U.S. Approves $100 Million To Train Ukrainian Pilots On F-15 And F-16 Fighter Jets

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved $100 million for training Ukrainian pilots to fly U.S. fighter jets, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approaches its fifth month. The move was part of a broader $840 billion defense spending package setting the Pentagon’s budget priorities for the coming year.

The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was affirmed Thursday by House members in a 329-101 vote. 

“Providing for our common defense remains a crucial responsibility for all Members of Congress, regardless of party, and it requires a collective commitment to our national security and to the American people’s defense priorities,” House Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith (D-Washington) said following the vote.

The sweeping $840.2 billion authorization package included a $37 billion increase to DOD’s top line budget, and included hundreds of amendments. Some amendments will affect military aircraft fleets in various ways, including:

  • Limitations to how many McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagles the U.S. Air Force will be allowed to retire
  • A prohibition on the Air National Guard retiring the Fairchild RC-26 Condor tactical Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) platform
  • A requirement that older Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor fighters that the USAF had slated to retire be upgraded instead
  • Authorizes the purchase of 64 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters and eight Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets

The bill also greenlit authorization to spend $1 billion in military aid in Ukraine, Roll Call reported. Included in the authorization of support for the war-torn country was an amendment earmarking $100 million to train Ukrainian pilots to fly U.S. fighter jets, which Ukrainian officials say are desperately needed to combat the ongoing Russian invasion.

Last month, Reps. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pennsylvania) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois), both U.S. Air Force veterans, proposed the measure in a standalone bill that called for the training of Ukrainian fighter pilots on F-15 and General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon platforms.

Ukrainian defense officials announced the passage of the NDAA Friday morning, noting that it included a “bipartisan amendment to authorize $100 million for training of pilots to become familiarized with U.S. aircraft.”

The move was also well received by the Ukrainian Air Force, which praised the amendment’s inclusion. “Good news about the training of Ukrainian TopGun pilots in the USA,” Ukrainian Air Force said Friday morning on social media.

Last month, two Ukrainian fighter pilots traveled to Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers to allow the U.S. to train Ukrainian fighter pilots to fly F-15s and F-16s. 

“If we’re talking about air-to-air superiority, basically the Russians have obvious technical advantages over our fighter jets,” a Ukrainian pilot identified by the callsign “Moonfish” told CNN at the time. “The numbers say that providing us with the U.S.-made fighter jets would make us at least matching them, or, I believe, even more advanced,” he said.

Senate version of the defense authorization bill, which has not yet been put to vote, could reach the floor in September, Politico reported. 

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