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Ukraine could receive six F-16s by summer, deploy few as soon as July - NYT

The aircraft will be ready to be flown by 12 Ukrainian pilots. 

Ukraine could receive six F-16s by summer, deploy few as soon as July - NYT
Romanian Air Force F16 fighters during NATO Reinforce Air Police exercises.
Photo: EPA/UPG

Ukraine could deploy F-16 fighter jets as early as July, but only a few. The plan is to have 12 Ukrainian pilots ready to fly the aircraft by summer. This is stated in the article of the American newspaper The New York Times.

Currently, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Belgium have pledged to send about 45 aircraft to Ukraine, enough for three small squadrons. Denmark will deliver the first six in late spring, with another 13 fighters due by the end of the year and in 2025.

Other countries have not set delivery dates for their F-16s. Dutch defence ministry spokesman Jurrian Esser said that Amsterdam, which has pledged 24 planes, will keep them until Ukraine is ready to accept them.

It’s still unclear when Ukrainian pilots will begin training at the center, at the Fetesti air base in southeast Romania, which NATO allies also are using to get schooled on the fighter jets.

That is not to say that Ukraine’s pilots are not being prepared, the NYT notes. Twelve pilots so far — fewer than a full squadron — are expected to be ready to fly F-16s in combat by this summer after 10 months of training in Denmark, Britain and the United States.

"But by the time the pilots return to Ukraine, as few as six F-16s will have been delivered out of about 45 of the fighter jets that European allies have promised," the article says.

Nevertheless, their highly anticipated arrival over the battlefield will come not a moment too soon. Russia has employed more aggressive air support to gain ground in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks, using its warplanes to send guided glide bombs over long distances into the Ukrainian front lines. The F-16s would likely come armed with short- and medium-range missiles and bombs, partially making up for the shortage of ground-based munitions.

Yet officials agreed that much uncertainty remains about when each country will send its jets, how many will be sent, how fast pilots can be trained, and how Ukraine will get enough people who can maintain the planes properly.

By normal standards, the training of Ukraine’s pilots on the sophisticated Western jets has proceeded at lightning speed, compressing years of classroom learning, simulations and flight exercises. Even so, it is moving more slowly than Ukraine or its allies had hoped, as pilots have had to get up to speed on the English language and Western military practices to make effective use of the F-16s.

The publication adds that about 50 Ukrainian technicians are being trained in Denmark to maintain and repair the aircraft and work with their weapons. One fighter jet usually requires eight to 14 people. Western defence contractors will have to escort the aircraft to Ukraine and stay with them until there are enough Ukrainian crews to properly maintain the aircraft. This could take years.

Another problem is the need to repair Ukraine's outdated and war-damaged runways, which could further delay the deployment of F-16s to the war. 

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