By Elizabeth Piper
PORTSMOUTH, England (Reuters) – British defence minister Ben Wallace said there was “no magic wand” that could help Ukraine in its fight against Russia, when asked on Thursday about the possibility of supplying British fighter jets to be used by Ukrainian forces.
Wallace did not rule out the possibility of sending jets but said fighter aircraft were not what Ukraine needed right now and that there were practical issues to consider, such as the many months it would take to train Ukrainian forces to use them.
“There is no magic wand in this horrendous conflict,” Wallace told reporters at Portsmouth in southern England, home to a naval base.
He was speaking at a news conference of British and Australian foreign and defence ministers following a meeting on trade and security.
After Ukraine last month secured a hard-won commitment from Western states to provide battle tanks, attention has now shifted to whether Britain, the United States and other allies will consider Kyiv’s requests for fighter aircraft.
The United States has ruled out sending jets.
Wallace’s reply was not as clear cut, but he said what Ukraine currently needed now was for ground forces to be strengthened, likening the Russian tactics to human wave attacks from World War I, when densely concentrated infantry overran defending forces.
“What the Ukrainians need is the ability to form military formations on the ground in order to use combined arms manoeuvre to push back Russian forces,” he said.
“Because that is how you defeat the human wave attacks that the Russians are currently having to resort to … they’re resorting to First World War-level type of attacks, with subsequent casualties to match.”
Earlier on Thursday, Sunak’s spokesman said the quickest a pilot could learn to fly a British fighter jet was 35 months.
“Even if tomorrow morning we announce that we were going to put them in fast jets, that would take months,” Wallace said.
On Wednesday, Wallace said Britain had not made a “solid decision” not to send its fighter jets to Ukraine but does not think it is the right approach at the moment.
(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Writing by Sachin Ravikumar; Editing by Andrew MacAskill and William James)