VILNIUS – Eleven NATO countries pledged on Tuesday to train Ukrainian pilots to fly American F-16 fighter jets from August, in an important step toward possible future supply of advanced military aircraft to Kiev.
The pilots will first be trained in Denmark until a center is established in Romania. The first group of pilots is expected to complete training by early next year, according to Denmark and the Netherlands, which are leading the mission.
Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom are also part of the programme.
“This coalition is working on training. This is the step we are taking today, » Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said in the Lithuanian capital on the sidelines of the NATO summit. « The next step would be the actual capability itself… When all these countries join this coalition , this will demonstrate our commitment and that we will demonstrate that we are working in a certain direction ».
So far, no country has offered to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, but Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said he was « absolutely sure » that this is just the beginning.
« We started with the F-16, but maybe we’ll have more fighter planes, other types, » he said, when asked if Eurofighter Typhoon fighters would be another request from Ukraine to European allies.
US President Joe Biden told allies in May he would support an international coalition to train Ukrainian pilots on Western fighter jets, ending longstanding resistance to the Ukrainian request.
Washington has arrived under fire for Kiev’s slow requests for advanced weapons, which critics say are needlessly prolonging the war.