On Friday, February 9th, the Voice of America in Ukrainian published an interview with a Ukrainian pilot with the codename Phantom, and for the first time, one of the alleged Ukrainian multi-role aircraft Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon was presented.
Journalist Maria Prus conducted an interview with a Ukrainian pilot known as Phantom. As he stated, the training process, which lasts an average of six months, is undergone not only by pilots but also ground personnel, especially mechanics, who will be responsible for servicing the aircraft and maintaining their operational readiness for combat missions, as well as technical support units.
As for the schedule, according to the plan, it takes about 6 months to train one pilot or a group of pilots. But there are nuances, and they are primarily related not to our personnel, but to the administrative work of our partners, their own bureaucracy, and it takes time. Therefore, it has affected the preparation time. But it is proceeding according to plan, said Phantom.
Phantom noted that Ukrainian pilots found it difficult to grasp the knowledge at the initial stage of training because the F-16 is a next-generation aircraft compared to what the Ukrainian Air Force currently has, especially in terms of complex onboard systems.
We haven’t dealt with this before; our training is somewhat different, and our aircraft are much simpler than the F-16, the pilot said. He also provided the editorial team with the first photograph of the aircraft in Ukrainian livery (which, however, raises doubts). Currently, it is said to be located outside of Ukraine. It was previously confirmed that a Ukrainian pilot with the callsign Moonfish is also undergoing training on the F-16.
What do Phantom and other Ukrainian pilots think about the F-16?
Our pilots are very impressed. This aircraft simply exceeded our expectations. Even with the amount of information we received during training, we already see great prospects and a significant insight into how this aircraft will help our air force enhance the capabilities of our combat aviation. And you can imagine that there is information that we have not yet explored, we have not learned everything about what else this aircraft is capable of, Phantom said in the interview.
What do American and Western instructors think about Ukrainian pilots?
The initial impression of our guys was that they were motivated, their eyes were lit up. One instructor even said that he sees how we want to start training faster and faster. Overall, the impressions and feedback we receive from the instructors are very positive. Thanks to the experience of instructors from other countries, they can already make comparisons. They say that Ukrainian pilots are very strong; they see the experience gained during air battles over Ukraine after the full-scale invasion began, and it is precisely these skills that they will try to improve on the F-16 aircraft.
Earlier, it was reported that the US National Guard still has enough financial resources to complete the training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16 aircraft, despite the fact that the US Department of Defense is not receiving funds from new military assistance packages, as it have been blocked by the US Senate. This was reported by the commander of the US National Guard, General Dan Hokanson.
Interestingly, when asked by the journalist whether Western retired pilots would fight on Ukraine’s side, Phantom replied that the Ukrainian command had conducted analyses in this regard and concluded that there is no urgent need for foreign pilots in Ukrainian skies.
Regarding the question of whether the ground infrastructure in Ukraine is ready to accommodate the F-16, the pilot enigmatically responded that there are currently certain difficulties and nuances, but the infrastructure will be ready in due time.
On August 20, 2023, the authorities of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Denmark declared their readiness to transfer aircraft, 42 and 19 units respectively. Meanwhile, on August 24, 2023, Norwegian media reported a possible similar step by the authorities in Oslo – it is said to involve 6-12 or 5-10 aircraft, but this has not been confirmed yet. Belgium is also set to transfer its aircraft after 2025.
In November 2023, the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Norway transferred their multi-role F-16AM/BM aircraft to the European F-16 Training Centre (EFTC) in Romania, which is used for training Ukrainian and Romanian pilots.
On December 22, 2023, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, informed on social media about a phone conversation he had with the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. He informed Ukrainian partners about preparations for the transfer of the first batch of 18 F-16AM/BM aircraft. Then, on February 5 of this year, Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren announced that another 6 aircraft are being prepared for transfer – thus, increasing the Dutch contribution to 24 planes.
The coalition for training Ukrainians on the F-16 consists of 11 countries: the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Portugal, Poland, and Romania.
It is worth adding that on November 14, 2023, the U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Dr. William A. LaPlante, reported that repairs and technical servicing of future Ukrainian F-16 aircraft will take place in Europe, primarily in Poland.
Analysis of the photograph determined its geolocation. The photo was taken at the Skrydstrup Air Base in the Danish region of Southern Jutland, and the aircraft is a Danish one.
— Luís Galrão (@LGalrao) February 9, 2024
However, using the online digital photo analysis tool FotoForensics, manipulation of Ukrainian markings was also demonstrated – the golden trident on the tail and the yellow-blue identification roundel on the fuselage. While the photograph of the aircraft itself may be a manipulation for media interview purposes, the fact that F-16s (including this one) soon will reach the hands of the Ukrainian Air Force is undeniable.
— Luís Galrão (@LGalrao) February 10, 2024