An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off during night operations at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., May 24, 2023.

An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off during night operations at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., May 24, 2023. U.S. Air Force / Airman 1st Class Mason Hargrove

US to train Ukrainian pilots, maintainers on F-16s this fall

The pilots will go through English language training before getting into the cockpit.

The United States will train Ukrainian pilots and maintainers to operate F-16 fighter jets, the Pentagon announced Thursday.

“We’re going to do everything we can to ensure that those pilots have the training and the knowledge necessary to be able to effectively employ this very sophisticated combat weapon,” Pentagon Spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters. “And so that’s our part, and we’ll work with our allies in Europe to ensure they have that training so that when they do go into combat, they’re prepared to do it.”

Ukraine for months has asked for U.S.-made F-16 jets to help fight Russian forces, and in July, 11 countries pledged to train Ukrainian pilots to fly them. Denmark and the Netherlands, will send F-16s to Ukraine after receiving U.S. approval earlier this month. And Norway on Thursday announced it also plans to send F-16s.

How many F-16s Ukraine will receive will be determined after pilots are selected and trained, Ryder said.

Denmark and the Netherlands are leading the F-16 training effort, with the initial cohort beginning training this month. While the Pentagon previously said the U.S. would consider training Ukrainian pilots if the European effort reached capacity, Ryder told reporters Thursday they decided to train pilots now because they expect the capacity will be met “at a certain point in time in the future,” and this will “essentially increase the capacity across the coalition for training those pilots…so it's another venue by which to train.”

“[W]e want to do everything we can to help move this effort along as quickly as possible in support of Ukraine,” he said.

The U.S. is expected to train “several pilots and dozens of maintainers,” but Ukraine still needs to identify who they want to send, Ryder said. 

Starting in September, the potential F-16 pilots will receive English language training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and then  start flight training at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona, in October. The Air National Guard’s 162nd Wing, which has experience training pilots from 25 different countries, will conduct that training, Ryder said.

“Moving forward, we will remain in close consultation with the Danes, the Dutch, and other allies to ensure U.S. training complements the broader coalition training effort,” he said.

The length of the training depends on the pilots’ experience, Ryder said. For U.S. pilots with little flying experience, F-16 training can take up to eight months, while training experienced pilots on the aircraft can take about five months, he said.

When asked whether the pilots will also be trained on Russian aerial tactics, Ryder said the U.S. will train them on fundamentals, and the F-16 coalition “will continue to look at how best to prepare these pilots so that they can be successful in the air when those aircraft are employed.”