VILNIUS – Eleven NATO countries pledged on Tuesday to train Ukrainian pilots to fly American F-16 fighter jets starting in August, in a major step towards the future of the advanced fighter jets in Kyiv.
Pilots will first be trained in Denmark until a facility is established in Romania. The first group of pilots should complete their training early next year, according to Denmark and the Netherlands, which are leading the project.
Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the UK are also part of the program.
“The union is working on education. That is the step we are taking today,” Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said in the capital of Lithuania on the sidelines of the NATO summit. “The next step would be a real possibility… When we have all these countries to join the alliance, it shows our commitment and it shows that we are working something.”
So far, no country has committed to sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, but Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said he is “sure” this is just the beginning.
“We started with the F-16 but we will probably have more fighter jets – other types,” he said, when asked if Eurofighter Typhoon fighters will also be in demand from Ukraine to European countries.
US President Joe Biden told allies in May that he would support an international agreement to train Ukrainian pilots on Western fighters, ending long-standing resistance to Ukraine’s request.
Washington has arrived on fire because of Kyiv’s slow-moving request for advanced weapons, which critics say unnecessarily escalates the war.