Senior military and security figures have raised doubts about the likelihood that British fighter jets will be send to Ukraine, despite Rishi Sunak saying nothing was “off the table”.
The prime minister said fighter jets were now “part of the conversation” after Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky asked for “powerful English planes” during his historic visit to the UK.
But the idea has been met with scepticism. Former national security adviser Peter Ricketts said “it’s not going to work” because the RAF jets need “very specialized ground crews”.
Speaking about Typhoon planes He told ITV’s Peston: “You can’t just hand over the keys to an experienced pilot and they can fly the plane away.”
Asked about a realistic timeframe if Mr Sunak wanted to send planes, Lord Ricketts said it would “at least a year” – before suggesting US F16 fighter planes would be a “better bet” because there are lots of them available in Europe.
Former Nato Secretary George Robertson told LBC that a UK jet delivery looked “very unlikely”, suggesting it would be better to focus on “replenishing what we’ve sent to Ukraine”.
Former head of the Army Lord Dannatt also raised doubts about how much the UK could provide, though he said it was possible to send RAF Typhoons.
“I am interested to see what the Ministry of Defence can offer. I mean, we don’t have a huge stock of modern fast jets to spare,” Lord Dannett told the i newspaper.
“I don’t think there’s any question on giving them F-35s from carriers. Our Tornados are coming out of service. So, that just leaves Typhoons, which will take weeks going into months to train Ukrainian pilots in.”
Former Army commander Colonel Tim Collins added: “These are very complicated machines that need a lot of logistics and a lot of sustainability – a lot of training. So, I’m not sure we’d be doing Ukraine a favour in the short term by saying we’ll supply them.”
Air Marshal Edward Stringer, the ex-Director General at UK’s Strategic Command, said providing jets would take lots of support maintenance crew, radar and control platforms.
“Getting to the point where Ukraine’s air force can do what Nato has taken decades to be able to do can’t be done in an afternoon,” he added.
Downing Street confirmed that Mr Sunak had asked defence secretary Ben Wallace to investigate what jets the UK could potentially give to Ukraine in its struggle against invading Russian forces.
But No 10 has also played down the idea that the planes could be given anytime soon – describing the idea as a “long-term” possibility. The UK has agreed to start training Ukrainian air force pilots.
But both Mr Sunak and Mr Zelensky both appeared to suggest that the training of pilots was not the only hurdle to supplying Kyiv with planes.
Mr Zelensky said that, when it came to being supplied with Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter planes, “not everything depends just on the decision of Great Britain”.
His comment followed a hint from Mr Sunak that international allies involved in producing the planes would need to have a say, as he met with French president Emmanuel Marcon and German chancellor Olaf Scholz in Paris last night.
But the Ukrainian president also expressed his impatience at the idea of a long delay in his press conference with Mr Sunak – saying: “Come on, we will be sending you pilots who’ve already trained for two and a half years.”
Boris Johnson, who was prime minister at the outbreak of the conflict and a close ally of Mr Zelensky, urged the UK to give Ukraine the “tools to finish the job” of defeating the Kremlin’s troops. “The faster we do it, the bigger the saving in life.”
Volodymyr Zelensky is continue to tour Europe after calling for fighter jets in the UK to help his country’s struggle against Russia’s invasion.
The Ukrainian President will join an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday to continue his push for more advanced weapons.