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Thu, Mar 09, 2023

Ukrainian Fighter Pilots Head to Tucson

While F-16 Deliveries Far From Guaranteed, Evaluation Could Determine Training Curriculum

A pair of Ukrainian pilots made their way to the US to be evaluated for possible training or advice for the country's air forces.

So far, only 2 pilots have been brought over to Tucson, Arizona, where they will operate the F-16 simulators on premises. Up to 10 more of their comrades may join them in the coming weeks. The effort doesn't necessarily have a nailed down goal, being intended as a kind of survey of Ukrainian skills. 

Defense officials describe the move as a routine "familiarization event", part of the usual interplay between allied forces. While some read the tea leaves to mean the country would be seeing a transfer of F-16s to the country, such plans remain hypothetical. Officials said they would be using the simulators to emulate a variety of aircraft, but the learning curve for the F-16 will almost undoubtedly be watched with great interest. The administration said "the program is about assessing their abilities as pilots so we can better advise them on how to use the capabilities they have and we have given them."

The earliest delivery of an F-16, said House Armed Services Committee member Colin Kahl, happens to coincide quite neatly with the training timeline for an F-16 pilot - about 18 months. “So you don’t actually save yourself time by starting the training early in our assessment. And since we haven’t made the decision to provide F-16’s and neither have our allies and partners, it doesn’t make sense to start to train them on a system they may never get.”

With so many manufacturers throughout NATO hungrily eyeing the chance to provide brand new fighters, the Ukrainian Air Force could just as easily end up with some Gripens, Mirages, or Tornados from Sweden, France, or Britain, should those countries approve them before the US approves an F-16 delivery. 



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