Ukraine says it could have a small group of trained combat pilots ready to fly F-16s by the winter

F-16US Air Force
  • Ukrainian pilots could be ready to fly F-16 fighter jets by early February, The Wall Street Journal reported.

  • Officials in Kyiv said the initial group of F-16 pilots would likely number fewer than 10.

  • Ukrainian pilots began their F-16 training just last month.

Ukrainian officials say at least a few of their combat pilots could be ready to fly F-16s by early February, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

In August, after finally approving Ukrainian requests for the advanced fighter jet, the Biden administration said training could take many months.

"To get proficient in the F-16, that's not going to happen overnight," Gen. James Hecker, commander of US Air Forces in Europe, said in August. "You can get proficient on some weapons systems fairly quickly, but ones like F-16s, that takes a while to build a couple squadrons of F-16s and to get their readiness high enough and their proficiency high enough," he said, adding that would be "four or five years down the road."

That assessment is not necessarily inconsistent with the timeline shared by Ukrainian officials.

According to the Journal, Kyiv thinks "a handful" of pilots could be ready to go by February. The bottleneck, officials on both sides of the Atlantic say, is the English language: Pilots have had to brush up on the technical jargon used in F-16 trainings, and only a few now have a strong enough grasp on the vocabulary to advance. Indeed, Ukraine expects its first graduating class of F-16 pilots to contain "fewer than" 10 people, the Journal reported.

The US Defense Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ukrainian pilots are undertaking their training in a number of European countries that have pledged to transfer their own F-16s to Kyiv. In October, the Pentagon said it also plans to begin training at a base in Arizona.

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