Training Bottlenecks Limit Ukrainian F-16 Pilot Availability

A limited number of spots are available for Ukrainian pilots due to other customers waiting in line, according to media

Ukraine’s ability to utilize Western-donated F-16 fighter jets may be limited, as reports indicate that only a small number of Ukrainian pilots will be trained to fly them this year.

While Ukraine’s allies in the ‘F-16 coalition’ plan to deliver up to 60 of the US-designed aircraft this year, Politico reports that only 20 Ukrainian pilots will be fully trained. The US and its allies are reportedly unwilling to create more training spots due to a backlog of pilots from other nations operating F-16s.

“That’s just a handful of pilots, and that’s just the pilots,” a US official told Defense News. Operating these jets requires not only trained pilots, but also maintenance crews and a steady supply of advanced weapons, which are expensive and in limited supply among donor countries.

According to Politico, there are currently two locations training Ukrainian pilots for missions against Russia. By September, 12 pilots are expected to graduate from the Morris Air National Guard base in Tucson, Arizona, while an additional eight will complete training at a facility in Denmark before it closes in November.

Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-16, is set to run a third training program in Romania, with eight spots for Ukrainian pilots next year. Politico sources indicate that another eight pilots will be arriving in Tucson soon.

An Arizona National Guard spokesperson told Politico that multiple factors influence the acceptance of foreign trainees, including “funding, country requests, graduation of students from English learning and allotment.”

While Ukraine claims to have 30 pilots ready for retraining, Western officials have reportedly declined to include them in training programs. The Defense News source characterized the training capacity as “meager” and suggested that the pilot shortage could affect the delivery schedule of the F-16s, as Western officials “wouldn’t want to rush it.”

Moscow has maintained that foreign weapons supplied to Ukraine will not impact the outcome of the conflict and could even lead to unintended escalation, potentially drawing the donors into the conflict. A senior Russian lawmaker last week warned that the country would retaliate against any base used to launch F-16 missions against Russia, regardless of its location.