Ukrainian Pilots Currently Training On French Air Force Alpha Jet Trainers

French Air Force Trains Ukrainian Pilots
A Ukrainian Air Force pilot beside an Alpha Jet trainer under a hangar at an airbase in France: (Image credit: French General Staff on X)

Ukrainian pilots are being imparted the basics of aerial combat as part of the training in anticipation of the arrival of the F-16 in Ukraine. But it will take some time before they will be able to fly and fight in a “Viper”.

The run-up to the declared arrival of F-16s in Ukraine is seeing considerable preparation. Ukrainian pilots, with different degree of background and flying experience, are at various stages of training, both in the U.S. and in Europe.

France has now released pictures of Ukrainian pilots being imparted what appears to be basic flight training on its Alpha Jet advanced jet trainer aircraft.

This group of Ukrainian Air Force pilots belong to the first cadre of junior students from the 2023 class, with very few hours under their belt, who completed Elementary Flight Training in the UK recently.

Ukrainian Pilots on Alpha Jet Trainer Aircraft

Pictures posted by France’s General Staff of the Armed Forces showed the “contribution of the armies of France to the training of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.” A Ukrainian pilot – identified by the Ukrainian flag and the emblem patches on his left arm – is seen sitting inside the front cockpit of an Alpha Jet basic jet trainer. A French instructor is explaining a Ukrainian trainee pilot on a briefing stick of an Alpha Jet in another picture.

The other two photos show Ukrainian servicemen being trained on the Caesar truck-mounted self-propelled gun (SPG). “The Armée de l’Air et de l’Espace (Air and Space Force) trains Ukrainian fighter pilots. The Armée de Terre (Land Force) provides specific training, particularly in the field of artillery. This resolute support is long-term,” the post said.

France Trains Ukrainian Pilots in ‘Basic Combat’

Late in April, BFMTV reported that ten Ukrainian pilots were undergoing training at an airbase in southwest France. It said they were being imparted the “basics of aerial combat as part of the training for 45 F-16s arriving in Ukraine this summer.”

After the United States approved last fall, countries including the Netherlands, Denmark, and Romania are helping train Ukrainian F-16 pilots to counter Russia’s air superiority. Currently, twelve Ukrainian pilots are being trained in Denmark, Britain, and the US, and are expected to be combat-ready this summer.

The commencement of the training in France was announced on April 12, 2024, by French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu. He stated that future Ukrainian fighter pilots likely to operate American F-16 aircraft are starting their training in southern France with the French Air Force.

Selected by Ukraine’s General Staff, some are also currently in the UK being trained in English language skills, which are “essential” for NATO pilots, and learning “basic aeronautics.” Others, who have experience flying civilian aircraft or training on Ukraine’s L-39 trainer jets, are in southwestern France learning aerial combat, according to Lecornu.

A pair of Alpha Jets. Source: Dassault Aviation

The reasons for training student pilots abroad are manifold. For one, the senior experienced pilots, who could be instructors, are needed for the ongoing war given the shortage of both men and materials.

Secondly, given Russia’s periodic strikes on Ukrainian military facilities, which can cover all of the former countries, any training activity too can be considered a legitimate military target.

Training flights can also attract attention from Russia’s aerial or satellite surveillance. This is at a time when Kyiv is trying to conduct operations from possibly dispersed airfields. Simply said, at the moment, Ukraine likely neither has the infrastructural nor the manpower resources to conduct basic, intermediate, or advanced frontline squadron training of pilots.

Moreover, Western experts have often noted the challenges of unlearning the Soviet/Russian technology, doctrine and tactics in Ukrainian pilots for operating the F-16. Molding young pilots in Western air warfare doctrine and practices would be much easier. The subsequent excerpt from the BFMTV report validates this assessment.

“The new Ukrainian aviators will undergo the same training as French pilots in half the time, using simulators and retired Alpha Jets. Following 80 flight hours in six-months, the students will advance to F-16 piloting, either in the US or in a European country that operates these American aircraft.”

Old, Reliable Jet Trainer

Dassault Aviation describes the Alpha Jet as a “two-seater tandem jet for training and tactical support,” which was designed for the French and German air forces. Designed by France’s Dassault and Germany’s Dornier, the Alpha Jets are nearing the end of their service lives, and the country is considering a replacement tied to the future training requirements of its two European neighbors.

In mid-April, Lecornu revealed preliminary talks with Spain and the United Kingdom to develop or acquire a new modular advanced jet trainer aircraft. Lecornu was asked in the National Assembly about whether the Alpha trainer jets would be relevant enough to meet the current flight training, combat ‘red teaming,’ and aerobatic performance needs.

Lecornu’s responded that the PC-21 aircraft and the Alpha jet were satisfactorily meeting the basic training of the French Air and Space Force (ASF) pilots and the aerobatic performance needs of the Patrouille de France (PAF). However, aircraft for advanced operational training and “red teaming” to simulate enemy aircraft – presently being done by the existing Rafale and Mirage jets – needed replacement.

Lecornu responded that while the Alpha Jet was suitable for the PAF’s needs and there were “no plans” to replace it until the 2040s, it was the ASF’s “operational preparation” needs that requires attention. These are “currently carried out by the fighter squadrons on Rafale, Mirage, and, to a lesser extent, on Alpha Jet.”

“It will, therefore, be a question of replacing the Alpha Jet, used not only for the PAF but also for certain so-called ‘Red Air’ missions (playing the enemy fleet for training).” This would “partially relieve” the frontline units from flying “air opposition flight hours, particularly those which are of less tactical interest.”

About Parth Satam
Parth Satam's career spans a decade and a half between two dailies and two defense publications. He believes war, as a human activity, has causes and results that go far beyond which missile and jet flies the fastest. He therefore loves analyzing military affairs at their intersection with foreign policy, economics, technology, society and history. The body of his work spans the entire breadth from defense aerospace, tactics, military doctrine and theory, personnel issues, West Asian, Eurasian affairs, the energy sector and Space.