Russia Will Down F-16s Pledged to Ukraine, Defense Minister Vows

The DOD estimates it will take five to nine months to fully train Ukrainian fighter pilots to fly the fighter jets.

Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway have pledged to donate F-16s, like the one seen here, to the Ukrainian Air Force, which has sought access to the aircraft since Russia’s invasion in early 2022. [Courtesy: U.S. Air Force]

The long-awaited F-16 fighter jets pledged to the Ukrainian Air Force won't last a month in combat once they're received, according to Russia's top defense minister.

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu made the claim during a conference call Wednesday, saying that the country's air defense systems shot down 37 Ukrainian aircraft in the past month—almost double the number of F-16s pledged to Ukraine, Russian news agency Tass reported. 

"That is, given this kind of activity from our air defense systems, [the F-16 jets] will last about 20 days," Shoigu said.

Getting the F-16 fighter into Ukrainian skies remains a priority for the country's military, as well as nations that have pledged support. Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway are donating F-16s to Ukraine, which has long sought access to the aircraft following Russia’s invasion in 2022. 

"Ukrainian pilots are now training with the Arizona Air National Guard on F-16s. This is an essential part of building Ukraine’s air defense," Bridget Brink, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said in a social media post October 26. "The United States is proud to work [with] European partners to support Ukraine against Russia’s brutal aggression."

The Netherlands' first donated fighter will arrive at a Romanian training center by mid-November, outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy on Monday, according to a Reuters report.

"The first ones will be shipped to the training center in Romania within the next two weeks, so that day we will get ready for further training," Rutte said.

Said the Ukrainian Air Force on Thursday, along with showing images of the F-16 posted on X, formerly known as Twitter: "We continue to do our work and wait…Soon in Ukraine."

F-16 Training Timeline

The U.S. Department of Defense estimates that it will take five to nine months to fully train Ukrainian fighter pilots to fly the F-16, Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said Thursday.

"That's an assessment that essentially is tailored to the current situation, based on our conversations with the Air National Guard,” Ryder said. “And again very much predicated on the skill level of the individual pilots that are going through that training."

That assessment was made after the pilots, selected by the Ukrainian military, arrived in the U.S., Ryder said. 

"Part of that initial discussion is evaluating their skill level, where they stand in terms of English language skills, pilot skills—and so it would be tailored to the individual pilot," said Ryder, adding that there could possibly be some variance where one pilot may finish training sooner than another.  

Kimberly is managing editor of FLYING Digital.

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