The Daily Telegraph
Ukrainian pilots sent to US for assessment on ability to fly F-16s
UKRAINIAN pilots have been brought to the United States where they are being evaluated on their ability to fly fighter jets, according to reports.
Two pilots are using simulators at a military base in Tucson, Arizona, and they are expected to be joined by 10 of their colleagues shortly.
Unnamed military officials said the training was to improve their flying skills and to work out how much time would be needed to train them to use advanced aircraft such as the F-16.
“The programme is about assessing their abilities as pilots so we can better advise them on how to use capabilities they have and we have given them,” an administration official told NBC News.
The Ukrainians will not be flying any aircraft, officials said, although the simulator can be used for training on an array of planes.
Last week, Colin Kahl, a Pentagon official, told the House of Representatives armed services committee that no decision had been made on whether to supply F-16s.
Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, has been pleading for the West to send advanced aircraft to supplement the Ukrainian air force, which is largely relying on Soviet-era Mig-29s.
The Biden administration has come under pressure from Congressional hawks, like Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican senator, to supply Ukraine with F-16s.
Speaking at last month’s Munich Security Conference, Mr Graham said there was a “virtually unanimous belief ” in Congress that the US should provide F-16 training.
“Don’t worry about provoking Putin, worry about beating him,” he said in an interview with ABC network.
Mr Biden has, up to now, remained cautious in trying to balance the need to support Ukraine without escalating the conflict between Moscow and Nato.
Despite some experts believing that Washington could accede to Ukraine’s request, Mr Kahl played down the prospect of an immediate reversal of policy.
The US had “not started training on F-16s”, he said. It would take 18 months to both train the pilots and provide the aircraft, Mr Kahl added. “[It] doesn’t make sense to start to train them on a system they may never get.”