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Pair of Ukrainian pilots in US to assess fighter jet ability

The Hill logo The Hill 3/7/2023 Ellen Mitchell
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Two Ukrainian pilots are in the United States to see how well they can fly fighter jets, though U.S. officials still have no current plans to send F-16s to Kyiv, the Pentagon confirmed Monday. 

The two are at a base in Tuscon, Ariz., for a “familiarization event,” during which they will speak with Air Force personnel and observe how the service operates, in addition to flying aircraft simulators, a Defense spokesperson told The Hill in a statement. 

“This event allows us to better help Ukrainian pilots become more effective pilots and better advise them on how to develop their own capabilities,” they said, stressing that it is “a routine activity as part of our military-to-military dialogue with Ukraine.” 

They also said the pilots will not be flying any actual aircraft during the event, held with other countries in the past under a previous U.S. European Command program.  

NBC News on Sunday first reported the pilots were in the country for the U.S. military to evaluate how long it takes Ukrainian pilots to learn to fly modern fighter jets, with the possibility that 10 more pilots could come to the United States as early as this month as part of the effort.

The Defense spokesperson said that there are no immediate plans to increase the number of pilots beyond the two currently in Tucson, but “we’re not closing the door on future opportunities.” 

CNN reported earlier Monday that the evaluations are being conducted by the Arizona Air National Guard, which flies F-16 fighter jets with its 162nd Fighter Wing, based at Tucson International Airport. 

Ukrainian officials have in recent weeks increased calls for the United States to provide Kyiv with F-16s to defend against ramped up Russian missile and drone attacks.  

But President Biden late last month said he is ruling out providing the advanced fighter jets to Ukraine “for now.” 

Administration officials have argued that Ukraine does not need F-16s based on the current state of the war and that they require considerable training. 

“Since we haven’t made the decision to provide F-16s and neither have our allies and partners, it doesn’t make sense to start to train them on a system they may never get,” top Pentagon policy official Colin Kahl said before the House Armed Services Committee last week. 

The Defense spokesperson said the administration’s stance has not changed on whether to provide F-16s to Ukraine, referring to Kahl’s comments. 

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