Ukraine war: The challenges of training F-16 pilots

Western allies are set to announce their plans to train Ukrainian pilots to fly US-made F-16s when they meet in Brussels today. But it’s still not clear which countries will be willing to provide the jets, how many, or even when.

Supplying Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets will “not be a silver bullet” or a “quick fix”, says the head of Norway’s Air Force. Maj Gen Rolf Folland says it’ll take time for Ukraine to develop the ability to operate Western jets with complex weapons.

We meet at a large allied air exercise taking place over Norway, Finland and Sweden. It involves 150 fighter planes – many more than the entire Ukrainian Air Force.

Gen Folland says the training is about dominating the skies – to avoid what he calls the type of “old fashioned” conflict now taking place in Ukraine.

To gain supremacy of the air requires a level of scale and sophistication that Ukraine will not be able to replicate. Even providing a small fleet of F-16s could prove a major challenge.

It took Pulse, a Belgian pilot, three years to master his F-16 fighter. We’ve been asked to use his call sign, not his real name.

He shows us round his F-16, originally designed in the late 1970s, long before he was born.

“It flies like a dream”, he says. “But flying is the easiest part. The rest is more difficult.”