BELFAST — The Netherlands, Romania and US industry partner Lockheed Martin have signed a letter of intent to open a European F-16 fighter jet training center in Romania, which could lead to Ukraine pilots being trained at the facility.
Lockheed Martin said in a company statement on Thursday that the center, located at Romania’s 86th “Lieutenant Aviator Gheorghe Mociorniță” Air Base in Borcea, Călărași County, would first “focus” on the training of Romanian F-16 aviators but other nations are expected to be involved later.
Romania currently operates a fleet of 17 F-16 aircraft but is set to receive an additional 32 planes previously belonging to the Royal Norwegian Air Force after closing a deal with Oslo in 2022.
“Aircrews from the Netherlands and Romania currently train with Lockheed Martin F-16 simulators, and this training center will support readiness through an affordable, efficient sequence of ground-based and flight training missions,” added Lockheed Martin regarding the F-16 training center agreement.
The letter of intent comes after the Biden administration approved the re-export of the fourth generation jets to Ukraine, which was closely followed by The Netherlands and Denmark pledging up to 61 aircraft to Kyiv, although officials have not been clear on when the aircraft could be used in combat operations against Russia.
Prior to those developments, NATO members first agreed on Romania hosting a F-16 “regional hub” at the alliance’s Vilnius Summit in July 2023.
The Netherlands MoD leads European F-16 capability efforts for Ukraine and said in a translated Tuesday statement that “The intention is to train Ukrainian pilots and technical personnel as well as pilots and their teams from NATO countries who transfer to the US aircraft.” The statement did not say when Ukraine pilot training will begin in Romania, but added that “first training sessions have already started” in the United Kingdom and Denmark.
The Romanian MoD also said in a statement that “some” Dutch F-16s will be deployed to the 86th Air Base “in order to implement this project.”
Last week the DoD revealed that Ukrainian pilots will train in the US in weeks, though an exact number was not provided by Pentagon Press Secretary US Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder when briefing media.
Over 3100 F-16s are currently in operation with 25 countries, according to figures from Lockheed Martin.