US and UK seek retired pilots of Soviet fighters for Ukraine
Ukraine will need pilots to fly Soviet and American F-16 fighter jets. Such a need has been known for a long time, as Ukraine is losing planes in the battle with Russian aviation.
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However, training Ukrainian pilots to operate the F-16 will take time. This is no secret since Washington and Kyiv recognize this fact. And it makes perfect sense. However, how long it will take remains a mystery for several reasons.
First, Ukrainian pilots who are still in service or retired Ukrainian pilots have flown Soviet fighters up to this point. The transition from Soviet design to Western, in the specific case of the American, is not an easy task. A Kyiv official believes that a Ukrainian pilot can be trained in a short time, but opinions are coming from Washington that at least six months will be needed for such training, and it will not be complete.
Second, there have long been proposals to hire pilots who have flown Soviet-designed aircraft in their lifetime. Such a proposal also makes a lot of sense, since Ukraine received the MiG-29 from Poland and Slovakia. This perspective is most relevant now when Kyiv still has no clarity on who and how many F-16 aircraft it will donate and when this will happen.
There have already been speculations on Twitter about the second option. Some accounts cite a Turkish report [they do not specify which one or the source] according to which in the last few weeks, representatives of the special services of NATO countries, primarily Great Britain and the United States, have been actively approaching active and retired pilots of Soviet aircraft from the countries that operate such aircraft.
First of all, the emphasis is on the flight crews flying the MiG-29, Su-24, L-39, and Mi-8/24. Recruitment is carried out within the framework of new deliveries of aviation equipment, intended for the staffing of about four new regiments of the Ukrainian Air Force since the preparation of personnel from among Ukrainians takes a lot of time and resources.
According to known data, negotiations were held with Sudanese, Libyans, Egyptians, and Angolans. Demands were also made for the release of former Afghan Air Force pilots who fled the country in 2021.
However, such a search for personnel may not be limited only to former Soviet fighter pilots. BulgarianMilitary.com published its report some time ago in which it says that it is quite possible that former F-16 pilots also express a desire to become part of a mercenary contingent in Ukraine. Ukraine may benefit from such aspirants, as we emphasize again – it is not known how long it will take to train a Ukrainian pilot.
There is also a third possibility. Already trained and current pilots of NATO and allies to fly the flag of Ukraine. This possibility is not to be ignored, but it carries with it very high risks. Such an action would mean an official war between Russia and NATO, at that, provoked by NATO’s fault. The international community may react quite controversially to such a proposal.
Ukraine will have to solve another problem – the airports from which the pilots will take off. Ukraine does not currently have the infrastructure to support the F-16. This fighter needs a clear runway, and “pollution” by Russian fighter jet bombing can quickly and easily ground the Ukrainian F-16s.
Other suggestions are circulating on the web that are logical. Building new infrastructure deep in western Ukraine close to the border with Poland. This means that Russian warplanes may refuse to bomb such a base, as the risk of inaccurate strikes on it is high. I.e. if a Russian missile hits Polish territory, it means that Warsaw can activate Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.
A year ago, Poland was quite vocal in its comments when Ukrainian air defense missiles fell on Polish territory in an attempt to intercept a Russian air target. But today Poland shows a different attitude – it is ready to wage war with Russia, and in some comments, it is even “regarded” as willing to do so.
There are opportunities for Ukraine to have F-16 pilots or Soviet fighters. They are real and they are all doable. Most likely, Washington and London are even willing to pay these mercenaries. But Kyiv will have to choose one of many options very carefully. Most likely, a new red line will be set – no entry into Russian territory.
This, as it turned out, is difficult for Ukraine to do. Kyiv promises but also breaks. Proof of this is the pro-Kyiv regime Russian military who entered Russia through Belgorod with equipment donated by the US and allies. Another piece of evidence is the drone attacks in Moscow, which Kyiv denies, but Washington has confirmed.
It seems that the war is not going to end but to a greater escalation. The question is how big and whether there will be other participants in it.
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