- Ukrainian pilots can master F-16 jets in four months, per an Air Force document obtained by Yahoo News.
- That’s more than four times faster than Pentagon officials were forecasting earlier this year.
- The internal assessment is likely to ratchet up pressure on Biden to send Ukraine the planes.
Two Ukrainian pilots proved they can master the American-made F-16 fighter jets in just four months — more than four times faster than the Pentagon previously predicted — in a performance that is likely to ratchet up the growing pressure on the Biden Administration to send the lightweight warplanes to Ukraine.
Yahoo News on Thursday obtained and published an internal US Air Force assessment that detailed the F-16 training two Ukrainian pilots underwent at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona, in late February and early March. Over the course of eleven and a half total hours in nine separate simulations, the Ukrainian airmen outperformed US expectations in their quick ability to learn the ins and outs of the aircraft, according to the document.
The Department of Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Four experienced US air force instructors assessed the Ukrainian pilots and determined the pilots could perform several “relatively technical” maneuvers, including landing after losing an engine and withstanding mock attacks, Yahoo News reported, citing the assessment.
The Ukrainian airmen received no official training on the F-16 flight simulator beyond a brief introduction to the aircraft before their training, the document said. The two men were already qualified to operate a MiG-29 and Su-27 respectively, both Soviet-era fighter jets that comprise the majority of Ukraine’s remaining air force, according to the outlet.
In a February Congressional hearing, Colin Kahl, the outgoing US undersecretary of defense for policy said training Ukrainian soldiers on F-16s would take approximately 18 months — the same amount of time it would require to export the warplanes to Ukraine.
The long projected training time was one of the reasons the Pentagon has frequently cited as cause for not giving Ukraine the much-desired planes, for which they have been jockeying for months. Ukrainian defense leaders say the F-16s are necessary to shoot down Russian strike fighters that are dropping bombs.
But the report published by Yahoo on Thursday deduces that four months is a “realistic training timeline” for Ukrainian pilots to undergo training on the aircraft.
The internal document was also shared with several NATO allies who deal in the warplanes, the outlet reported.
Meanwhile, European leaders this week, including top officials in the UK and Germany, continued to pressure the Biden administration to make a decision on sending the F-16s.
On Thursday, the Biden administration suggested it would not stop other NATO allies from exporting the American-made aircraft to Ukraine, CNN reported.