First F-16s will be flying in Ukrainian space in March 2024 – Foreign Minister

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that the first F-16 fighter jets will likely fly in Ukrainian skies by the end of March 2024. The minister stated this in an interview with Radio Liberty.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister noted that the transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine is a very complex technical issue.

According to Mr Kuleba, the training of the Ukrainian military on the fighter jets should begin sometime in August, possibly in early September. In parallel, the legal decisions necessary for the transfer of the aircraft and the aircraft themselves will be prepared.

“I think that if by the end of the first quarter of next year, the first F-16s are flying in Ukrainian air, flown by Ukrainian pilots, it will align with the schedule”.

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian Foreign Minister

He also stressed that engineers, technicians and infrastructure need to be trained.

“There are a lot of nuances so that the schedule can be shifted. But now the Minister of Defence is working very actively here. We are doing everything together to speed up this process as much as possible”.

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian Foreign Minister

In June Politico claimed, referring to its sources in defence circles, that the F-16 planes would likely be provided by the Netherlands and Denmark, which are leading a programme to train Ukrainian pilots.

Read also: How do F-16s protect Ukraine, and why does the Ukrainian Army need them?

F-16 fighter jets coalition for Ukraine

On 21 May, US President Joe Biden approved training for Ukrainians on F-16s. Volodymyr Zelenskyy assured that Ukraine would not use these aircraft to attack Russian territory. Also, Defence Ministry adviser Yuriy Sak said that Ukraine hopes to receive the first modern US F-16 fighters in autumn 2023.

On 25 May, at a meeting in the Ramstein format, it was announced that the coalition to train the Ukrainian Armed Forces with F-16s would be led by Denmark and the Netherlands and would include four other countries: Norway, Belgium, Portugal and Poland.

On 14 June, one of the leaders of the ‘aviation coalition’, the Netherlands, said that training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16s would start in the coming months.

Read also: Who joined Ukraine’s fighter jet coalition, and what aircraft will Kyiv receive?

On 15 June, following the Ramstein meeting, Stoltenberg said that training for Ukrainians on F-16s had already begun. Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin noted the vigorous progress in this regard, and a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force said that they wanted a quick result but that “the process is extended”.

Following the Ramstein, Ukrainian Defence Minister Reznikov expressed confidence that we would have a “bird coalition”. He also assured that the pilots of the Ukrainian Armed Forces could master the Western F-16 fighters faster than expected by Ukraine’s allies, and the four-month period looks realistic, while technicians need more time.

Training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16 jets

On 22 June, the United States of America received a request from Denmark to train Ukrainian pilots to use F-16 fighters.

On 26 June, Acting Danish Defence Minister Troels Lund Poulsen announced the start of training for Ukrainian pilots on Western F-16 fighter jets.

On 1 July, Zelenskyy said that the schedule for training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 Western fighters had yet to be determined and that some foreign partners were delaying.

On 6 July, Romania’s Supreme Council of National Defence (CSAT) approved a project to create a training centre for pilots to operate F-16 fighter jets in the country, which will be available to NATO members and allies.

CSAT notes that the training centre will meet the training requirements of NATO members and regional partners, “positioning Romania as a regional leader in F-16 pilot training“.

How do F-16s protect Ukraine?

Russia is increasingly using guided bombs against Ukrainian border towns. The planes do not fly close to the border and bomb civilians from a safe distance with impunity.

Ukraine’s armed forces will only have a way to counter such tactics once they receive the US F-16 universal combat aircraft from the West. Although they will not be a panacea for all Russian attacks, they can close many gaps in the defence of Ukrainian skies.

Ukraine continues to insist that the main guarantee of safe skies is modern Western aircraft. And they are needed not only and not so much for offence but for defence. Ukraine already has a list of pilots ready to start learning to fly F-16s shortly and quickly master the new machines.

Read more: How do F-16s protect Ukraine, and why does Ukrainian Army need them?

The F-16 provision is a quick and effective solution. However, Kyiv also has an essential task for the future – after the expected victory over Russia, the need for a powerful air force will remain. Ukraine will have to choose in favour of specific models.

What are the advantages of the F-16?

The advantage of Western aircraft is their modern systems and sensors, which give them a significant advantage in the sky. Yes, it is much more complicated. However, it is essential to understand that Ukraine is on a course to join NATO, so obtaining NATO weapons is part of the process of Euro-Atlantic integration.

  • There are a lot of F16 jets (more than 4,600 in service with the armies of three dozen countries).
  • Pilots from different countries (including the UK, although the UK does not have these aircraft in service) are familiar with them, and unified logistics will not be a problem, unlike if Ukraine were to receive different aircraft at once, which would turn it all into a logistical hell.
  • Another important argument is that many NATO countries are re-equipping their air forces and switching from F-16s to newer models (F-35s). In this case, it will be possible to combine business with pleasure – to transfer a skilful and still technologically advanced second-hand aircraft to Ukraine and, in return, receive exclusive 5th-generation fighters at a significant discount from the United States. This is precisely what the Netherlands and Poland are counting on.

The F-16s are not new aircraft, but even in used condition, they are better than the entire fleet of Ukraine and Russia.

We should remember, that Russian frontline aviation became a decisive factor during the fighting in the South in the summer and autumn of 2022. Thanks to this, the Russians could avoid their forces’ destruction in the Kherson area and save a significant part of their resources. With the arrival of the F-16, the Russians will no longer have this advantage.

In addition, the F-16 is not just an aircraft in itself but a platform for Western weapons. Today, Ukrainian specialists have to make great efforts to adapt HARM or Storm Shadow missiles and, in the future, German Taurus missiles to their aircraft.

The arrival of Western aircraft in the Ukrainian Air Force solves this problem. It opens the way for us to use the full potential of a wide range of weapons – anti-radar missiles, long-range air-to-ground missiles, guided bombs, GPS-guided bombs, laser-guided bombs, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, etc.

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