The West is inching forward with providing Ukraine significant air power, at a moment President Zelensky continues pressing for NATO countries to “close the sky”. UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has announced Britain will for the first time send helicopters to Ukraine’s forces.
While Britain has already sent drones, this marks the first piloted aircraft being provided since the Russian invasion began. The new transfer is to include three Sea King helicopters, which were recently retired from active service by the UK MoD, along with an additional 10,000 artillery rounds.
One helicopter has reportedly arrived in the country, and will be used in search of rescue operations. “In the last six weeks, Ukrainian crews were trained in the United Kingdom to fly and maintain the aircraft to provide search-and-rescue capabilities,” according to international reports based on Wallace’s press briefing.
“Our support for Ukraine is unwavering. These additional artillery rounds will help Ukraine to secure the land it has reclaimed from Russia in recent weeks,” Wallace said while on a visit to Norway.
Britain’s Defense Ministry has recently said it believes Russia’s military is likely close to exhausting its Iranian-supplied suicide drones which have for months wreaked havoc on Ukrainian cities and particularly its national energy infrastructure.
Days ago, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled a new £50 million ($59 million) package of defense aid which features anti-air guns and munitions, especially to combat Russian drones.
Wallace is currently hosting meetings of the defense allies known as Northern Group aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier:
The 12-strong Northern Group is a U.K. initiative aimed at promoting defense and security cooperation in northern Europe.
Other members are Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Sweden.
UK political leaders are hailing the helicopters an an important first step in bolstering Ukraine’s aerial capabilities…
🚁 We’re sending helicopters to Ukraine for the first time.
Three Sea King Helicopters- once used by the British Military- as well as 10,000 artillery rounds and winter kit, will help Ukraine in their fight against Russia’s illegal invasion.
— Conservatives (@Conservatives) November 23, 2022
While three search and rescue helicopters isn’t hugely significant, it does mark a symbolic precedent which could pave the way for the West providing more serious and lethal aerial assets. Kiev has long pressed for fighter jets, however, Europe and the US has responded with silence.