The United States is open to the idea of letting Ukrainian pilots come to the country for trainings on how to operate F-16 fighters, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council (NSC) said Friday.
“Our European allies, as I said, are leading the effort. But if the capacity for training in Europe is reached, we are certainly open to doing the training for Ukrainian pilots here in the United States,” the NSC’s coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said during a virtual news briefing with members of the press.
Kirby stressed that the training is a time-consuming “multi-step process” that ultimately aims to “improve the Ukrainian self-defense and military capabilities for the long term.”
“It’s going to be a while before jets can show up in Ukraine and for them to be integrated into the air fleet, and it’s not just a function of the transfer of actual airframes,” he said, adding that the provision of F-16s and other fourth generation aircraft also involves “the appropriate training for pilots, as well as setting up all the maintenance logistics and sustainment efforts that go into having modern aircraft like the F-16 in your fleet.”
Language barrier stands as one of the obstacles for the Ukrainians, according to Kirby. “All the tech manuals are in English, and all the controls inside the aircraft are in English. And so a pilot is going to have at least some basic proficiency in the language to be able to just get in there and fly,” he said, adding that trainers from Britain have expressed willingness to help with that.
The spokesperson’s remarks were in response to a reporter who, while asking a question, mentioned what seemed to be complaints from Ukraine about delays in the training that may result in Ukrainian pilots not being able to fly F-16s “until next summer at the earliest,” thus constituting “an additional obstacle to them against Russia.”
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN’s Jake Tapper last month that President Joe Biden “has given a green light” to European allies starting to train Ukrainians on the F-16.
“We will allow, permit, support, facilitate, and, in fact, provide the necessary tools for Ukrainians to begin being trained on F-16s as soon as the Europeans are prepared,” Sullivan said during CNN’s “State of the Union” program that aired on July 16.
In May, Biden informed leaders of the Group of Seven nations that the United States would support a joint effort by allies and partners to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth generation aircraft, including F-16s.
Made days before Ukraine launched its highly publicized counteroffensive against Russia, Biden’s decision was intended to give Ukraine air superiority. In doing so, the president reversed from his long-held hesitation, for fear that arming the Ukrainian Air Force with such advanced capabilities risks escalating Kiev’s ongoing conflict with Moscow to a point where it spirals out of control.