US Will Train Ukrainian Pilots, Maintainers on the F-16 at Air National Guard Base

The U.S. will train Ukrainian pilots and maintainers on F-16s at Morris Air National Guard Base, Ariz., in October, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder announced Aug. 24—the most direct American involvement yet in the international effort to equip and train Ukraine with fighter aircraft.

The Ukrainian pilots will also receive necessary English-language training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in September, Ryder said.

The 162nd Wing at Morris trains foreign pilots on F-16s on a day-to-day basis.

Ryder said the training “will include several pilots and dozens of maintainers” but said it was too soon to provide further information. Ryder indicated the U.S. and Ukraine had yet to iron out which pilots might come over to the U.S. and it was too soon to give a timeline on how long training might take. He did not say whether the U.S. would provide munitions for the F-16s, such as AMRAAM air-to-air missiles.

“A lot is going to depend on those individual pilots and the assessment in terms of where they’re at in that process,” Ryder said.

Last week, President Joe Biden’s administration gave the necessary official approvals needed for a consortium of countries led by Denmark and the Netherlands to start training Ukrainian pilots on the F-16. The U.S. also provided formal assurances that it will fast-track any requests from those countries to transfer their older F-16s to Ukraine that they are trading out for newer aircraft like F-35s. But the U.S. has a massive fleet of F-16s and as the plane is American-made, the U.S. is used to training new countries in how to operate the aircraft.

“We know that as the Danes and the Dutch prepare to train those pilots, at a certain point in time in the future, capacity will be reached,” Ryder said. “So preemptively, acknowledging that and leaning forward in order to assist with this effort is the impetus for why we’re doing this now.”

The 162nd Wing has trained pilots from 25 countries to fly the F-16 so far, according to the unit’s website. But Ryder noted that in addition to basic flying skills, there will be much to learn for Ukrainian pilots who have previously flown in Soviet-era aircraft using different tactics than Western pilots. Experts have said Ukrainian pilots need to be trained in Western tactics to be successful, especially to make the best use of U.S.-made aircraft. Ryder previewed some of the myriad of skills required.

“There will be additional training on air combat maneuvering, tactical intercepts, close air support, suppression of enemy air defenses, and then all of that leading up to your mission qualification training, which then allows your instructor to certify that you’re combat ready,” Ryder said. “So those are the kinds of things that go into training a fighter pilot.”

Earlier this week, Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelenskyy visited the Netherlands and sat in an F-16 and praised the “breakthrough agreement” to provide the jets to Kyiv. The Pentagon’s announcement came on Ukrainian Independence Day.

“The United States is proud to stand with Ukraine, and we will continue to ensure that it has what it needs to fight for its freedom,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement marking the occasion.