According to two U.S. officials and a senior congressional official, two Ukrainian pilots currently reside in the United States for an assessment. This will determine how long it would take to train them to fly F-16 fighter jets.
Officials said that the Ukrainian pilots are currently being tested on simulators at a U.S. military base near Tucson, Arizona. They may soon be joined by other fellow pilots.
According to officials, U.S. authorities approved the transport of up to 10 additional Ukrainian pilots to the U.S. to undergo further evaluation as soon as this month.
This marks the first time that Ukrainians have visited the U.S. to be evaluated by American military trainers. Officials stated that the goal of the effort was to improve pilots’ skills as well as evaluate the time it would take for a good training program.
An administration official stated that the program was about assessing pilots’ abilities so they can provide better advice on how to use the capabilities they have.
Two officials from the administration stressed that this is not a training program. They also stated that the Ukrainians won’t be flying any aircraft while they are in the U.S.
According to these officials, the simulator will allow pilots to simulate flying different types of aircraft. They also stressed that there were no other updates regarding the U.S. decision not to provide F-16’s for Ukraine beyond what the Pentagon’s top official told Congress last week.
Colin Kahl, an official from the U.S., stated to the House Armed Services Committee, that neither the U.S. nor its allies or partners had made the decision not to provide F-16’s.
He stated that the U.S. had not yet started F-16 training and that F-16 delivery is “essentially” the same as the training timeline of 18 months.
Kahl, the under secretary for defense policy, stated that it doesn’t save you time to start the training before we have completed our assessment. “And because we haven’t made the decision not to provide F-16’s, nor have our allies or partners, it doesn’t make sense for us to begin to train them on a system that they may never receive.”
Other U.S. defense officials stated that the training could be cut to six to nine month depending on how well-trained the pilots are in fighter aircraft.
According to American and Western officials, Ukrainian officials told the U.S. that there are fewer than 20 pilots available to fly to the U.S. to learn on F-16s. Another 30 could also be trained.
When asked about the evaluation of two Ukrainian pilots, a defense official said it was a “familiarization” event.
The official stated that it was a routine activity in our military-tomilitary dialogue with Ukraine.
“The “familiarization” event is basically a conversation between Air Force personnel and an observation on how the U.S. Air Force works. This event allows us better to help Ukrainian pilots become better pilots and to provide better advice on how to improve their capabilities.
While the defense official stated that there were no plans to increase the number or frequency of the pilots in Tucson, he also said that “we are not closing the door on future possibilities.”
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president, has repeatedly requested F-16s from the U.S. but President Joe Biden has not responded to the requests. Biden stated that Ukraine doesn’t need F-16s right now, and added that this was based on advice from the U.S. military.
When asked if he would send F-16s to Ukraine, he replied “I’m ruling that out for now.”