‘Wings For Ukraine’: Kyiv Eyes Eurofighter Typhoons As UK Agrees To Train Its Fighter Pilots On RAF Jets

After Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s first visit to the United Kingdom and an emotionally charged address to the British Parliament, speculations are rife that the UK could transfer Eurofighter Typhoon Tranche 1 combat jets from its inventory to Kyiv.

The United Kingdom recently announced that the country was ready to train Ukrainian fighter pilots on Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter jets. Following the announcement, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called on his Defense Secretary Ben Wallace to examine which aircraft could be supplied to Kyiv.

Soon after the announcement by 10 Downing Street, military experts opined that it was highly likely that the RAF Eurofighter Typhoons would be used to train Ukrainian fighter pilots.

Currently, the RAF operates just two fighters – the Eurofighter Typhoon and the F-35 stealth aircraft.

With the latter being a fifth-generation aircraft and out of discussions surrounding Ukraine, the Eurofighters may emerge as an obvious choice for training fighter pilots flying archaic Soviet-era fighter jets.

However, the transfer of fighter jets did not seem imminent because Sunak stated that it was meant to be a “long-term solution rather than a short-term capability.” But even kickstarting discussions about delivering highly capable, Western-made aircraft might represent a turning point in the war against Russia.

After securing lethal aid like main battle tanks from NATO countries last month, Ukraine has stepped up its demand for western fighter jets to achieve air superiority. In an emotionally charged speech in the British Parliament, Zelenskyy urged the ministers to provide “wings for freedom.”

Further, these calls resonate with the former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who recently stated, “the faster we do it, the better.” Ukraine has intensified its lobbying with the United Kingdom, and all eyes are now on RAF’s Eurofighter Typhoons.

Aviation Journalist and regular military commentator Gareth Jennings wrote on Twitter: “Assuming this doesn’t mean buying from a third party for transfer to Ukraine, there is only one answer. Tranche 1 Eurofighters…” The UK is among several countries holding Typhoon stocks, alongside Germany, Italy, and Spain.

A military commentator Thomas C. Theiner also made a case for Tranche 1 Eurofighters and said that this aircraft was far superior to anything Ukraine has, with better avionics, better radar, better electronic countermeasures, etc.

Sunak’s office had dismissed the prospect of sending these fighters to Ukraine by arguing that they were “very complicated and take months to learn to fly.” However, with the British PM now softening to the idea, military experts believe the UK could pull out the older tranche 1 Eurofighters from its inventory.

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File Image: Eurofighter Typhoon

Earlier, Ukrainian officials spent weeks lobbying for the F-16 fighter jets. However, US officials and allies maintained that arming Ukraine with F-16 warplanes would not be feasible for two reasons: first, the Ukrainian pilots would have to undergo an extensive training program that would take months, and second, these jets could be shot down by Russian air defense.

Besides the F-16, the Saab Gripen jets were also projected as the “most suitable” option for Ukraine as it was produced in the 1980s to operate from remote locations with the least amount of infrastructure. However, the Nordic country poured cold water on the possibility of any such aid in December 2022.

Earlier last year, the United States House of Representatives approved $100 million for training Ukrainian pilots to fly American fighter jets as part of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.

Speculations were rife that the US would send its A-10 Warthogs to Kyiv, but even that never materialized, and Ukraine has since been left wanting.

Eurofighter Typhoons For Ukraine?

The Ukraine Air Force currently operates Su-24, Su-25, Su-27, and MiG-29 Soviet-era fighter jets that it inherited on the disintegration of the former Soviet Union.

Zelenskyy has long maintained that the country needed more advanced aircraft to battle it out with the cutting-edge fighters of the VKS.

With F-16s and JAS-39 Gripens out of the question for now, the British Eurofighter Typhoons Tranche 1 aircraft, which are soon to be pulled out of service, could be a possibility.

The British Defence Command Paper (DCP) said in 2021 that 30 Eurofighter Typhoon jets of the Tranche 1 variant will be axed from the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) fleet by 2025. This essentially means that the RAF could prematurely free some of these jets and redirect them to Ukraine.

However, the transfer of these jets may be more complex as the RAF has far fewer Tranche 1 Eurofighters now, and these aircraft have far fewer capabilities than the Tranche 2 and Tranche 3 variants of the Eurofighter Typhoons.

A senior research fellow for Airpower and Military Technology at the London-based think tank RUSI, Justin Bronks, explained that the transfer might even be impractical for a variety of reasons.

According to Bronks, the aircraft is not configured for low-altitude combat, but it would be required to fly close to the Ukrainian frontlines due to the threat posed by Russian Surface to air missiles.

Additionally, the Typhoon is unsuitable for employment from the scattered, somewhat short, and rugged airbases that the Ukrainian Air Force uses to evade Russian missile raids.

Besides, even a handful of Tranche 1s for Ukraine would use up lots of scarce spares, engineers, and airframes at a time when the fleet is already overstretched.

Rishi Sunak’s office is yet to decide on supplying a fighter jet to Ukraine, but his office said, “the training will ensure pilots can fly sophisticated NATO-standard fighter jets in the future.”

Some military experts have read this communication as a reference to a potential transfer of F-16 from NATO in the future. Bronks went so far as to say that the transfer would be purely symbolic unless it is used to train fighters that would later fly either the US F-16 or the Saab Gripen.