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6 Jan, 2024 17:59

NATO state donates old F-16s for Ukrainian pilot training

The aircraft have served the Norwegian military for “over 40 years,” Oslo has explained
NATO state donates old F-16s for Ukrainian pilot training

A pair of Norwegian F-16 fighter jets, which Oslo is providing to support a training program for Ukrainian pilots, have arrived in Denmark, the country's Armed Forces have announced on X (formerly Twitter). Earlier this week, Norwegian media reported that the Nordic nation would send two fighter jets and ten instructors to the Danish Skydstrup air base for this purpose.

Norway, a supporter of Kiev, has committed to supplying warplanes to Ukraine in the coming years, alongside Denmark, the Netherlands, and Belgium. The exact number of warplanes Oslo plans to transfer to Ukraine remains unclear.

Washington, which had been hesitant to provide Kiev with Western-made fighter jets, signaled its readiness to approve a third-party transfer of the aircraft in August 2023. The US stipulated that this could only happen after the completion of Ukrainian pilots’ training.

“After over 40 years in service, these aircraft will now train Ukrainian military personnel, reinforcing our commitment to Ukraine's defense,” the Norwegian military wrote on X, commenting on the jets’ arrival in Denmark. It is unclear if they meant that the exact two aircraft pieces had been in use for over 40 years or merely referred to the fact that Norway had been using the jets between 1980 and 2022 when they were replaced with F-35.

The planes destined for Kiev are considered “obsolete,” according to Lieutenant Colonel Bard Bakke, the commander of the training mission in Denmark, who told the Norwegian NRK news outlet earlier this week. He maintained that the aircraft were “relatively modern” and had undergone additional upgrades. However, he admitted that the F-16 jets were “no miracle weapon” capable of changing the ongoing conflict between Kiev and Moscow.

Associate Professor Lars Peder Haga at the Norwegian Air Force School also referred to the F-16 jets as “obsolete” when speaking to NRK. He added that the jets have “poorer survivability against Russian systems” compared to the more modern F-35 aircraft.

Since the beginning of the conflict with Moscow, Kiev has urged its Western backers to supply increasingly advanced weapons, treating them as a potential game-changer. Zelensky particularly praised the August F-16 pledge announcement as “historic, powerful, motivational.”

In late December, the Netherlands announced preparations for the “initial” delivery of 18 fighter jets to Ukraine. Zelensky claimed in August 2023 that the Netherlands and Belgium had together pledged to provide 42 jets to his country. The joint statement by the two nations contained no specific figures. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also mentioned that his nation's entire F-16 fleet consisted of 42 planes, and Amsterdam would need to keep some for its own training purposes.

On Saturday, the Danish Berlingske newspaper reported that Copenhagen would delay its F-16 delivery to Kiev for at least “several months,” citing that Ukrainian pilots were “not ready” to fly them.