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Poland and Norway have joined the ever-expanding faction of NATO countries that are willing to begin training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets. The countries’ willingness comes after President Joe Biden gave his approval at last week’s G7 summit in Japan for Europeans to send Western fighters to Ukraine. The policy change occurred after months of debate inside the administration.
Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy head, confirmed this week that several countries had already begun training pilots, while Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said that Warsaw is “ready” to join the training efforts as well.
“We’re ready. The Polish side is ready to train pilots on F-16 aircraft. Such training has not yet begun,” the defense minister said.
Meanwhile, Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren reiterated similar sentiments saying, “It is a co-effort with Denmark, Belgium, UK, and other allies, so a coordinated effort. But we will speed up now that we know that we have the green light.”
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Norway is still debating whether or not to provide Fi-16s to Ukraine but Defense Minister Bjoern Aild Gram confirmed Wednesday that Oslo will support the training program regardless.
“The government backs this initiative and is considering how Norway can contribute together with allies and partners,” Gram said.
While NATO allies work to build a training program, Moscow has issued stern warnings to the West of the “colossal risk” that the move could bring in bringing the West into direct conflict with Russia.
It should be noted, however, that it could take a year or more for any F-16s given to Ukraine to actually become operational once inside the country. Meanwhile, several Western leaders, including Biden, have continued to rebuff Russia’s warnings.
In his nightly address on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. said, “The very first Ukrainian F-16 will be one of the strongest signals from the world that Russia will only lose because of its aggression. It will be weaker and further isolated.”
“The main thing is the speed in training and in supply – meaning the time between decisions in real protection for our skies,” Zelensky concluded. However, it is likely to be a year or longer before Ukraine could receive its first Western fighter jet and the dynamics of the war could be completely different by then.
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