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Dutch F-16s heading to Romania to train Ukrainian pilots

November 1, 2023 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The first F-16 fighter jets that the Netherlands is donating to Ukraine will arrive at the training center in Romania within two weeks, according to Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte.

Rutte did not give the exact number of F-16s, but Zelensky said earlier this year that there had been an agreement for 42 Dutch aircraft. Denmark, Norway, and Belgium have also announced that they will provide F-16 aircraft to Ukraine.

The Royal Dutch Air Force will deploy the F-16s to the "Lt. Aviator Gheorghe Mociorniță" Air Base in Romania. There, the training courses for Ukrainian pilots will start shortly. It should then take about a year before the Ukrainian pilots mastered all of the F-16’s functions. Maintenance support staff also need a long-term training.

Romanian defense minister Angel Tîlvăr signed a Letter of Intent between the Ministry of National Defense of Romania, the Ministry of Defense of the Netherlands, and aircraft maker Lockheed Martin regarding the F-16 Training Center in Romania at the end of August.

"Through this center, Romania commits to providing a high-quality training environment, with access to state-of-the-art technical resources and know-how not only for Romanian pilots but also for those from allied and partner states, including Ukraine," Tîlvăr said.

Training new Viper drivers takes about eight months, while a more experienced pilot who has flown tactically may be able to master it in five months or less. Training has been ongoing at the Danish military air base in Skrydstrup and in the US at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and Morris Air National Guard Base in Arizona.

Ukraine's fighter fleet consists of Sukhoi Su-27 Flankers and Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrums, both built by the Soviet Union. However, the nation has long planned to receive F-16s once pilots have completed the required training, which includes everything from combat flying to language courses.

Whether a fourth-generation fighter, even as capable as the F-16, can make a difference in this environment, where pilots have to fly close to the ground to avoid enemy radars and neither side has been able to gain air superiority, has been a matter of debate among airpower experts.

There are those who believe they have no chance, those who believe it can affect things but only in certain missions, and still others who believe it will mostly depend on the missiles.

Additional images:

RNlAF F-16AM #J-061 of 322 sqn is seen taking off from it's homebase at Leeuwarden AB on August 19th, 2020. [Photo Ed Groenendijk]

RNlAF F-16AM #J-021 from 313 sqn takes off during the NATO Tiger Meet 2012 at Ørland AB on June 1st, 2012. [Photo by Jörg Stange]

RNlAF F-16AM #J-637 from 312 sqn in take off during the Tigermeet at Volkel AB on October 13th, 2010. [Photo by Maurits Even]