Two more European F-16s will be set aside for Ukrainian pilots

The Belgian Ministry of Defense has announced that two additional European F-16 fighter jets, originally from Belgium, will be supplied to a training center in Denmark for Ukrainian pilots. These jets are expected to arrive in Denmark by March 2024, extending their originally planned stay until September. 

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Moreover, along with these aircraft, 50 members of the Belgian military team will be dispatched and shouldered with the responsibility of educating and training Ukrainian pilots. This also includes providing them with knowledge on theoretical aspects and maintenance training. 

‘Controversial’ Belgium

Earlier, Belgium seemed skeptical about the donation of its own F-16s for use in Ukraine’s hostilities. As of September 2023, Frédéric Goetink, an official handling procurement for the Belgian military, had stated that the idea of dispatching F-16s to Ukraine was out of the question. He reasoned that their F-16s have overflown to a point of exhaustion and possibly might not serve the highest flying standards required in Ukraine. 

As the conversation switched to the usage of these exhausted aircraft, Goettink remarked, “Sending a battered plane to Ukraine that’s not fit for our use sounds absurd. Any discrepancy, like a crack in the fuselage, might put a pilot’s life at risk,” he added. 

However, by October, Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonde revealed that Belgium was prepared to send F-16s to Ukraine in 2025. Dedonder further mentioned that the timeline of this delivery is dependent on the service launch of new Belgian F-35 Block 4 fighters, but kept the number of possible deliveries under wraps. 

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Among major arms suppliers in Europe, Belgium has chipped in support of the war-stricken Ukraine in the form of automatic weapons, armored vehicles, 200 trucks, ammunition, fuel, and medical supplies. 

First F-16s

The estimation regarding the possible arrival of the first Western fighter jets to Ukraine continues to be purely speculative. On a more optimistic note, that could be in the late spring of 2024 or later. 

Estimates are surfacing that the F-16 training for Ukrainian pilots could be quite extensive. As per American experts and official statements from Pentagon members, Ukrainian pilots will likely be ready to operate the F-16 by the summer of 2024 at the earliest.

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The Ukrainian Air Force is now piloting F-16 jets, following approval from the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense. This coincided with the news that six more pilots – having demonstrated skill in ‘dry training’ – have begun airborne training with the F-16 jet. 

Training is in full swing

Denmark is the chosen venue for the aerial training, according to official statements. An initial group of eight pilots arrived, followed by a second group of six who arrived in Denmark just days later. All 14 pilots have successfully completed their training via the ‘UK Basic Training Programme’. 

The UK program emphasizes ‘dry training’ and proficiency in the English language. According to information from the British Ministry of Defense, there are still 10 Ukrainian pilots in the UK polishing their language skills. Hence, it’s anticipated that not just 14, but a total of 24 Ukrainian pilots will be streaking across Denmark’s skies in the coming weeks.

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