DOD: Ukrainian F-16 Pilots on Track with Training in Arizona

The small number of pilots training at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson will graduate this year, according to a Pentagon spokesperson.

Norwegian F-16s have landed in Denmark, ready to train Ukrainian pilots. [Courtesy: Royal Norwegian Armed Forces]

Ukrainian pilots undergoing F-16 flight training in the U.S. are expected to graduate in the coming months, according to a Pentagon spokesperson.

A small number of Ukrainian fighter pilots began to train in F-16 fundamentals with the 162nd Wing, Arizona Air National Guard (ANG) at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson in October. Called the “face of the USAF to the world,” the ANG wing has trained pilots from 25 countries to fly the F-16.

"That training does continue in Arizona," Major General Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, told reporters Thursday. "As you know…depending on the skill level of the pilot, that can range from five to eight months. And so, I would expect…sometime later this year we'll start to see those pilots graduate."

News of the pilots' progression comes as additional F-16 training opportunities begin to come online for Ukrainian pilots in Europe. Ukrainian officials have long sought access to the fighter jet in order to modernize its air force and improve its defense ability following Russia’s invasion in 2022.

Earlier this week, Norway's defense minister announced that the country was sending two of its F-16s to Denmark to facilitate the training of Ukrainian pilots. The Royal Norwegian Air Force had already sent 10 instructors to the Royal Danish Air Force Fighter Wing in Skrydstrup, Denmark, where the training will take place.

Norwegian F-16s have landed in Denmark, ready to train Ukrainian pilots. [Courtesy: Royal Norwegian Armed Forces]

On Friday, the pair of fighters arrived at Skrydstrup, the Norwegian Armed Forces (NAF) said.

"It is nice to finally get the Norwegian planes down here to Skrydstrup." Lieutenant Colonel Bård Bakke, who heads the Norwegian detachment in Denmark, said in a statement. "After over 40 years in service for the Norwegian Air Force, in training and operations in Norway and abroad, the aircraft will now be used to help Ukraine in its defense struggle. Now we can contribute even more in support of Ukraine."

Norway retired its fleet of F-16s in January 2022, replacing them with the F-35. At least 32 of the decommissioned F-16s have already been sold to Romania, according to the military.

"Since the mission to support Ukraine came in July 2023, personnel from across the defense sector have been working to get the F-16 back into service after two years on the ground," NAF said.

The Ukrainian pilots enrolled in the training already have experience operating other types of fighter aircraft, albeit from the Soviet era.

"The transition to the full effect of the F-16 will be a long-term effort," NAF said. "Even if a certain effect is expected from the start, it will take time before Ukraine operates the F-16 according to Western standards."

In November, the European F-16 Training Center opened in Romania. The facility, located at Romanian Air Force 86th Air Base near Fetești, Romania, will train pilots from Romania and Ukraine. Five Dutch F-16s have been delivered to the center, and the Netherlands has also pledged to provide up to 18 F-16s for flight training.

Kimberly is managing editor of FLYING Digital.

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