‘Jet Coalition’: Ukraine and Britain Announce Joint Effort to Get Ukraine Western Fighters

Zelensky F16
Getty Images / Collage

Kyiv appears to have dropped its campaign to get British fighter jets flying over Ukraine, instead taking the UK’s assistance in getting the more common, U.S.-made F16 Falcon instead.

Volodymyr Zelensky made a ‘surprise’ visit to the United Kingdom on Monday morning, meeting with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for what the Ukrainian leader said would be “substantive negotiations”.

Zelensky praised the UK for being a “leader when it comes to expanding our capabilities on the ground and in the air”, foreshadowing what he presumably hoped would be the direction of development: despite travelling European capitals asking for Western jet fighters this week, Zelensky has yet to get that sort of donations yet. Ukraine has recently spoken of wanting to get 200 F-16s, to build five new squadrons.

On his last visit to the United Kingdom, President Zelensky thanked the country “in advance” for the British jet fighters he presumed were going to be handed over, going so far as to present the helmet of a Ukrainian fighter pilot to the Speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, after addressing the Parliament.

Yet hope for those British jets seems to have died — not least because the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force doesn’t have jets to spare — with Ukraine and the UK apparently agreeing to work together from now on to persuade other Western nations to hand over their F16s to help defend against the Russian invasion.

The United Kingdom’s position in this ‘jet coalition’ is twofold, it appears today, with assistance being given to onboard F-16-owning nations on one hand, and providing Ukrainian pilots with flight training on the other hand. How far that training could go, given the United Kingdom does not officially have any F-16s to train with, has not yet been publicly discussed.

Mr Sunak said today that the training aspect would cover “training Ukrainian citizens to become absolutely combat-ready aircraft pilots”, suggesting it may be raw recruits learning the trade, before going elsewhere to become airframe specialised on F-16s.

Further he said of this jet coalition, per The Times, that this training would commence “actually relatively soon” and that: “Other countries are involved. I’m talking to those leaders, I’ll be doing more of that this week in my international engagements. We’re very keen to build that coalition of countries to give Volodymyr and his people the aircraft support they need.”

Zelensky said of the plan: “Today we spoke about the jets, a very important topic for us because we can’t control the sky… We want to create this jet coalition and I’m very positive with it. We spoke about it and I see that in the closest time you will hear some, I think, very important decisions. But we have to work a little bit more on it.”

In terms of work left to do, the greatest roadblock facing this new jet coalition is the United States, which has so far sending American-made jets to Ukraine and without whose support, it is difficult to imagine anyone could donate.

While any pressure the United Kingdom could bring to bear on this subject would likely come in private, the British Foreign Minister James Cleverly made rare remarks on the subject at a question-and-answer with the Atlantic Council in Washington D.C. last week, when he was asked about Ukraine’s demands for F-16 jet fighters. While the minister didn’t mention the fighters by name in his response, Mr Cleverly did say “if we’re saving stuff up for a rainy day, this is the rainy day” and that the United Kingdom’s position is to give Ukraine “the tools they need to get the job done, and give them those tools in the here and now.”

Leaning into the point on how, it seemed — and has been interpreted by some — that the United Kingdom isn’t in a position to give F-16s to Ukraine and that would have to come from others, Cleverly said: “That’s why the UK has been very active in our support, very vocal in saying this support needs to come from allies as quickly as possible.”

The U.S., for their part, have ruled out F-16s: President Biden recently said of the idea of sending jets to Ukraine: “no”. The reluctance is understood to be over the potential for escalation, and that U.S.-made jets could be used to attack Russia itself: certainly, some Ukrainian figures have spoken of a counter-invasion of Russia in revenge of late, although to what degree this is wartime propaganda and bravado or actual intent is hard to gauge.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.