Slava Ukraine! US Approves To Train Ukrainian Pilots On US Fighter Jets Like F-16, F-15EX. But There’s A Catch

The United States House of Representatives approved $100 million for training Ukrainian pilots to fly American fighter jets, putting Ukraine one step closer to acquiring battle-prooven warplanes. 

The House authorized the funding on July 14 as part of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. This was a part of a massive $840 billion defense spending package that defined the Pentagon’s priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. 

The latest development comes in response to requests from Ukrainian officials for new aircraft, like F-15s and F-16s, to support their ongoing battle against the Russian invasion.

So far, the US government has been hesitant to send fighters to Ukraine, and efforts to persuade other NATO allies to send some of their old Soviet jets have also fallen through. However, the US and its allies did send some spare parts to Kyiv. 

Congressman Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois and a former Air Force pilot, proposed the amendment, allowing the training of Ukrainian pilots and ground crews to become accustomed to American aircraft.

On July 15, Kinzinger tweeted: Last night the House passed my bipartisan Ukrainian Fighter Pilots Act, which authorizes the training of Ukrainian fighter pilots in the US. I urge the Senate to get this critical legislation to the President’s desk. Slava Ukraine!

Kinzinger introduced this legislation in June with Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan, an Illinois Democrat and former Air Force officer, to enable Ukrainian personnel to begin training “on F-15s, F-16s, and other air platforms while the Administration continues to consider sending such equipment.”

The Senate’s version of the defense authorization bill isn’t expected to be voted on until September at the earliest, after which the conference committee will work to reach an agreement between the two chambers on compromise legislation.

But if the amendment passes and becomes law, that might lay the groundwork for Ukrainian Air Force pilots to begin receiving training on American-made aircraft. Additionally, this would offer an opportunity to deliver US-made aircraft to Kyiv.

The Biden administration is also worried about Moscow’s reaction should Ukrainian forces use top-tier American weapons to attack Russian territory. However, Kinzinger asserted that the Ukrainians could be trusted with these weapons. 

File Image: A USAF F-15C fires an AIM-7 Sparrow in 2005. (Wikimedia Commons)

Why Does Ukraine Need US-Made Fighter Jets? 

In June, Two Ukrainian fighter pilots with the callsign “Juice” and “Moonfish” visited Capitol Hill to urge legislators to approve the training of Ukrainian fighter pilots to fly F-15s and F-16s. 

The two Ukrainian MiG-29 Fulcrum pilots spoke on Capitol Hill and the Pentagon about the difficulties they encountered using this Cold War-era weaponry against much more advanced Russian fighters.

“If we’re talking about air-to-air superiority, basically the Russians have obvious technical advantages over our fighter jets,” a Ukrainian pilot recognized by the callsign “Moonfish” told CNN at the time. 

A Ukrainian fighter pilot described their aerial confrontation as “suicide missions.”

As previously reported by the EurAsian Times, Moscow’s access to sophisticated, active radar beyond-visual-range missiles was one of the differences in capabilities between Russian and Ukrainian jets.

The only Ukrainian Air Force pilot currently receiving training in the United States is a MiG-29 pilot with the callsign “Nomad,” attending Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi as part of an Air Force leadership program. 

An F-16 Fighting Falcon received an in-flight software update during an Advanced Battle Management System demo at Nellis AFB – USAF.

He arrived in the US even before Russia started its invasion of Ukraine in February, but he’s hopeful that he will be among the first to receive F-16 pilot training.  

The Ukrainian Air Force Command’s chief spokesperson, Col. Yuri Ignat, previously stated that the country has more than 30 pilots with English language proficiency who are prepared to start training without interfering with current operations. Ignat believes it will take six months for his pilots to become proficient in flying the F-16.

In the past, the Ukrainian Air Force has claimed that its pilots could receive F-15 or F-16 flight training in two to three weeks. Many experts, however, disagree with this claim.

The new legislation may finally allow Ukraine to acquire fighter jets for air defense and the necessary personnel training. However, a senior US defense official recently stated that “there are no current plans to train Ukraine on any air platform other than those that they are using every day effectively in the battle right now.”

Meanwhile, no information is available regarding the location of the Ukrainian pilots’ training. Kinzinger claimed that the United States is prepared to begin training Ukrainian pilots at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi and perhaps even in Texas. 

On the whole, this could be advantageous for Ukraine, which currently faces a challenge from superior Russian air power. However, if America chose to supply jets to Ukraine, this could also increase the likelihood of a confrontation with Russia.