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8 Nov, 2023 04:48

EU state sends F-16 jets to train Ukrainian pilots

The Netherlands claims the warplanes will only be flown in NATO airspace
EU state sends F-16 jets to train Ukrainian pilots

The Dutch military has donated five F-16 fighter jets for a new pilot training center based in Romania, which will be used to instruct Ukrainian pilots in flying the American-made warplane.

The Netherlands’ Defense Ministry announced the move on Tuesday, noting that the first batch of F-16s had arrived at the new European F-16 Training Centre (EFTC) in Borcea, Romania. 

“The training center in Romania will first use the aircraft to provide a refresher course for the hired F-16 instructors, after which training will be provided to the Romanian and Ukrainian pilots. The aircraft will only be flown in NATO airspace,” the ministry said in a statement.

Planned during NATO’s summit in Vilnius, Lithuania earlier this year, the EFTC is spearheaded by a coalition of 11 Western states working to provide F-16 capabilities to Kiev. American arms giant Lockheed Martin, which currently manufactures the F-16, is also taking part in the project, helping to maintain the fighter jets.

The Dutch military said it would “make 12 to 18 F-16s available for training purposes,” but stressed that they would “remain the property of the Netherlands.” However, Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said in September that the country would transfer some of its own F-16s to Ukrainian forces next year, after the pilots complete their training.

Denmark and Norway have also signaled plans to donate F-16s to Kiev, with Copenhagen saying it will send 19 of its 43 F-16s and Oslo suggesting it would provide fewer than ten. As of August, Denmark had begun training eight Ukrainian pilots on the plane at a local air base. Belgium, too, has said it will furnish F-16s to Ukraine, but cautioned that deliveries would not begin until sometime in 2025.

During an August interview with a Portuguese broadcaster, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has said his country had reached agreements to obtain up to 60 F-16s from its Western backers. He added, however, that Kiev required around 160 jets to “have a powerful air force that prevents Russia from dominating the airspace.”

Although Ukrainian officials continue to argue the American warplane could radically change the situation on the battlefield, Moscow has rebuffed those claims, with Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu recently stating that Kiev’s future F-16 fleet could be annihilated in “roughly 20 days of work.” The Kremlin has repeatedly condemned Western arms shipments to Kiev, saying the weapons will do little to deter its military aims and only prolong the conflict.