A UK plan to train Ukrainian pilots could impact the Royal Air Force’s ability to train its own recruits, the new RAF chief has said.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Knighton admitted that details of the Prime Minister’s announcement had yet to be finalised. Rishi Sunak – made when Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky flew to the UK on Monday – to begin basic flight training for Ukrainians this summer.
However, he told a committee of MPs on Wednesday that the new scheme would have no immediate effect on the flow of British recruits because of the number of RAF trainees already in the system.
UK military flight training is already plagued with problems, meaning students are forced to wait months, sometimes years, to go through the various stages of study, from basic flying to training on a specific aircraft such as a fast jet to reach the front line.
Questioned by the Defense Select Committee to obtain assurances that the Ukrainian training program wouldn’t impact the training of RAF pilots, Air Chief Marshal Knighton said: “We haven’t quite worked out with the Ukrainians yet exactly what it’s going to look like.
“Until we understand this, we absolutely cannot understand the impact this will have on our flight training system, as this will clearly require capacity.”
He continued: “But as Secretary of State [Ben Wallace] has repeatedly stated that our priority is to support our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, and so we will have to make judgments about the impact this might have.
“We have a number of people who have already qualified through the basic flight training system and are in that system, so certainly in the short term I don’t foresee that having an impact.”
Ukraine has asked the UK and other partners to supply it with Western military fast jets. But the UK has said it won’t at this time and promises training instead.
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The development came as the armed forces minister refused to rule out the possibility of further cuts to the armed forces as part of a ‘refresh’ of a plan for the size and shape of the army, the Royal Navy and the RAF.
James Heappey told The Take with Sophy Ridge, “I’m not ruling out cuts, I’m not ruling out increases.”
An updated version of the so-called Defense Command Document is expected to be released by the end of June. It is intended to define the future structure of the three services as well as the strategic command.
But with budgets still constrained, the armed forces are under pressure to find new savings to balance the books despite growing security threats, a war in Europe and an urgent need to rebuild military capabilities after decades of decline.