Only eight out of 32 pilots had sufficient English to take part in the instruction program, the outlet reported
Western efforts to train Ukrainian pilots to fly advanced F-16 jets are being hampered by the service members’ poor English language skills, Politico reported on Friday, citing sources.
According to a US official and a person familiar with the matter interviewed by the outlet, an initial group of eight Ukrainian pilots who are proficient in English are ready to start training once a formal instruction plan is drawn up by several European countries and approved by the US.
However, “English proficiency remains a sticking point” with the rest of the 32 Ukrainian pilots earmarked for instruction on the F-16 fighter jets, Politico said. As a result, 20 personnel with basic English will reportedly start language courses in Britain this month.
Kiev has been asking its Western backers for F-16s for months, arguing that the fighters will help “win the war” with Russia. This sentiment, however, is not shared by Washington. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has suggested that the aircraft would have a limited impact due to the extensive use of air defense systems in Ukraine.
Nevertheless, in mid-May, the UK and the Netherlands announced an “international coalition” to help Ukraine procure the US-made jets, with a total of 11 NATO countries, including the US, getting on board. According to Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, the instruction campaign is set to begin this month, while Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said last month that he expected the first fighter jets to arrive in the embattled country in early 2024.
However, efforts to lay the groundwork for the deliveries apparently hit several stumbling blocks, with a recent Politico report suggesting that the US and its allies had not agreed on who exactly would train Ukrainian pilots, or where the instruction would take place.
Another report from the same outlet claimed that European countries had not received formal approval from Washington on the matter, with requests for the transfer of instruction manuals, flight simulators, and other materials still in limbo.
Russian officials have repeatedly warned the West that the delivery of F-16s to Ukraine would lead to an escalation of the conflict, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggesting that the US-made jets could potentially carry nuclear weapons.