NATO countries pledge F-16 training for Ukraine

The first pilots are expected to be trained by early 2024.

NATO countries pledge F-16 training for Ukraine

VILNIUS — Eleven NATO countries pledged on Tuesday to train Ukrainian pilots to fly American F-16 fighter jets from August, in a major step toward the possible future provision of the advanced military aircraft to Kyiv.

The pilots first will be trained in Denmark until a center is set up in Romania. The first batch of pilots should complete their training by the beginning of next year, according to Denmark and the Netherlands, which lead the mission.

Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the U.K. are also part of the program.

“This coalition is working on the training. That is the step we are taking today,” Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said in the Lithuanian capital on the sidelines of the NATO summit. “The next step would be the actual capability itself … When we have all these countries joining in this coalition, that shows our commitment and that shows we are working in a certain direction.”

So far, no country has offered to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, but Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said he’s “absolutely sure” this is only a beginning.

“We started with F-16 but maybe we will have more fighter jets — other types,” he said, when asked if Eurofighter Typhoon fighters would be another ask from Ukraine to European allies.

U.S. President Joe Biden told allies in May that he would support an international coalition to train Ukrainian pilots on Western fighters, ending longstanding resistance to the Ukrainian request.

Washington has come under fire for slow-walking Kyiv’s requests for advanced weaponry, which critics say is needlessly prolonging the war.