The Pentagon has warned that an impasse in Congress could hinder efforts to teach Kiev's pilots how to fly US fighter jets
A looming US government shutdown amid partisan bickering in Congress threatens to slow the training of Ukrainian pilots as they prepare to fly American-made F-16 fighter jets against Russian forces, the Pentagon has warned.
"Absolutely, there could be impacts to training," Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said on Thursday in a press briefing. She added that with civilian trainers likely furloughed during a shutdown, their uniformed colleagues would be hard-pressed to make up for the personnel losses as they continued to work during such a disruption.
Singh gave the example of an active-duty trainer potentially having to do the jobs of several other people if civilian employees are sent home during a shutdown. "So, it's definitely going to have an impact to training," she said.
With US government funding set to run out as of 12:01am on Sunday, lawmakers have less than three days to reach a compromise that would avert a shutdown of non-essential services. Some House Republicans have vowed that without getting deep spending cuts, they'll refuse to back a short-term resolution that would temporarily keep the government paychecks flowing and give Congress more time to negotiate a budget deal.
"A shutdown is literally the worst-case scenario for this department," Singh said. "We really don't want to have to go through making painful decisions like this." She previously warned that over 1 million military service members, as well as furloughed civilian staffers, would go without pay during a shutdown.
Ukrainian pilots and ground crews are currently taking language classes at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, to learn the specialized English skills needed to operate and maintain F-16s. Flight and maintenance training is scheduled to begin next month at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona.
The Netherlands and Denmark agreed last month to provide dozens of F-16s to Ukraine, a decision that had to be cleared by US President Joe Biden's administration. Also in August, Denmark began training eight Ukrainian pilots.
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has hailed the F-16 deal as a "breakthrough agreement" in Kiev's effort to defeat Russian forces, but US officials have downplayed the fighter jet's potential impact on the conflict. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall warned earlier this year that the F-16 won't be a "game changer" in Ukraine.
The Pentagon has said that the duration of training for Ukrainian pilots will depend on their proficiency. It typically takes about eight months to train a relatively inexperienced US pilot how to fly the F-16, while more advanced pilots can be brought up to speed in about five months.