NATO member Romania has officially opened an international F-16 pilot training center situated at the 86th Air Base in Fetesti, southeast Romania, bolstering NATO’s presence and readiness in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region.
The training hub, which opened on November 13, 2023, not only serves NATO members but also extends its capabilities to Ukraine.
The Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren, who was present at the inauguration, emphasized the importance of European defense cooperation, stating that no European country can guarantee its security independently.
“This type of cooperation – with the defense industry added to the mix – is the future because it is the only way for us to deal with the current threats,” she wrote in a post on X (formerly Twitter) after the event.
This center is also a practical response to Ukraine’s call for sophisticated fighter aircraft. Since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, Ukraine has sought advanced combat capabilities, with NATO countries including Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and Belgium expressing willingness to provide F-16 fighter jets.
Denmark plans to send the first jets by April 2024, with Belgium following suit by 2025, subject to government approval after elections in 2024.
Notably, the Dutch government has already delivered five F-16s to the Romanian center and intends to provide 12 to 18 additional aircraft for training. However, these jets will remain Dutch property and will only be allowed to fly in NATO airspace.
Lockheed Martin, the US company that manufactures the F-16, will also contribute to the training and maintenance of the center.
The center’s establishment coincides with Romania’s efforts to improve its military capabilities, including the purchase of United States-made Abrams battle tanks and F-35 fighter jets.