Two Ukrainian Pilots are in the US to Assess Training for F-16s, Other Aircraft

Biden recently said he ruled out sending Ukraine F-16s 'for now,' suggesting he could provide them in the future

Two Ukrainian pilots are in the US for an assessment to see how long it would take them to learn how to fly F-16 fighter jets or other advanced aircraft, NBC News reported on Saturday.

The report said this marks the first time Ukrainian pilots are in the US to have their skills evaluated, signaling the US is planning to eventually provide Kyiv with fighter jets, a step that would bring NATO and Russia closer to a direct confrontation.

The US has approved bringing up to 10 more Ukrainian pilots for the assessment as soon as this month. The two Ukrainian pilots that are currently in the US are having their skills evaluated using simulators at a military base in Tucson, Arizona.

Throughout the war, Ukrainian officials have been asking the US to provide advanced aircraft. President Biden said in a recent interview that he has ruled out the idea of sending F-16s to Ukraine “for now,” leaving open the possibility of providing them in the future.

If the US does decide to send F-16s to Ukraine, they could take years to deliver. Colin Kahl, the under-secretary of defense for policy, told the House Armed Services Committee last week that if the US builds new aircraft for Ukraine, it could take three to six years to deliver them. If the US sends older F-16s, it could take 18 to 24 months to refurbish and deliver them.

Kahl said that the Ukrainians have asked for 128 aircraft, including F-16s, F-15s, and F-18s. He said the US Air Force has determined Ukraine could use between 50 and 80 F-16s to replace its current air force, which would cost the US taxpayer up to $11 billion.

Kahl also gave a long timeline for the training period, saying it could take up to 18 months until Ukrainian pilots are proficient with the F-16. Other Pentagon officials speaking to NBC said it could be shorted to between six and eight months.

While the US and other NATO countries are preparing to train Ukrainian pilots, no NATO member has yet promised to provide Western-made aircraft. Last year, in the early days of the war, the Pentagon declined a Polish offer to send their Soviet-made MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine over a fear of the move escalating the war.

In March 2022, NATO diplomats told CNN that alliance members were concerned that by providing fighter jets, Russia would perceive that as NATO becoming directly involved in the war. But a year later, the Biden administration and its NATO allies seem much less concerned about the risk of provoking Moscow.

Author: Dave DeCamp

Dave DeCamp is the news editor of, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.