Belgium Announces 30 F-16 Fighting Falcons For Ukraine; 1st Batch Of UAF Pilots Complete Training In Arizona

In a major boost to its air power, the Ukrainian Air Force is now slated to receive 30 F-16 Fighting Falcons from Belgium.

Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib told Belgian broadcaster RTL on May 28 that the country would transfer 30 F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. Delivering an optimistic note to Kyiv, she said the first aircraft would touch down in Ukraine “by the end of the year.”

The announcement follows a report that President Volodymyr Zelensky would sign a bilateral security agreement with Belgium. According to Lahbib, the F-16 fighter jet contract will be signed in Brussels on May 28 during Zelensky’s much-anticipated visit.

Previous reports in local Ukrainian media indicated that the visit would see a security agreement similar to those signed between Ukraine and other European nations, including Spain, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Denmark, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, Finland, and Latvia.

According to reports, Zelensky will visit a military airbase and meet with flight instructors who are educating Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets.

Belgium was one of the first countries, alongside Denmark and the Netherlands, to join the alliance to supply the second-hand F-16 fighters demanded by Ukraine. The decision about a transfer was first announced in October 2023. In addition, Belgian officials said they would help train Ukrainian pilots in European Union nations.

At that time, Belgian Minister of Defence Ludivine Dedonder said, “From 2025, the [Belgian] Minister of Defence will be able to offer to supply F-16s to the Ukrainian Armed Forces as part of the process of replacing the Belgian F-16 fleet with [Lockheed Martin] F-35 fighter planes.”

However, the timelines have moved since. Last month, Belgian authorities indicated that they were expediting the delivery of F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets to Ukraine. During a news conference, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder announced that the jets would be delivered by the end of 2024.

Belgium has 44 F-16 AM single-seat and nine F-16BM twin-seat aircraft Block 15 mid-life upgrade (MLU). These aircraft are slated for decommissioning and will eventually be replaced by the F-35 Lightning II stealth jets purchased by Brussels. Earlier, Ukraine noted that the delay in the transfer of the aircraft was due to the Belgian Air Force’s requirement, which would be left with a vacuum unless F-35s arrived.

The four countries that have pledged their aircraft to Ukraine – Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway – have the F-16 standard, which offers a capability comparable to that of the US Air Force’s F-16C/D Block 50/52 aircraft. This includes the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM), and the most recent AIM-9 and AIM-120 air-to-air missiles.

Denmark’s Defense Minister, Troels Lund Poulsen, had earlier said that the first F-16 fighter jets would be delivered to Ukraine’s air force by this summer. There is increasing optimism that Ukraine will receive the first set of these US-origin jets in the coming weeks.

The Belgian announcement coincides with Zelensky urging his partners in NATO to pour in more weapons and troop support to assist the country in standing up to Russia. On its part, Moscow has intensified military operations against Ukraine after launching a fresh offensive in the Kharkiv region earlier this year.

Ukraine is already making elaborate preparations to welcome the F-16 fighters. This includes targeting and obliterating Russian air defenses, like the Buk and the S-300/S-400 deployed on the frontline. It has also been working on the requisite infrastructure for operating the fighters in the country.

Also, the announcement comes just days after the first batch of Ukrainian fighter pilots concluded their training on the F-16 aircraft.

Ukrainian Pilots Training To Soar In Their F-16s

The Air & Space Forces Magazine reported last week that, according to American sources, the first group of Ukrainian pilots to complete F-16 training has graduated.

File Image: F-16

Arizona National Guard spokesperson Capt. Erin Hannigan said several Ukrainian pilots had completed their F-16 training program at the Air National Guard’s 162nd Wing in Tucson, Arizona, as of May 23.

The US Air Force’s 162nd Wing is the foreign F-16 pilots’ training unit. Hannigan could not disclose the number of pilots that graduated or when because he was bound by operational security directives. American officials, however, stated that some Ukrainian pilots were still receiving training at the facility.

According to a Pentagon official, Maj. Charlie Dietz, who talked with Air & Space Forces Magazine on May 24, said the Ukrainian pilots who completed their F-16 training in Arizona will have to undergo further training abroad.

“A small number of pilots have finished their U.S.-based training and moved forward to the next portion of training outside the United States,” Dietz said.

Moreover, Illia Yevlash, spokesperson for the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, recently detailed facts about the training. The training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16 aircraft was an ongoing procedure, he said. After one stage of the training, the pilots move on to the other stage, and new trainees take their place, he pointed out.

“This process is continuous…we are constantly using all the slots provided by our partner countries. And after one stage, as we saw in Arizona, the pilots move to another site in Europe, and other people are recruited to take their place,” said Yevlash.

While the pilots hone their flight techniques and participate in various tactical missions in groups, they also acquire basic skills for fighter jet maintenance during their training.

Yevlash claimed that the F-16 training course was two years long, although this was arbitrary. For instance, the Ukrainian Air Force finished the Patriot training course in 3-4 weeks, even though it was intended to take 3-4 months.