July 19, 2024

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — NATO member Romania inaugurated on Monday an international training hub for F-16 jet pilots from allied countries and other partners, including Ukraine.

The training facility situated at an air base in Fetesti in southeast Romania will aim to increase interoperability between NATO allies, and better position the military alliance “to face the complex challenges” in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region, Romania’s defense ministry said.

It said the powerful U.S.-made warplanes will be supplied by the Royal Netherlands Air Force while the aircraft maker Lockheed Martin will provide instructors and maintenance at the training center.

Kathleen Kavalec, the U.S. ambassador to Romania who attended the opening, called the collaboration an “example of how the public and private sectors can cooperate to further our defense priorities.”

“I am here with one simple message,” she said. “The United States government is here to support in any way we can.”

Romania, which has been a NATO member since 2004, shares a long border with Ukraine. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Kyiv has repeatedly asked its backers to send sophisticated fighter planes to give it a combat edge, and some NATO countries have.

In response to the war next door, Romania ramped up defense spending while NATO bolstered its presence on Europe’s eastern flank by sending additional multinational battle groups to alliance members Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Slovakia.

The center’s opening comes after Romania said last week that it is pushing to buy 54 latest-model Abrams main battle tanks and related equipment from the United States in a deal worth at least a billion dollars to help the European Union country meet regional security challenges.

In April, Romania’s Supreme Council of National Defense also approved the acquisition of an unspecified number of latest generation American-made F-35 fighter jets, as Romania pushes to modernize its air force.

Romania has played an increasingly prominent role in the alliance throughout the war, including hosting a NATO meeting of foreign ministers in November 2022.

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