in NATO airspace,” the Ministry underscored.

The Romanian training center will be opened “in the next few months,” the Ministry’s statement said. Training and maintenance will be provided by Lockheed-Martin, the manufacturer of the aircraft.

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“I am grateful to the Netherlands and Prime Minister Mark Rutte for leading the way in supporting Ukraine,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said, adding that he hoped that the F-16s would make their way to Ukraine as soon as possible.

Kyiv has long lobbied its Western allies for modern fighter aircraft, missiles and air defense systems, especially asking for F-16s.

The Netherlands has plans to buy 52 newer fifth-generation F-35s from the United States to gradually replace its F-16 fleet. The Dutch military already has received 33 of them.

Last month, following a meeting with Zelensky, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said his country, too, would be in a position to apportion an undisclosed number of F-16s for Ukrainian pilots in 2025, but warned that this can only be confirmed after Belgian elections in May 2024.

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The current class of F-16 trainees are working on flight simulators in Belgium. On Oct. 24, a Ukrainian Air Force spokesman foreshadowed Tuesday’s announcement from the Dutch: “We expect that the first group of pilots who are training today in simulators... will transfer to a real F-16 combat aircraft with an instructor in the near future,” Colonel Yuriy Ihnat said.

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