UK officials are said to be in talks about the manufacture of British weapons and other military equipment in Ukraine.
Rishi Sunak has opened up the possibility of sending fighter jets to Kyiv after president Volodymyr Zelensky urged the West to commit to “wings for freedom”.
British defence industry executives are now discussing a deal that would see arms and vehicles built in Ukraine under licence, according to The Sunday Telegraph.
There is a race to put Britain “at the front of the queue”, a defence executive told the newspaper, with European defence companies also thought to be in discussions.
Experts said any agreement would have to be agreed by Mr Sunak. “This might be initially billed as commercial but it will need tacit political approval at least,” said Ed Arnold of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
Defence expert Francis Tusa said any agreement would only be done after the war with Russia ends – warning that weapons factories would be Kremlin targets.
“A tank factory isn’t small. And quite frankly, if I’m Putin, it’ll be one of the first places I take out,” said Mr Tusa.
It comes as sources claimed that Britain’s military forces are so “stretched” that there are fears they are not fit to take control of Nato’s rapid-reaction force from Germany at the end of 2023.
Nato has asked German government to remain in charge of the force – which leads the defence against Russia – for another year because Britain does not have the personnel required, according to German media reports.
Nato is concerned British forces won’t be able to take over command of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) by the deadline of January 2024, according to Table.Media.
Ministry of Defence sources backed the reports to the Mail on Sunday. “Our forces are also stretched because of the extent to which they are training Ukrainian forces,” they said.
Earlier this week Mr Sunak hinted that fighter jets could be supplied after Mr Zelensky called for “powerful English planes” during a surprise trip to the UK.
The Ukrainian leader said Mr Sunak had conveyed to him his “desire” to provide the aircraft. But No 10 played down the idea that the planes could be given soon, describing the idea as a “long-term” possibility.
The prime minister said that jets were “part of the conversation”, but added that training pilots takes many years, and that the deployment of some of the UK’s military aircraft is governed by treaties “with multiple other countries”.