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Kiev, West reportedly clash over F-16 training

A limited number of spots are available for Ukrainian pilots due to other customers waiting in line, according to media

FILE PHOTO: ’s Vladimir Zelensky in the cockpit of a F-16 fighter jet in Vojens, Denmark. ©  Sergei GAPON / AFP

Western-donated F-16 fighter jets could be of limited use to Ukraine, as the national air force will only have a “handful of pilots” capable of flying them this year, according to media reports.

Kiev’s allies in the so-called ‘F-16 coalition’ intend to deliver as many as 60 of the US-designed aircraft this year. However, there will be only 20 fully trained Ukrainians pilots, Politico reported on Thursday. The US and its allies are refusing to make more spots available, as people from other nations operating F-16s need them.

“That’s just a handful of pilots, and that’s just the pilots,” a US official said in an interview with Defense News. Operating the jets requires maintenance crews and a steady supply of advanced weapons, which are expensive and in short supply in donor states.

Read more Use of F-16s over Russian territory ‘not escalation’ – NATO chief

Politico noted that there are just two locations where Ukrainian pilots are being prepared to fly missions against Russia. Twelve will graduate from the Morris Air National Guard base in Tucson, Arizona by September, while an additional eight are to complete courses at a facility in Denmark, before it closes in November.

A third program is to be run in Romania by Lockheed Martin, the American manufacturer of the F-16. It is expected to have eight spots for Ukrainians next year, while another eight will soon be arriving in Tucson, according to Politico’s sources.

Numerous factors play into acceptance of foreign trainees, a spokesperson for the Arizona National Guard told Politico. These include “funding, country requests, graduation of students from English learning and allotment.”

Kiev claims to have 30 pilots on standby for retraining, but Western officials have declined to get them into the pipeline, the outlet reported. The Defense News source described the training capacity as “meager”, adding that the shortage of pilots may affect the schedule of deliveries of the F-16s, because Western officials “wouldn’t want to rush it.”

READ MORE: WATCH Ukrainian Su-25 get obliterated in drone strike

Moscow has said foreign weapons provided to Ukraine will not alter the outcome of the conflict, and may trigger an unintended escalation that would draw the donors into it. A senior Russian lawmaker warned last week that the country would retaliate against any base used by F-16s to fly Ukrainian combat missions, regardless of where they are located.

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