On May 15, 2023, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived the United Kingdom to meet with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. This was preceded by similar meetings in Paris and Berlin where Zelenskyy secured military aid in the form of weapons and ammunition for Ukraine's ongoing fight against Russia's invasion. Although Ukraine has yet to secure modern NATO fighter jets from western nations, the UK has committed to providing something very important if that day comes: training.
Training a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot can take anywhere from $5-10 million depending on the aircraft. However, this is just to achieve a basic qualification. Additional flight hours and more advanced courses are required to gain and hone the skills that make a pilot truly lethal. The UK's commitment to training pilots sets the Ukrainian Air Force up for success in the event that NATO fighter jets are ever provided.
In 2022, the UK trained 15,000 Ukrainian troops, bringing them up to battlefield readiness. The accelerated training program validated the UK's approach to Ukrainian support and was carried over to pilot training. In February 2023, Sunak announced that the UK would develop a training program for Ukrainian pilots. The program was not for a specific aircraft, but was conceived in support of Ukraine's efforts to build a new air force centered around the NATO-standard F-16 Fighting Falcon.
"This summer we will commence an elementary flying phase for cohorts of Ukrainian pilots to learn basic training," Sunak's office wrote in a press release. "This will adapt the programme used by UK pilots to provide Ukrainians with piloting skills they can apply [to] different kind of aircraft. This training goes hand in hand with UK efforts to work with other countries on providing F16 jets – Ukraine’s fighter jets of choice."
The F-16 is an extremely powerful and versatile aircraft. Although it is designated as a fighter, it is multi-role. The highly maneuverable and relatively low-cost aircraft is capable of delivering precision-guided munitions and providing close air support. As a result, the F-16 is flown extensively by the U.S. and its allies including Denmark, Israel, the Netherlands and Poland. Britain's RAF is not an operator of the F-16.
Feature Image: U.S. Air Force