WASHINGTON (Agencies): Lockheed Martin is on the verge of finalizing a contract with Romania to establish its first F-16 flight training center in Europe, a move that could potentially open the doors for training Ukrainian pilots in the future.
The envisioned European Flight Training Center represents Lockheed Martin’s debut training facility on the European continent and holds prospects for expanding beyond Romania.
According to OJ Sanchez, Lockheed’s integrated fighter group vice president and general manager, this center is a response to Romania’s need to train its pilots and maintainers effectively.
Lockheed Martin recently announced a letter of intent with Romania and the Netherlands to create the European F-16 Training Center.
Sanchez is confident that the contract with Romania will be officially signed by the year’s end.
As part of this collaboration, the Netherlands will provide F-16s to Romania for training purposes. A specific number of aircraft are still under negotiation as part of the broader contract. Initially, the training center will primarily focus on training Romanian pilots to operate F-16s. However, Lockheed envisions the possibility of additional nations sending their aviators for training, including Ukraine.
Sanchez noted, “The European Flight Training Center may be a good option for countries like Ukraine, or others who may need that support as they build out their air force needs.” Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Ukraine has sought modern F-16 fighters from NATO nations to enhance and modernize its air force.
Last month, the Netherlands and Denmark revealed plans to supply Ukraine with its first F-16s, with the U.S. assisting in training Ukrainian pilots to operate these aircraft.
Ukraine anticipates ongoing modernization of its air force, necessitating additional training venues for its pilots to operate western fourth-generation jets. Lockheed views this Romanian training center as a potential solution for Ukraine.
Sanchez refrained from providing specific details, such as the annual training capacity of the center, indicating that such information is not yet available. However, Lockheed aims to move swiftly after the contract’s formalization. The curriculum and approach of the Romanian training center are expected to resemble those of the U.S. Air Force’s international training units.
Sanchez explained that the center would commence with English language training, as English is the international language of aviation. International F-16 training typically includes basic flight training academics and potentially flights in smaller aircraft, such as Cessnas, to provide students with flight experience. Following this, pilots undergo six to twelve months of basic jet flight training, depending on their experience level, before proceeding to specialized fighter training. Lockheed Martin’s objective is for student pilots to graduate from the Romanian training center with basic F-16 proficiency, enabling them to join a squadron as effective wingmen. Advanced training and development will take place at other locations. Lockheed will lead the organization of this flight training center, collaborating with European and U.S. companies to conduct flight and simulation training. The company intends to have several former U.S. airmen serving as flight instructors at the Romanian training center.
While this marks Lockheed Martin’s first F-16 flight training center in Europe, the company has established similar centers elsewhere. The Romanian center will be exclusively dedicated to F-16s, although Sanchez hinted at the possibility of launching additional centers to train pilots for other aircraft, including the F-35. “Training is always a critical need and enabler,” said Sanchez, emphasizing the importance of training in aviation.