Swedish JAS 39 Gripens taxiing at Bodö airport before takeoff during NATO exercise Trident Juncture 18 on November 2, 2018.
NATO and European countries have started training Ukrainians on advanced F-16 fighter jets.
Insider obtained a copy of a document outlining the training program and how it will unfold.
The document suggests that other jets could be added at some point in the future.
Ukrainian pilots and personnel have already started training on F-16s, Kyiv has said, and a plan by NATO members and partners for the program suggests Kyiv could eventually learn to operate other fighter aircraft as well.
A coalition of 11 countries — led by NATO allies Denmark and the Netherlands — has committed to training the Ukrainians on how to operate and maintain the F-16s. The US last week finally approved the delivery of the American-made aircraft from Copenhagen and Amsterdam to Kyiv, allowing the training program to move forward and clearing the way for F-16s to be sent to Ukraine, possibly by early next year.
The months-long program intends to cover language training, flight training, and conversion to the F-16 platform, according to an undated copy of the F-16 training concept that Insider obtained from the Danish defense ministry. The document also hints that Ukraine might get its hands on other fighter jets at some point.
“Along various training tracks, which will be carried out in concert by the members of the coalition, Ukrainian fighter pilots and support personnel will be trained to operate, support and maintain the F-16 fighter aircraft at a basic tactical and technical level,” the document reads, adding that “there will be a possibility to include other types of fighter aircrafts at a later stage.” A separate statement said the same.
It’s not immediately clear which fighter aircraft the statement is referencing, but one aircraft that the Ukrainians have been eyeing is Sweden’s JAS 39 Gripen. These jets are considered by experts to be highly capable and can be outfitted with advanced air-to-air missiles and intimidating air-to-surface missiles and bombs.
A Saab JAS-39C Gripen at RAF Fairford during the Royal Military Air Tattoo on July 15, 2023.
Matthew Horwood/Getty Images
The Gripen could prove beneficial to the Ukrainians because the aircraft’s electronic-warfare capabilities were designed to counter Russian air-defense systems, it is relatively inexpensive to operate, and it requires less runway space for taking off and landing. However, the jet is operated by just six countries — only two of which support Ukraine with military aid (Sweden and the Czech Republic) — and has not yet seen combat experience.
Sweden, an aspiring NATO member and longstanding partner of the military alliance, has repeatedly ruled out sending its Gripens to Kyiv, asserting that it needs the fighter jets for its own national security interests. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Sunday that Kyiv had achieved a “breakthrough result” regarding Gripens after spending the day in Sweden, although Stockholm appeared to pour cold water on his excitement the next day by stating that there are no plans to transfer the jets to Ukraine.
“Our soldiers are already starting to test them. And we are step by step, negotiation by negotiation, we are getting closer to the fact that Gripen fighters will appear in our sky,” Zelenskyy said during an address to the nation. “We are working on the beginning of the stage with the training of our boys on Gripen fighters.”
Sweden is part of the 11-country coalition training Ukrainians on F-16s, which includes Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania and the United Kingdom, which have an assortment of fighter aircraft available. According to the Danish defense ministry document, participants in the four-phase training initiative will include Ukrainian technicians, support staff, mission planners, and pilots with varying levels of experience.
“The coalition has agreed to support the training with language experts, pilots, ground crew, instructors, aircraft or funding as appropriate,” the document reads. “Ukraine is expected to provide qualified personnel able to pass necessary language, health and security tests.”
A JAS-39 Gripen at a military base near Prague on April 18, 2005.
REUTERS/Petr Josek PJ/AA
Zelenskyy said on Sunday that Ukrainian personnel had already started training on the F-16 in Denmark. Kyiv won’t receive the jets until the training program is complete, which could be as soon as early next year, but the training concept document says that the timing will ultimately depend on the qualifications of all the participants.
None of the training will take place in Ukraine, but it could happen at various locations in Europe, according to the document. A Pentagon spokesperson told Insider lats week that the US is ready to support the initiative and is willing to host training at home if capacity is reached overseas.
Denmark and the Netherlands have collectively committed to sending a few dozen F-16s to Ukraine after training is finished, the three countries involved said this past weekend. While these advanced aircraft will certainly mark a notable improvement from Kyiv’s current fighters when they arrive on the battlefield, Western military officials and experts have cautioned against expectations that the jets will somehow be a total game-changer in grinding conflict.
“The coalition’s focus will be on training, but will also in due course be ready to consider other lines of effort related to ensuring Ukraine a fully functional F-16 capability,” the training document reads. It added that while training is a significant starting point to strengthen Ukraine’s air-defense capabilities, building a well-rounded “operational F-16 structure” for Kyiv will be a longer-term goal.