Ukraine/fighter jets: wings for defence company stocks 

Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s tour of European capitals may bring Ukraine closer to acquiring fighter jets. That would provide wings for freedom — and a helpful updraft for defence companies. They are already benefiting from Ukraine-related orders: Saab, maker of the Gripen fighter jet, rose 10 per cent on accelerating sales guidance on Friday.

The Ukrainian president’s campaign to acquire jets faces a series of obstacles. He is still building the necessary western consensus. The US has so far said no to the transfer of widely used F-16s, built by Lockheed Martin. The Eurofighter Typhoon, which the UK is thinking about sending, has been developed by BAE in a consortium, so a nod from Italy, Spain and Germany is likely to be required.

Operational difficulties abound — from the training required, to the logistics necessary to run and maintain a fleet, right down to the local terrain. Typhoons are not designed to be operated from short or rough runways, as in Ukraine, according to think-tank Royal United Services Institute.

These difficulties may not be insurmountable. Political red lines on providing evermore sophisticated equipment to Ukraine have been prone to shifting. And it may be possible to operate craft under less than optimal conditions — or even send planes that are better suited to the purpose. Saab’s Gripen jets — especially 80 older ones held by Sweden, the Czech Republic and Hungary — have been touted as a cheaper and more agile option.

It is not yet clear whether Zelensky’s plea will succeed. If it does, it would provide further impetus to Europe’s rearmament supercycles. But not all the aircraft sent to Ukraine would need replacing with newer models. Some might be older planes, already slated for retirement. And jets are long lead items, taking several years from order to delivery.

The exercise would still feed into the modernisation of Europe’s fighter jet fleets. This is a long-term project. Sash Tusa of Agency partners estimates that European air forces will need to acquire up to 350 more combat aircraft over the coming decade, on top of existing orders. The likely cost is up to €50bn. Zelenskyy’s wings would accelerate this process.

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