Britain investigates what fighter jets it could send to Ukraine after Zelensky plea

Ukrainian president urges UK to provide warplanes in impassioned speech to MPs at Westminster


Rishi Sunak has ordered the ministry of defence to “investigate” what fighter jets Britain may be able to send to Ukraine.

“The Prime Minister has tasked the Defence Secretary with investigating what jets we might be able to give but, to be clear, this is a long-term solution rather than a short-term capability, which is what Ukraine needs most now,” said a Number 10 spokesman.

It comes after Volodymyr Zelensky urged Britain to provide Ukraine with fighter jets in an impassioned speech to MPs in Westminster.

On a surprise visit to London, the Ukrainian president told MPs: “Thank you in advance for all your British planes,” implying that he expects London to sign off on exports in future.

On Wednesday afternoon, Downing Street said Britain would be starting to train Ukrainian fighter pilots “as soon as possible”.

The spokesman added: “We think this is right to provide both short-term equipment like Challenger tanks, additional guns, longer-range capabilities that can help win the war now, but also look to the medium to long term to ensure Ukraine has every possible capability it requires.”

Mr Zelensky also paid tribute to King Charles, noting his RAF background and saying: “The King was an Air Force pilot, and in Ukraine every air force pilot is a king.”

In a warm gesture, he handed Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, a helmet used by one of Ukraine’s fighter pilots. On it was written: “Combat aircraft for Ukraine, wings for freedom.”

Mr Zelensky said the helmet was used by “one of our most successful aces and one of our kings”, adding: “We have freedom. Give us wings to protect it.” He said he wanted a coalition of nations to supply planes. 

He also thanked Britain for “marching with” Ukraine towards “the most important victory of our lifetime” and singled Boris Johnson out for praise, saying: “London has stood with Kyiv since day one, from the first seconds and minutes of the full-scale war.

“Great Britain, you extended your helping hand when the world had not yet come to understand how to react. Boris, you got others united when it seemed absolutely impossible. Thank you.”

Rishi Sunak welcomes Volodymyr Zelensky
Rishi Sunak welcomes Volodymyr Zelensky to London on Wednesday morningCREDIT: Ukrainian presidential press service/AFP

Earlier in the day, Britain opened the door to the Westsending Ukraine fighter jets with a pledge to train pilots on “Nato-standard” aircraft.

Mr Sunak said ahead of Mr Zelensky’s visit: “Since 2014, the UK has provided vital training to Ukrainian forces, allowing them to defend their country, protect their sovereignty and fight for their territory.

“I am proud that today we will expand that training from soldiers to marines and fighter jet pilots, ensuring Ukraine has a military able to defend its interests well into the future.”

A Number 10 spokesman said the training would be on “Nato-standard” aircraft. 

Last month, the Prime Minister appeared to rule out Britain sending fighter jets to Ukraine. His spokesman said it was not “practical” to supply aircraft such as the Typhoon and F-35 because training would take around 35 months.

Analysts said it was not clear whether Mr Sunak intended to send Ukraine Western-standard jets from Britain’s own arsenal or is planning to use its simulators to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s. 

Efforts to train Ukrainian pilots on Nato-standard fighter jets would be likely to focus on simulation to bring them up to scratch with tactics and cockpit procedures, according to military aviation experts.

Justin Bronk, a researcher in airpower at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said the training would “speed up later conversion to F-16, Gripen, and add tactical value with current types”.

He added that the training “doesn’t mean training on Typhoon, or that the UK will soon supply jets”.

Greg Bagwell, a retired RAF commander, said: “The UK has synthetic training facilities, which can be used to train on modern tactics and weapon employment.

“Learning to fly an aircraft is a relatively simple transition. Learning how to use the systems to maximum effect is the key part and transferable to most modern types.”

Britain is also set to pledge weapons with “longer-range capabilities”, which Ukraine has said it desperately needs to target Russia’s fragile supply chains, including ammunition depots, warehouses and other infrastructure critical to supporting its invasion.

Volodymyr Zelensky delivers his address at Westminster Hall
Volodymyr Zelensky delivers his address at Westminster Hall CREDIT: Stefan Rousseau/Getty Images

The “long-range capabilities” could refer to the Storm Shadow cruise missile, which is launched from warplanes and is designed to be hard to spot on radar, making it difficult to shoot down. It also carries a 450kg warhead, twice the size of the one on a US ATACMS ballistic missile.

Storm Shadow missiles have a range of approximately 200 miles and their intended targets include command posts, ammunition depots and bridges.

As well as offers of further weaponry, Britain will pledge to double its training mission for Ukrainian troops. In the past six months, the UK has brought around 10,000 Ukrainian troops to battle readiness alongside other allies. 

Mr Sunak will tell Mr Zelensky that Britain is ready to train as many as 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers this year.


  1. “The King was an Air Force pilot, and in Ukraine every air force pilot is a king.”
    That was a superbly crafted piece of writing. I’m sure it will achieve the desired result.

  2. Fighter jets are nice to have, but this takes a long time to realize. Such measures should’ve been started months ago already. But, better late than never.
    Until then, please send Storm Shadows! Plenty!

  3. Sounds good to a bert.
    why doesn’t they mention the Tornado’s?

    I do think F-16’s are most suitable, but if the other countries are dragging their feet Tornado’s are a great alternative.

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