The US military is evaluating the skills of two Ukrainian pilots at a base in Tucson, Arizona, as the Biden administration continues to weigh equipping its ally with fighter jets.
The unprecedented “familiarization event” will allow the Ukrainian pilots to learn about Air Force operations and facilitate dialogue between the nations’ militaries, officials said.
As many as 10 more Ukrainian pilots were expected to join their comrades in Arizona to be evaluated on simulators as early as this month, NBC News reports.
“This event allows us to better help Ukrainian pilots become more effective pilots and better advise them on how to develop their own capabilities,” a defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity said.
Western allies have supplied Ukraine with troves of weapons, including Javelin missiles, IMARS rocket launchers and portable armored bridges. Officials have not yet pledged to send fighter jets or sophisticated remotely piloted drones, despite the pleas of President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“The program involves watching how Ukrainian pilots conduct their mission planning and execution in flight simulators in order to determine how we can better advise the Ukrainian Air Force on how to use capabilities they have,” an anonymous administration official added.
Ukraine has been forced to rely on outdated Soviet-era fighter jets, and is looking to bolster its fleet with F-16s ahead of an expected recharged Russian spring counteroffensive in the unprovoked invasion’s second year.
It was unclear how long the pair of Ukrainian pilots had been in the US, but officials said their presence was not an indication that Washington had decided to send fighter jets to the war-torn nation.
“It’s about training them on their own planes,” the administration official said, “not about F-16s.”
That sentiment was echoed by Colin Kahl, under secretary of defense for policy, in remarks made to congressional members Tuesday.
Kahl said even the most expeditious F-16 delivery and training schedule would take 18 months, “so you don’t actually save yourself time by starting the training early,” he said.
It would also be imprudent to train pilots on F-16s when NATO might decide to equip Ukraine with other types of military aircraft.
“They could end up getting British Tornados or (Swedish) Gripens or (French) Mirage aircraft, so you wouldn’t want to train them on F-16s,” Khal said.
With Post wires
By: Ny Post