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24 Feb, 2023 15:31

US and UK stall on jets for Ukraine

Washington and London both consider warplanes a longer-term defense strategy for Kiev
US and UK stall on jets for Ukraine

Neither the US nor the UK will give Ukraine fighter jets in the near term, officials from both countries have said. Kiev has demanded that NATO countries hand over their warplanes, but the Western bloc has sent mixed signals thus far.

Speaking to CNN on Thursday, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that combat aircraft “are not the key capability” the Ukrainian military needs at the moment. 

“F-16s are not a question for the short-term fight,” he elaborated. “F-16s are a question for the long-term defense of Ukraine and that’s a conversation that [US] President Biden and [Ukrainian] President Zelensky had.”

Biden met with Zelensky in Kiev on Monday, where the Ukrainian president reportedly asked his American counterpart to transfer F-16 fighter jets to his forces. Biden had previously rejected Zelensky’s pleas for the American-made fighters, simply telling reporters “no” when asked about the possibility in January.

Zelensky and his officials have demanded combat aircraft from multiple countries, including the UK. While former Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have urged the government to donate a fleet of Eurofighter Typhoon fighters, Defense Minister Ben Wallace said on Friday that “we’re not going to send our own Typhoon jets in the short term to Ukraine.”

“Gifting a fighter jet comes with hundreds of people: engineers, pilots, training, electronic warfare,” he told Sky News on Friday. “The West is not going to be putting troops into Ukraine on those scales. The idea that we would put Typhoons in – we would have to send 200 [Royal Air Force] people and we’re not going to do that … at this current stage.”

Sunak said earlier this month that the UK will train Ukrainian fighter pilots, and Wallace said on Friday that London is prepared to supply Typhoon jets to Eastern European countries who send their own Soviet-era planes to Kiev.

Across the rest of the NATO bloc, national leaders have been more elusive on the potential supply of warplanes. The leaders of France and the Netherlands have both declared that the idea is being considered, while Italy was reportedly nearing a deal involving the transfer of five aging ground attack and fighter planes, before Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni ruled the possibility out on Tuesday. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has repeatedly shot down Ukraine’s requests for jets, and urged his allies last month against “entering into a constant competition to outbid each other when it comes to weapons systems.” However, Berlin initially refused to provide Ukraine with tanks, before succumbing to a pressure campaign led by Kiev and its most committed supporters in Eastern Europe.