The UK could send a small quantity of Tranche 1 Eurofighter Typhoon fighters to a third-party NATO country, in turn freeing Russian-design platforms such as the MiG-29 still in service to be granted as aid to Ukraine.
Air power has become the latest high-profile requirement being sought by authorities in Kyiv, with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky calling for “powerful English jets” in a landmark speech to UK lawmakers at the Houses of Parliament recently. Presenting a gift of the flight helmet of a Ukrainian fighter ace, Zelensky called for fast jet provision in what has been dubbed the “wings for freedom” speech.
To this end, debate since has centred on whether the UK could accommodate such a request, given the complexity of integrating and operating such platforms during wartime. The UK operates the Tranche 1 Eurofighter Typhoon as its Quick Reaction Alert platform, effectively responsible for air defence of the country.
It is understood that around 30 Tranche 1 fighters are left in the UK inventory, with 12 of these currently stored in reserve.
Giving evidence to the UK House of Commons Defence Committee on 7 March, UK Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said that the UK could “absolutely” provide a quantity of Tranche 1 Typhoons to a third country, which in turn could enable the recipient to donate MiG-29 or other aircraft already operated or understood by Ukraine.
However, the provision of Tranche 1 Typhoon to Ukraine in the near term was unlikely, officials told the Committee, due to the complex nature of the platforms and the significant logistical train that would be required to operate the aircraft.
NATO member states Poland, Bulgaria, and Slovakia all operate the MiG-29 fighter, which is also used by Ukraine. The Slovak Defence Minister Jaroslav on 9 March said that the country could supply its fighters to Kyiv.
For its part, Poland has been looking to provide some type of air dominance platform to Ukraine, mindful that it is in effect NATO’s frontline to the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war, which has seen the return to large-scale conventional conflict return to the European continent.
The UK also recently agreed to begin training Ukrainian pilots to NATO standards, with a view towards potential providing Typhoons to Kyiv at a later date, potentially after the cessation of the war.
The Tranche 1 Eurofighters are limited to air defence operators only due to software and hardware limitations, rather than the multi-role Tranche 2 also operated by the Royal Air Force, and as such would be unable to conduct ground-attack operations against Russian forces. The entire fleet of Tranche 1 fighters are scheduled to be retired from UK service in 2025.