The Pentagon reportedly announced Thursday that the U.S. will start training an undefined number of Ukrainian pilots and ground crew personnel in October on how to fly F-16 fighter jets built in the United States, exercising a last-ditch option previously put up by the White House.
According to a U.S. source recently quoted in The New York Times, the idea of instructing Ukrainian pilots on the American-made fighter jet on U.S. soil was only raised as a possibility if European training facilities proved insufficient.
As perceptions of Ukraine’s counteroffensive have waned, the announcement was timed to coincide with Ukraine’s independence day and restate support for Ukraine’s fight against Russian aggression.
According to a statement from the White House, President Joe Biden promised to speed up clearance for the third-party transfer of other countries’ F-16s to Ukraine once training is through in a conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday.
The Pentagon was unable to specify the precise number of Ukrainian soldiers who will be trained in Arizona, and Kyiv will be responsible for deciding on the final number.
In order to get more familiar with the particular terminology needed to fly F-16s, Ukrainian pilots and ground crews will also have to finish English language training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, in September.
An F-16 pilot familiar with American systems and protocols might learn the aircraft in five months, whereas pilots without that background may need eight months or more.