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Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder announced the plans on Thursday, but was unable to give a definite number of Ukrainian pilots or maintainers who are expected to receive training beginning in October. Ryder said that “several pilots with upwards of dozens of maintainers” are expected to participate.
“The Department of Defense is announcing today that the United States will soon begin training Ukrainians to fly and maintain F-16 aircraft in support of the international effort to develop and strengthen Ukraine’s long-term defenses,” Ryder said, adding that pilots and maintainers would first go through English language training at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas, in September.
President Joe Biden approved the third-party transfer of F-16s to Ukraine after resisting such efforts for months, arguing the move would be too escalatory for the United States’ role in the war in Ukraine. The reversal came in May when the president told allies the U.S. would allow the transfer of the American technology to Ukraine.
Though the decision was made months ago, the process for training Ukrainians to fly and maintain the complex fighter jets has been a lengthy process. The jets are unlikely to have an impact on Ukraine’s current operation against Russia, which appears to have stalled with Ukraine’s forces unable to push Russia out of Crimea and the Donbas regions.
Ukraine has increased drone attacks into Russian territory as its military operations have slowed. The Russian Ministry of Defense said on Friday that Ukraine launched an overnight aerial assault on Crimea that included 42 drones and one missile. Other Ukrainian drone attacks in recent weeks have targeted Moscow and destroyed a Russian bomber near St. Petersburg, according to The New York Times.
Biden has said the U.S. will back Ukraine “as long as it takes” for Ukraine to reclaim its lost territory. The president has come under criticism from Republicans who say the White House has yet to articulate a realistic strategy for U.S. involvement in the war given Ukraine’s inability to push Russia out of Crimea and the Donbas.
Others in the GOP continue to offer support for funding to Ukraine, saying the investment is worth the cost of continuing to batter Russia’s military.