NATO countries considering providing Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets could opt for Romania to host training programs for Kyiv’s pilots, according to a new report.
Romania is “one of the sites” in contention, three unnamed officials familiar with the discussions around providing advanced jets to Ukraine told Politico.
Ukraine has long petitioned its international allies for Western-made jets, and F-16s quickly emerged as the most likely choice.
F-16s would be a significant step-up in capabilities for Ukraine, which currently flies aging, Soviet-era aircraft. A serving pilot in the Polish air force told Newsweek the F-16s and the MiG-29 jets Ukraine still uses are in “different leagues.”
However, Western allies have been reluctant to commit to sending the planes. Several countries joined a “fighter jet coalition,” but progress on an agreement to deliver jets to Ukraine has proved slow.
The U.S. previously signaled it would support the training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16s, and that it wouldn’t block the third-party transfer of the American-made F-16s to Ukraine.
Bucharest didn’t confirm or deny that Romania was being evaluated as a host country for training, Politico reported. However, its defense ministry said it “welcomes the initiative to establish a coalition of NATO Allies to provide training of pilots for F-16s.”
“We reiterate that Romania is working closely with its NATO allies, EU partners, its strategic partners and the leadership of Ukraine to ensure that the Ukrainian nation has the ability to withstand and effectively resist the illegal Russian aggression and occupation of the Ukrainian sovereign territory,” Romania’s defense ministry told the publication.
Earlier this week, the chief executive of U.S. defense manufacturer Lockheed Martin said the company was “standing by” to provide training for Ukrainian pilots on F-16s if the aircraft are sent to Ukraine.
Lockheed is wiling to “backfill need as it arises with new F-16 builds,” and to carry out “any modifications to F-16s as well as training, equipment and systems,” Frank St. John told The Financial Times in an article published on Monday.
“I am very confident that Ukrainian pilots are going to master the F-16 and be able to use it very effectively in short order,” St. John added.
The training of Ukrainian personnel on F-16s is now underway, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier this month.
This gives Western countries “the option to also decide to deliver the planes and then the pilots will be ready to fly them,” he said.
Ukraine would need around 100 Western aircraft, the majority of which should be F-16s, Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, has said. Experts previously told Newsweek that although “any F-16s will make a difference,” Ukraine would need up to 100 well-operated F-16s to have a significant impact.
Suggestions of sending F-16s have been poorly received by Russia, with Moscow’s deputy foreign minister, Alexander Grushko, saying that Western countries furnishing Ukraine with advanced fighters would carry “enormous risks.”
Newsweek is contacting the Romanian defense ministry for further comment.
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