Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reported having reached a deal with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on training Ukrainian pilots in France.
In an evening address on September 3, 2023, in which he announced the replacement of Ukraine defense minister Oleksiy Reznikov by Rustem Umerov, Zelenskyy briefly mentioned the agreement as part of a call with Macron held earlier in the day.
“There is a very important agreement on training our pilots in France,” the Ukrainian president said. “Our coalition of modern fighters is getting more powerful.”
The details of the agreement were not specified. However, France could contribute in several ways to the international coalition to provide modern NATO fighter jets to Ukraine.
How can France contribute to the training of Ukrainian pilots?
Although the French Air and Space Force has never employed US-made F-16 fighter jets, it possesses expertise in NATO standard training and procedures.
Consequently, France could provide training for Ukrainian pilots in NATO procedures using one of its advanced jet trainers, such as the PC-21 or the recently retired Alpha Jet. Advanced training is the last stage before receiving basic training on the F-16, also known as B-Course. The latter will be provided by either the United States or an international coalition spearheaded by Denmark and the Netherlands.
On August 21, 2023, General James Hecker, commander of US Air Forces in Europe, US Air Forces Africa, and NATO Allied Command, did mention that Ukrainian pilots selected to operate the F-16 would “go down to France and fly in the Alpha Jet for a little bit.” That information was never confirmed by the French authorities.
Another less likely outcome would be the provision of combat aircraft by France, such as the Mirage 2000C. In 2022, the French Air Force retired this early single-seat version of the fighter, dating back to the 1980s and used primarily for air defense.
AeroTime sent a request for comment to the French Air and Space Force and the French Ministry of Armed Forces.