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Coinciding with a flying visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to meet UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at his official country residence, Chequers in Buckinghamshire, on the morning of 15 May 2023, the UK government announced “the further UK provision of hundreds of air defence missiles and further unmanned aerial systems including hundreds of new long-range attack drones with a range of over 200 km.

“These will all be delivered over the coming months as Ukraine prepares to intensify its resistance to the ongoing Russian invasion,” read a communiqué from the prime minister’s office.

While the provision of air defence missiles is likely to involve the Starstreak manportable air defence system already supplied to Ukraine, the mention of 200-km-range “long-range attack drones” does not match anything in the current UK armed forces inventory.

When ESD approached the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) for further details, an MoD spokesperson replied, “I’m afraid we’re not confirming anything further on the details beyond what’s already in the press release.”

The systems in question may well be loitering munitions (LMs) procured off the shelf from an ally. However, it is also possible that they are the result of an urgent operational requirement (UOR)-like UK development with provision to Ukraine specifically in mind.

UK defence research and development house QinetiQ, for example, is known to have been working on “a unique 3D-printed delta-wing ‘suicide’ drone” among various crash programmes designed to be ready in months rather than years for use by Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in discussion with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and UK government officials at Chequers on 15 May (Photo: R Sunak/Twitter)

The latest-announced UK munitions package for Ukraine follows UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announcing on 11 May that the UK would provide Ukraine with Storm Shadow air-launched deep strike cruise missiles. These weapons, which have a range in excess of 250 km, are likely to have been integrated onto the MiG-29s being donated to Ukraine by Poland and Slovakia. The UK is therefore at the forefront of providing Ukraine with long-range weapons that can reach behind the Russian front lines.

Prior to sweeping in and out of Chequers in a Royal Air Force Chinook helicopter, President Zelensky had visited President Emmanuel Jean-Michel Frédéric Macron in France on 14 May, where Macron pledged that France “will train and equip several battalions with dozens of armoured vehicles and light tanks, including AMX-10 RCs”.  

Previous French-supplied AMX-10 RC light tanks have already been deployed in Ukraine. 

On 13 May, ahead of a visit by Zelensky to Berlin, the German MoD announced further arms deliveries to Ukraine worth EUR 2.7 Bn: its biggest package yet. According to the MoD, the package includes 20 more Marder infantry fighting vehicles, 30 Leopard 1 main battle tanks, four IRIS-T air defence systems, 15 Gepard anti-aircraft tanks, 200 reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles, anti-aircraft ammunition, additional artillery ammunition and more than 200 armoured combat and logistics vehicles.

Peter Felstead