Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, has made a plea the UK and other Western allies to provide “wings for freedom” by supplying his air force with fighter jets.
The appeal came during his visit to the UK on Wednesday – his first since Russia invaded Ukraine almost a year ago.
Mr Zelensky used an address to Parliament to thank the UK for its steadfast support in the war.
However, as he presented a Ukrainian fighter ace’s helmet to Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, he said more planes were needed to defeat Vladimir Putin’s forces.
“I appeal to you and the world with simple and yet most important words: combat aircraft for Ukraine, wings for freedom,” he said.
“In Britain, the King is an air force pilot, and in Ukraine today, every air force pilot is a king.”
He added that on his last trip to Parliament two years ago, in peacetime, “I thanked you for delicious English tea”, but now he would be “thanking all of you in advance for powerful English planes”.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) uses two main types of fighter jets – the British-made Eurofighter Typhoon and American-made Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning.
It has 130 Typhoons, 101 of which are in service, and 30 F-35Bs, all but one of which are in service. This means the RAF has a total of 130 active fighter jets.
The UK ordered 48 F-35Bs from the US last year, seven of which have arrived. One of the planes was lost in an accident.
When the remaining 40 arrive, the UK will have 70 F-35Bs, and has plans to acquire more.
A defence command paper titled “Defence in a Competitive Age” states: “The Royal Air Force will continue to grow its combat air capacity over the next few years as we fully establish all seven operational Typhoon squadrons and grow the Lightning II force, increasing the fleet size beyond the 48 aircraft that we have already ordered.
“Together they will provide a formidable capability, which will be continually upgraded to meet the threat, exploit multi domain integration and expand utility.”
Rishi Sunak has asked the Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, to investigate which jets the UK could potentially give to Ukraine, Downing Street has said.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “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.”
On Wednesday, Mr Sunak pledged that UK forces will train Ukrainian fighter pilots and marines.
He said: “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.
“It also underlines our commitment to not just provide military equipment for the short term, but a long-term pledge to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine for years to come.”
Former prime minister Boris Johnson backed Mr Zelensky’s call for the UK to send more equipment – including jets – to Ukraine.
“We have more than 100 Typhoon jets. We have more than 100 Challenger 2 tanks,” he said.
“The best single use for any of these items is to deploy them now for the protection of the Ukrainians – not least because that is how we guarantee our own long-term security.”2023-02-08T17:06:33Z dg43tfdfdgfd