UK could train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s on frontline 'within two years'

Watch: New Ukrainian pilots could be taught to fly the F-16 in just two years.

A former RAF Commander has told Forces News that the UK could train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets within two years.

Air Marshal (Ret'd) Greg Bagwell said the training could be accomplished in the two-year time frame "if you really pressed it" for a youngster "never having flown before".

The F-16 is the jet Ukraine wants and the one many think Ukraine will eventually receive, but after a recent trip to the UK, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky returned to Kyiv without any commitments to supply the jets.

One challenge is training Ukrainian pilots, who are used to Soviet-era aircraft, and converting them to a sophisticated Western fighter jet.

However, the UK has provided a glimmer of light, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announcing elementary flight training for new Ukrainian pilots.

Air Marshal Bagwell said his understanding is the Ukrainian pilots will be "slotted into the existing training system that the UK already has".

Watch: Would the F-16 fighter jet be a good fit for Ukraine?

He added this will be for pilots "at the beginning of their training" and, depending on what the UK can provide Ukraine, could move them on to the Hawk T2 training aircraft.

This "will then allow them to be trained literally how to fight rather than just how to fly".

Air Marshal Bagwell also said he still "fundamentally believe there's also a need to switch current qualified pilots onto a new more modern type as well, to fight today… rather than just tomorrow".

It currently takes four years to train an RAF pilot, but Air Marshal Bagwell said it could be done quicker.

"In theory, anything could happen quicker," he said.

Watch: F-16s more suited to helping Ukrainian defence than Typhoons, expert says.

"You've got to remember that the peacetime training system is Monday to Friday, people are allowed to take leave, they do courses, they do lots of ground school where they learn all the safety limitations and all the bells and whistles," he said.

"You can cut lots of corners if you're looking to get them onto the frontline, where it is literally life or death, then, yeah, you can cut corners – not dissimilar to the way we are cutting corners in training Ukrainian civilians to be soldiers and drive tanks and fire Patriot missile systems."

The UK doesn't currently fly the F-16, but the UK and the Netherlands, who currently have 40 F-16s set to be replaced with F-35s, have pledged to build a jets coalition to prepare Ukrainian aircrew for a possible future delivery.

Belgium, Denmark and Norway also use the jet, but the US has the most – with almost 800 F-16s.

Any Nato member who wants to send F-16s to Ukraine would have to get approval from Washington, with US President Joe Biden currently saying no.

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