LONDON - British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Thursday said “months if not years” of training would be required if fighter jets are sent to Ukraine.
In a pre-recorded television interview to mark his first 100 days in office, he said he is looking for the most effective way of helping Kyiv secure victory.
Mr Sunak told TalkTV’s Piers Morgan Uncensored that Britain is “always talking to the Ukrainians about the right support they need”.
“The issue is, what is the support that we can provide that we think will make the most difference?... That’s why the decision I took as Prime Minister was to be one of the first countries in the world to provide heavy tanks to Ukraine... We were then followed by other countries.”
Fighter jets, he said, are “incredibly sophisticated pieces of equipment that require months if not years for people to be trained on”.
“Our desire and goal is for Ukraine to win this conflict... So, it’s not just the equipment, it’s also the capabilities and training that come alongside that, together with a plan with our allies that would ensure that they can be victorious.”
No ‘magic wand’
Earlier on Thursday, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace cautioned that supplying Ukraine with fighter jets would not be a “magic wand” in the war. He told journalists: “On the process of jets, I’ve been pretty clear. One thing I’ve learnt over the last year is don’t rule anything in, don’t rule anything out.”
Kyiv has requested American-made F-16 warplanes to help repel the Russian invasion. The United States has ruled out any deliveries of F-16s to Ukraine for now, but other partners including Poland have shown themselves more open to the idea.
“I’m very open to examining all sorts of systems, and not just jets, to give Ukraine that assistance,” said Mr Wallace.
The minister said “these things don’t always happen overnight. But I can say, we’re not putting the Ukrainians at risk”. His comments came after Downing Street had appeared to rule out sending its combat planes on Tuesday.
“The UK’s Typhoon and F-35 fighter jets are extremely sophisticated and take months to learn how to fly,” said the Prime Minister’s official spokesman. “Given that, we believe it is not practical to send those jets into Ukraine.”
Britain’s government said in January it was aiming to send tanks to Ukraine at the end of March, after becoming the first Western ally to promise heavy assault vehicles, with a plan to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks.
Mr Wallace said Kyiv’s immediate need is for weaponry to allow military formations on the ground to push back Russian troops, and it is “easy to get carried away”. Supplying fighter jets would not be an overnight game changer due to the need for complex training, he added.
“You know, even if tomorrow morning we announce we were going to put them in fast jets, that would take months,” he said, as Ukrainians would face “suddenly having to learn to pilot” them.
“So there is no magic wand in this horrendous conflict,” said Mr Wallace, speaking at a press conference in Portsmouth in southern England with his Australian counterpart Richard Marles. AFP