UK delivery of fighter jets for Ukraine likely years away, says defence secretary

Mick Krever in London

The delivery of British fighter jets for Ukraine is likely to be years away, the UK defence secretary said Wednesday, reiterating that its decision to train Ukrainian pilots is aimed at “long-term resilience,” rather than the current Russian invasion.

“When it comes to fighter jets, I don’t think it’s going to be in the next few months, or even years, that we are going to necessarily hand over fighter jets,” Ben Wallace told BBC television.

“You just can’t learn to fly in a week or two. It will take a long time. But also they come with effectively a pit crew, like a Formula One team. You come with hundreds of engineers and pilots. And that’s not something you can just generate in a few months. And we’re not going to deploy two hundred RAF personnel into Ukraine in the time of a war.”

The UK government said last week during a visit by President Volodymyr Zelensky that it will begin training Ukrainian pilots on NATO-standard fighter jets. “The training will ensure pilots are able to fly sophisticated NATO-standard fighter jets in the future,” a statement from Downing Street read.

Wallace said that the British decision to begin training Ukrainian pilots was about the long-term.

“We have to plan not only for the fight at the moment, where we help Ukraine through seeing off Russia’s illegal invasion, but we have to help Ukraine with its long-term resilience, in making sure that after this conflict, or this war, Ukraine is able to defend itself for the long run.”

Some background: Zelensky lobbied strongly last week for allies to send modern fighter jets to Ukraine. On Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said a decision by NATO allies on whether to send fighter jets to Ukraine is “not the most urgent issue” right now.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels before a meeting of NATO defense ministers, Stoltenberg said: “The urgent need now is to deliver what has always been promised. To deliver the armored vehicles, the infantry fighting vehicles, the German martyrs, the US Bradleys and of course also the main battle tanks, the Leopards and the other battle tanks that have been pledged.”

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