Ukraine has received the keys to the F-16. Now come the lessons. (2023)


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Ukrainian pilots still have a lot to learn before they can fly American-made fighter jets, but experts say it may take less time than expected.

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Ukraine has received the keys to the F-16. Now come the lessons. (1)

It could take less than half as long — just four to six months — to train Ukrainian fighter pilots to fly U.S. F-16 fighter jets than the Biden administration allowed.

That assessment, drawn from an internal US Air Force document and a former NATO chief, may concern a few pilots at a time and applies only to those with recent flying experience on Ukraine's fleet of Soviet-era jets. But it means Ukraine may have one of the last sophisticated weapons it says will deter Russia sooner than originally thought.

For more than a year, the United States refused to give anything to Ukrainethe fighter planes, which the Biden administration feared could be used to attack Russian territory. The government changed its stance last week, saying it supports training.

But while President Biden made it clear he would allow the jets to be sent to Ukraine, he declined to predict when they might be delivered. He called it "highly unlikely" they would be part of the counteroffensive Ukraine is expected to launch in the coming weeks. US officials said the planes would help Ukraine defend itself against Russia in the long run.

Training Ukraine's pilots is a necessary first step for the country to have a jet that can outmaneuver most other fighter jets while also being able to carry almost any bomb or missile in the US Air Force's arsenal.

On Tuesday, Poland said it was ready to train Ukrainian pilots. It will join a coalition formed by Britain and the Netherlands to supply Kiev with F-16s, but Poland may have better comparative experience to draw on: its forces have switched from Soviet fighters to the F-16s, and the Poles may possibly will find that it is easier to communicate with their Slavic-speaking fellow citizens across the border.

Here you can see how the training could develop.


How long does the training last?

Theinternal assessment of the air forceof March 22 concluded that at least some Ukrainian pilots could be trained to fly the F-16 in four to five months.

The rating first reported byYahoo News, and confirmed Monday by an Air Force spokesman, was based on a 12-day evaluation by two Ukrainian Air Force officers who went through flight simulations at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona, over the winter.

The report noted that the two pilots still needed certain technical skills, including understanding Western cockpit instruments and getting used to flying in US standard formation with other aircraft.

According to one forecast, which included time for dedicated English lessons, there would be about four pilots in each class, with between 12 and 14 pilots completing the training over a 12-month period. The assessment was shared with seven NATO countries, including Poland, which has flown the F-16. It was also awarded to Bulgaria and Great Britain.

However, it did not specify whether the pilots would graduate "combat ready" — a term used by Philip M. Breedlove, a retired US Air Force general, former NATO chief and F-16 trainer, as a necessary basis for determining the duration designated The education would last.

If the pilots had flown over Ukraine recently and regularly, they would most likely need four to six months of training, Gen. Breedlove said. On Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyycalledhe would suggest some of his most experienced pilots "to shorten the training process".


What should Ukrainian pilots learn?

General Breedlove, who flew F-16s for about 60 percent of his military career, including combat missions in Kosovo, said there were two key differences between the fighter and the Soviet-era aircraft that make up the bulk of Ukraine's fleet.

"The biggest change they're going to see is the cockpit," he said, referring to the way pilots use sensors, control panels and weapons systems. On most older Soviet jets, he said, pilots have to reach for the switches, turn them, switch them, reverse them — and all those things that take your concentration away from fighting the other plane or dropping the bomb accurately .

The electrical pulses, part of the F-16's more sophisticated technology, allow for easier control of the flight systems, meaning the cockpit is configured differently.

The other difference is the "Hands-on Throttle and Stick" or "HOTAS" technology, a system that includes a so-called dogfight override switch that allows F-16 pilots to switch from bombing targets on the ground to switching missions in the air . Aerial combat without taking your hands off the controls. Switching from one activity to another on a Soviet-era MiG-29 currently flown by Ukrainian pilots requires "some pretty tedious changes in the cockpit," Gen. Breedlove said.

With an F-16, "you never have to take your eyes off the fight," General Breedlove said. "It's much more intuitive and much, much easier to navigate under stress."


When and where were they educated?

Last week, before Mr Biden agreed to attend, the leaders of Britain and the Netherlands metannouncedan international coalition tasked with providing Ukraine with F-16 aircraft and training. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said at the time that the training would take placestart in the summer; On Monday, the Dutch foreign minister, Wopke Hoekstra, saidpredictedit would start "very quickly".

Beyond Poland, it is not yet clear where else the pilots will be trained, and U.S. and European officials said Monday that many of those details have yet to be worked out. Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway have all signaled that they are willing to help - either by training Ukraine's pilots or by transferring their F-16s to Kiev.

It is likely that American pilots will be part of the training effort for Ukraine, especially given that the United States helps train other countries that buy the F-16 from its Maryland-based manufacturer, Lockheed Martin. The United States has F-16s based at two air bases in Europe — Spangdahlem in Germany and Aviano in Italy, Gen. Breedlove said.

He said "some of the most experienced F-16 pilots in the world are now in the NATO Air Force" as the US Air Force largely transitions to a more advanced fighter, the F-35.

General Breedlove said the West should not underestimate how quickly Ukrainian pilots could master the F-16, given their performance with other weapons systems.

"They have exceeded our expectations every time," he said.

Lara Jakes is a foreign correspondent focusing on the war in Ukraine. She was a diplomatic and military correspondent in Washington and a war correspondent in Iraq and has reported and edited from more than 60 countries over the past 25 years. @jakesNEWS

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