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US plans to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s in Arizona starting in October

Two F-16 Fighting Falcons from 148th Fighter Wing, Duluth, Minn. fly in formation over the shores of Lake Superior. (Photo by Photo by Master Sgt. Jason Rolfe, 148th Fighter Wing/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States said it will begin training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 warplanes in October, joining a Western coalition that is helping to prepare Kyiv’s fliers on the sophisticated combat aircraft to join the fight against the Russian invasion.

Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder on August 24 said the program would begin in the state of Arizona following completion of English-language training sessions for Ukrainian pilots.

“These pilots will be conducting English-language training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, in September prior to attending F-16 flying training in Arizona,” Ryder said without specifying the number of pilots.

Training of Ukrainian pilots to fly the F-16s is also expected to be conducted by an 11-nation coalition in Denmark and Romania in coming weeks. Greece also said it will provide training for Ukrainian pilots.

Denmark reportedly has already started training eight Ukrainian pilots on the F-16s at a Danish military base in Skrydstrup, along with maintenance and servicing personnel.

The U.S. announcement comes after reports out of the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway that those NATO nations would be sending an undisclosed number of F-16 jets to Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on August 20 announced that Denmark had approved sending 19 of the advanced warplanes to Ukraine and that the Netherlands had agreed to send 42 F-16s — although Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that while his country has 42 of the planes available, it has yet to decide whether all of them will be donated.

On August 24, Norwegian broadcaster TV2, citing unnamed sources, said Oslo had decided to send an undisclosed number of F-16 jets to Ukraine.

Ukraine has repeatedly requested F-16 fighters from its Western partners, and Denmark and the Netherlands were the first to answer the call. Kyiv has said it needs the planes to bolster its dwindling fleet of Soviet-era jets as it carries on with a counteroffensive in the face of a significant Russian advantage over the skies of Ukraine.

Denmark has suggested its F-16s could be delivered by the end of the year after four to six months of training.

The United States has authorized Denmark and the Netherlands to deliver the American-made F-16s to Ukraine.

On August 21, Danish Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen told the Ritzau news agency that Kyiv may only use the Danish and Dutch F-16s within Ukrainian territory.

Russia on August 21 condemned the decisions by Denmark and the Netherlands to provide the warcraft.

“The fact that Denmark has now decided to donate 19 F-16 aircraft to Ukraine leads to an escalation of the conflict,” Russian Ambassador to Denmark Vladimir Barbin said in a statement cited by the Ritzau news agency on August 21.