Keeping up with the European pledge of training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets, The Netherlands deployed five F-16s from its arsenal to Romania on November 7.
The Dutch Ministry of Defense (MoD) said in an announcement that the aircraft arrived at Fetesti Air Base in southeast Romania and will be used by Romanian and Ukrainian pilots at the European F-16 training facility. The ministry said that the training center will officially open “shortly.”
The Dutch aircraft’s arrival at the new training facility is a significant step toward the Ukrainian Air Force’s introduction of F-16s, a goal that Kyiv has long advocated for and is now being aided by a concurrent training initiative conducted in the United States.
Following the announcement, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his gratitude on social media. In a post published on Platform X, he said, “I’m grateful to the Netherlands and @MinPres Mark Rutte for leading the way in supporting Ukraine. Today marks a milestone: five Dutch F-16s have already arrived at the training center in Romania. We keep working together to welcome F-16s into Ukrainian skies as soon as possible.”
The Netherlands and Denmark are leading European efforts to equip Ukraine with F-16 capabilities in addition to the US defense contractor Lockheed Martin providing training support and assistance with aircraft maintenance. The Dutch government announced it will provide 12–18 F-16s for training.
— Ukrainian Air Force (@KpsZSU) November 7, 2023
However, the only precondition for that is that the aircraft made available by the Netherlands will remain Dutch property and will only operate in the NATO airspace. The jets will be used by F-16 pilot trainers in a refresher course, following which they will be used to train Ukrainian and Romanian pilots. The Dutch Air Force released photos, with one jet seen with subdued national insignia, but the prior Dutch unit markings have been erased.
“The Netherlands took the initiative to set up the EFTC and is making 12 to 18 F-16s available for this purpose,” the Dutch Ministry of Defense said in a statement today. “The fighter aircraft remain the property of the Netherlands.”
Vijf Nederlandse F-16's zijn onderweg naar Roemenië. Daar worden Roemeense en Oekraïense vliegers opgeleid.
— Ministerie van Defensie (@Defensie) November 7, 2023
After receiving the five F-16s from The Netherlands on November 7, the Romanian Defense Ministry said the Netherlands is providing the F-16s, Lockheed Martin is providing the instructors, and Romania is providing the training facilities and “host nation support.”
The Netherlands also plans to train Ukrainian personnel in F-16 maintenance. The Dutch government declared its intention to supply Ukraine with F-16s in August this year, albeit with a host of conditions. The Dutch government said that enough Ukrainian pilots must be trained to fly the aircraft and that the infrastructure at Ukrainian airfields must be upgraded to accommodate the fighters for the country to make a transfer.
In addition to the 24 jets that the Royal Netherlands Air Force is still using in a frontline role while F-35 deliveries are in the process, the Dutch also maintain a pool of 18 more jets that are kept in operational condition and can be rotated with the frontline aircraft to minimize flight hours per airframe. The Netherlands and Denmark will transfer 61 F-16s to Ukraine.
Ukrainian Pilot Training On F-16s Is Going On In Full Earnest
The Dutch government said in August this year that training had already started in Denmark and the United Kingdom. The US Air Force confirmed late last month that a few Ukrainian pilots began training on F-16s at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson.
In late September, the Ukrainian Air Force released a video featuring Ukrainian pilots training on an aircraft flight simulator to familiarize and enhance their abilities in operating the US-made F-16 fighter jet.
The description below the YouTube video uploaded by the Air Force reads, “Of course, our goal is to have complete F-16 flight simulators, trainer aircraft, and flight crew training centers in Ukraine. But everything starts small. While our brothers master the F-16s abroad, the Ukrainian Air Force fighter pilots continue to protect the Ukrainian sky and destroy the occupiers on the ground.”
“In their free time, the pilots get to know the cockpit of the F-16 in virtual reality and perform joint missions over the territory of Ukraine in sections, flights, and squadrons while being in different regions of Ukraine,” it added.
A pilot could be seen in the video getting familiar with how the aircraft operates using an aviation simulator equipped with virtual reality goggles, an engine control knob, pedals, and a monitor. Pilots can now receive training for solo and group flights using aviation simulators, and they can do it from different places around Ukraine, adding to their flexibility.
A talking point about the video was how a Ukrainian pilot demonstrated how their Soviet-era fighter jets, which had a lot of switches, were different from the F-16 cockpit, which had a combination of digital and analog equipment. Additionally, the pilot emphasized that the F-16s would significantly extend the range of available weapons.
Oleksii Reznikov, the former minister of defense of Ukraine, had previously stated that it would take six to seven months for F-16s to be sent to the country due to the time needed for training pilots and other vital support staff.
Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said on October 12 that in a few weeks, Ukrainian pilots would start flying real F-16 aircraft under the guidance of instructors.
Although the training is catching pace, the United States has revised the predicted training time. During a news briefing on October 31, US Department of Defense spokesperson Gen. Patrick Ryder stated that pilot training for Ukraine’s Armed Forces on American F-16 planes may take anywhere from five to nine months.
“We expect that the completion of training will depend on the individual skills of the pilots themselves, but we can assume that they will need between five to nine months to complete this program,” said Ryder.
The training effort in Romania will add to similar endeavors in the United States and bring Ukraine another step closer to its F-16 dream.
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