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The first cohort of Ukrainian pilots to receive training from the Royal Air Force (RAF) is now learning to fly Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters in Denmark, having completed a basic programme of training in the UK, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced on 26 December 2023.

The RAF began delivering flying and English language training in August 2023 as part of the UK contribution to the international Air Force Capability Coalition for Ukraine initiative, which sees allies and partners working together to bolster Ukraine’s air capabilities.

The group was formed of six experienced Ukrainian fighter pilots who received aviation-specific English language training to increase their ability to engage with coalition training and support.

A further 10 Ukrainian trainee pilots took part in the language training and remain in the UK to continue with practical basic flight training, as well as to learn important skills such as aviation medicine and centrifuge training.

“I am proud of the support the Royal Air Force is providing to the next generation of Ukraine’s combat air pilots and ground crew, who will be the first line of defence in protecting Ukraine’s skies, the MoD quoted UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps as stating. “The UK has been instrumental in building Ukraine’s air defences since Putin launched his full-scale invasion [of Ukraine], providing hundreds of missiles and munitions, as well as radar and weapon systems.

“While Ukraine was highly vulnerable to attack from Russian aircraft, drones, and missiles in the early months of the invasion, with support from the UK and our allies its armed forces are now able to intercept and destroy the overwhelming majority of incoming ordnance, protecting their civilian population and vital infrastructure,” Shapps added. “Together we’re now going further by ensuring Ukraine has a modern air force in the future, formed around the highly capable fourth-generation F-16 fighter jet. Combined with training from the world-leading RAF, this is a significant step forward from Ukraine’s current Soviet-era capabilities.”

The programme is designed to give trainee pilots the skills required to advance to the next phase of training on fighter jets with partner nations and bring future Ukrainian pilots closer to a NATO-standard approach to flying.

Pilots undergoing the basic flight training scheme are conducting practical lessons in Grob Tutor piston-engined basic trainers with experienced RAF instructors, learning general handling procedures, instrument flying, medium- and low-level navigation, and formation flying.

Alongside the pilot training, dozens of Ukrainian aircraft technicians are also receiving English language training, geared towards engineering.

The first group of Ukrainian pilots to receive training from the RAF have completed their course on Grob Tutor piston-engined basic trainers and are now learning to fly Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters in Denmark. (Photo: Crown Copyright)

“Ukraine highly values the pilot training that the UK and other partners are providing, to help us prepare for operating F-16s in Ukraine,” the UK MoD quoted Ukrainian Defence Minister Rustem Umerov as stating. “It is a rapid and effective programme to equip Ukrainian pilots with the skills they need in the war against Russia.”

Once they have completed their training with the RAF, Ukrainian pilots will be trained by another European nation on advanced flying training. This will prepare them for training on the F-16 Fighting Falcon, overseen by Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United States, which lead the Air Force Capability Coalition.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed earlier in 2023 the UK’s intent to support the Air Force Capability Coalition with basic training, as the UK does not operate the F-16 aircraft around which Ukraine, in conjunction with its allies, has selected to develop its future air force.

The UK will continue this support to Ukrainian pilots and ground crew in 2024.