The first Ukrainian pilots and ground crew trained on the US F-16 fighter aircraft have recently completed almost a year’s worth of training and will soon be ready to begin combat missions against the Russian Air Force in summer.

The first batch of Ukrainian F-16 pilots have graduated from the 162nd National Guard Air Force Base in Tucson, and will now move on to advanced training in Europe, US National Guard Air Force spokeswoman Erin Hannigan told Politico in comments published on Thursday, May 23.

The Ukrainian air force is scheduled to receive more than 60 F-16s from Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium. Those countries along with the US, Britain, Romania, France and Bulgaria have mobilized staff, aircraft and ground facilities to train the Ukrainians to fly and maintain the fighters.

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A small group of pilots, said to be around ten or twelve, who were already experienced in operating Kyiv’s Soviet-era fighters and had sufficient English were selected for accelerated training at the Tucson base in October 2023.

Those pilots have now deployed to Europe for further training, Hannigan said. It is now predicted that the first F-16 combat sorties could take place in June or July.

The UK has taken the lead in training newly recruited F-16 pilot candidates in basic flying skills, and in teaching experienced Ukrainian pilots in military aviation-specific English. The training began last August, and the first batch of experienced pilots graduated in March.

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Ukrainian Air Force pilot undergoing F-16 training prepares for a practice mission at a Royal Air Force base in the United Kingdom.

 “… dozens of Ukrainian aircraft technicians are receiving English language training, geared towards engineering, to enable them to engage with coalition training and support ” a Royal Air Force statement said.

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News of the Ukrainian pilots’ completion of US-based training came on the heels of Netherlands Defense Ministry announcement, on May 21, that it had completed its training of the first ten Ukrainian ground crew had completed advanced training on F-16 maintenance.

That core cadre of F-16 ground crew is already on its way to Ukraine where they will start to train local technicians and help ramp-up maintenance, according to a May 22 statement by Air Force spokesman Ilya Yevlash.

Ukraine has recently launched multiple long-range strikes against Russian air traffic control, air defense, and electronic warfare sites, partly intended to degrade the Kremlin’s forces’ ability to detect and fire on the F-16s once they arrive. Top priority targets for Kyiv appear to be major anti-aircraft systems and the technicians that operate them.

The most recent strike took place on Thursday, May 23, when as many as eight US-made ATACMS missiles hit targets in Russian-occupied Crimea. Moscow appointed officials claimed all of the ballistic weapons were destroyed in flight, but social media images suggested a successful, devastating strike on a Russian military communications and electronic warfare center near the seaside resort Alushta.

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Local media reported ambulances responding to the scene indicating a probable mass casualty event. Pro-Ukraine Telegram channels reported among other damage a long-range radar was wrecked and gave a precise location less than a kilometer from the resort, which had been cordoned off.

Russia’s ability to protect skies over south-east Ukraine suffered a punishing ATACMS strike overnight on Wednesday-Thursday. While occupation spokespersons claimed the weapons had missed, subsequent local reports and Ukrainian mil-bloggers posts indicated that at least four of the weapons had destroyed an S-400 Triumf air defense system near the Mospyne air base in the Donestk region. Drone footage taken while the attack was in progress showed two launch vehicles, a power vehicle, and a command vehicle being hit.

Screenshots from Ukrainian military drone video showing ATACMS cluster munitions striking a Russian S-400 air defense system on May 23.

The previous confirmed Ukrainian strike on an S400 systems took place on April 17 at Crimea’s Dzhankoi air base, where. the Ukrainian Air Force claimed it had destroyed four missile launchers, three radars, a command vehicle and a power support vehicle.

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The night of May 23-24 saw reports of additional Ukrainian strikes across Crimea. Reports are yet to be clarified, but, local social media and Ukrainian mil-bloggers widely reported a series of heavy explosions hitting a possible Russian command center near Alushta, a Russian coast guard base near the mountain village of Perevalne, and in the vicinity of Russia’s Hvardiiske, Dzhankoi and Saky military air bases.

The pro-Ukraine Crimea-linked mil-blogger Krymsky Veter reported that at least 16 Ukrainian ATACMS missiles had been launched striking a Russian air defense and electronic warfare installation near the village of Semydvirya.

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