Denmark is starting the training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets as Kyiv inches closer to promises of Western-made planes for its war effort.
Copenhagen has “taken the step of starting a training and further education effort for the Ukrainian pilots,” the country’s acting defense minister, Troels Lund Poulsen, said on Monday.
Several countries have promised to help train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s, although no nation has yet provided Ukraine’s military with Western-made fighter jets. Ukraine has long called for these aircraft to replace its aging, Soviet-era fleet, and they would provide the country with a significant step-up in capabilities.
But Ukraine’s Western backers have been reluctant to agree to sending jets, which are considered a longer-term commitment to Ukraine’s military, come with an expensive price tag and may be seen as escalating the conflict.
Denmark is accelerating the replacement of its F-16 fleet with F-35s by two years, Lund Poulsen told Danish broadcaster DR. The newer fighter jets will be operational in Denmark’s military by 2025, he added.
“We will also consider whether we should make a concrete donation to Ukraine of the Danish F-16 fighters, and how many there should be,” Lund Poulsen said.
Denmark has around 30 operational F-16s according to this year’s Military Balance, the annual report on the world’s armed forces compiled by the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank. The Danish air force also has six F-35As.
Ukraine has previously asked for 100 Western-made jets. Experts have told Newsweek that Ukraine would need around 100 well-operated F-16s to have a significant impact on its air force.
Lund Poulsen indicated back in February, on the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, that Denmark would consider sending F-16 jets to the war-torn country.
“I won’t rule out that at some point it may be necessary to look at the contribution of fighter jets,” he said on February 24.
On June 22, Pentagon Press Secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder told the media that Denmark, along with the Netherlands, were “in the lead, in terms of developing the training program for Ukrainian F-16 pilots.”
“We have received a request from Denmark to support F-16 training, which would be expected. That is currently under review,” he said.
However, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier this month that the training of Ukrainian personnel on F-16s was already underway.
In mid-June, 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.
The company was 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.
“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,” he continued.
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