The training of Ukrainian pilots on United States-made F-16 fighter jets is to begin in Romania in August, officials have said on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Lithuania. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov announced the Romania training programme on Tuesday alongside Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren and Denmark’s acting Defense Minister Troels Lund Poulsen.
“Hopefully, we will be able to see results in the beginning of next year,” Poulsen told reporters. Resnikov said he hoped the training would last no longer than six months and that by that point, Ukraine will be using the combat aircraft in its fight against Russia’s invasion of his country.
The Netherlands and Denmark are leading an 11-nation coalition to train Ukrainian pilots on the US fighter jets, which Ukraine argues will help turn the tide of the war in its favour. Training Ukrainian pilots in the use of advanced fighter planes was previously seen as controversial but received the green light in May at the G7 summit in Japan.
Russia later warned that providing Kyiv with F-16 would be a “colossal risk” as it threatens spreading the war to other parts of Europe. Though Ukraine’s allies have committed to providing training and other support, the opening of the fighter pilot school does not mean F-16s will actually be delivered to Kyiv.
Ukraine’s military supporters have yet to commit to sending warplanes. Romania announced last week that it intended to set up an F-16 training center for military pilots from NATO partner states and Ukraine.
Romania, which shares a long border with Ukraine and has been a NATO member since 2004 and a European Union member since 2007, has increased defence spending in response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
After Moscow’s forces invaded Ukraine in February 2022, NATO increased its presence on Europe’s eastern flank by sending additional multinational battlegroups to alliance members Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Slovakia. The fighter pilot training facility will aim to position Romania as “a regional leader in the field of F-16 pilot training” and contribute to “improving cohesion, demonstrating unity and strengthening the deterrence and defense posture Euro-Atlantic”, the Romanian government said in a statement.
Romania has played an increasingly prominent role in the alliance throughout Russia’s war in Ukraine, including hosting a NATO meeting of foreign ministers in November. The government has also approved the acquisition of an unspecified number of “latest generation” US-made F-35 fighter jets as part of Romania’s push to modernize its air force.