US Air Force (USAF) F-16 Fighting FalconInternationalIndiaAfricaTwo Ukrainian pilots are reportedly undergoing simulator assessments for operating attack aircraft including F-16s at an air force base in Arizona after top Kiev officials urged Washington to provide the Ukrainian Army with US-made fighter jets.If Washington decides to train Ukrainian military personnel, it will take a lot of time and effort, according to retired US Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, a former analyst for the US Department of Defense.
"[It will take] Two years from scratch, if the person has the natural ability and talent to be a fighter pilot," Kwiatkowski told Sputnik, when asked how long it usually takes to well-train an F-16 pilot. "At least a year of specialized training on the aircraft if you start with a seasoned pilot of a non-fighter aircraft. This gets you to the point of being able to fly the aircraft competently in a presumably peacetime environment – to utilize the F-16 in an air-sea-land coordinated battle with hostile fire might take longer – or simply require more pilots and more aircraft than planned."
Needless to say, two pilots would not be enough. According to the air force veteran, the USAF estimates that they would need 50-80 fourth Generation F-16s, over time, and that it would take several years to get them incorporated into a Ukrainian Air Force.”By that time, I would expect there would be no active battlefield, only a smaller western oriented Ukraine responding to Russian or other airborne surveillance activities, much as we see off the coast of Alaska and Japan, for example,” she remarked.In addition, the F-16 is by no means a low cost. Kwiatkowski explained that the price depends on the model and what it is equipped for, older, possibly 4th Generation, F-16s are $30 to $40 million each.
"Just flying aircraft is one thing; and then how to use it with the combined arms operation with other aircraft with the ground forces as well, that really makes no practical sense unless you can fully integrate it with your existing forces," Earl Rasmussen, executive vice president of Washington-based Eurasia Center and a retired lieutenant colonel with over 20 years in the US Army, told Sputnik.
According to Rasmussen, sending F-16 to the Ukrainian military in order to tip the balance of the unfolding conflict does not seem viable, unless NATO dispatches its own pilots to operate the combat aircraft.Russia’s Special Operation in UkraineShoigu: NATO’s Increased Arms Supplies to Kiev Regime Don’t Lead to Ukraine’s Success on Battlefield7 March, 09:53 GMT
Foreign F-16 Pilots Would Lead to West’s Deeper Involvement
“Potential pilots could come from Poland, Norway, Romania, the US, or Morocco perhaps,” suggested Kwiatkowski.Sputnik’s interlocutors highlighted that the involvement of foreign pilots is fraught with geopolitical risks for the countries those military specialists originate from.
"Those pilots would make their countries territory, assets, and industrial centers legitimate targets of Russia, and run the risk of expanding the hot part of the Ukraine war in a way that would be not only dangerous, but highly unpopular for their populations and their political leaders," highlighted Kwiatkowski. "It is an extension of the danger some western countries already face with their communications, intelligence and targeting assistance already provided to Ukraine on its territory and into Russian territory."
Likewise, there will be a certain risk of escalation if Ukraine uses NATO airfields for launching F-16 attack missions, according to the observers.”And I would think, especially if you’re using, let’s say, Polish air bases to take off from, that then opens up fair game for counterattacks into NATO’s space,” said Rasmussen. “And it’s not necessarily an attack against NATO, really. Basically, NATO has thrown themselves directly into it aside just from providing arms and that just creates a very, very dangerous situation.”Furthermore, “beyond risk of direct engagement in a war with Russia – that NATO members, and NATO itself, is unprepared and unequipped for – is the political and economic uncertainty of Ukraine itself, and thinking about what will be left of Ukraine to rebuild – and for the West, to invest in,” highlighted Kwiatkowski.Still, she does not rule out Washington going ahead with its military adventurism. The US Air Force veteran suggested that the US may use contract pilots or artificial intelligence in order to hide traces.
"The ways NATO could stretch the conflict out while avoiding a direct confrontation with Russia seems to be what they are already doing – subterfuge, use of contractors, and directly lying – and as we see with the Nord Stream drama, it is only a matter of time before these options no longer work," she emphasized.
Russia’s Special Operation in UkraineLIVE UPDATES: F-16s for Ukraine Not on Table, Stance Unchanged – White House6 March, 05:13 GMT
Biden is Ambiguous About Sending F-16 to Kiev
US President Joe Biden had repeatedly ruled out sending F-16 fighter jets to Kiev. Speaking to an American broadcaster on February 24, Biden said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “doesn’t need F-16s now,” adding that “there is no basis upon which there is a rationale” for doing this. At the same time, however, the US president made it clear that it does not mean “never.”In the aftermath of Berlin and Washington’s pledge to provide the Ukrainian military with Leopard and Abrams main battle tanks in January 2023, some top Kiev officials started to call upon the Biden administration to go even further and send F-16 combat aircraft to Ukraine.Some US lawmakers, from both parties, joined those calls insisting that the American-made fighters “could prove decisive for control of Ukrainian airspace this year” in a letter which they sent to Biden on February 16.“F-16s or similar fourth generation fighter aircraft would provide Ukraine with a highly mobile platform from which to target Russian air-to-air missiles and drones, to protect Ukrainian ground forces as they engage Russian troops, as well as to engage Russian fighters for contested air superiority,” the letter, obtained by Politico, argued.MilitaryTop Democrat Says F-16s for Ukraine ‘Not Wise Use of Resources’28 February, 20:10 GMTEarlier, Washington’s NATO allies dropped the hint that they could supply Kiev with the US-made fighters, as per Zelenskiy’s most senior adviser Andriy Yermak. He particularly referred to Poland, which, however, was careful to emphasize that it would act in full coordination with its NATO allies. French President Emmanuel Macron said that “nothing is excluded in principle” while referring to potential deliveries of fighter planes to Ukraine, but warned against further escalating the conflict.Russia has repeatedly warned NATO countries against getting involved in the Ukraine conflict via the supply of weapons to the Kiev regime. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has recently reiterated that any cargo that contains weapons for Ukraine will become a legitimate target for Russia. The Kremlin also pointed out that flooding Ukraine with weapons is prolonging the conflict, increasing the number of civilian casualties and disrupting the prospects of the Russian-Ukrainian negotiations. Lavrov particularly stated that the US and NATO are directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine, “including not only through the supply of weapons, but also through the training of personnel (…) on the territory of the UK, Germany, Italy and other countries.”In the wake of the reports that two Ukrainian pilots are being evaluated for skills with attack aircraft in the US, the White House specified that it still does not plan to supply Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets.