Three British Sea King helicopters sent to Ukraine for first time

A Royal Navy Sea King Mk4 helicopter being used by British marines in drills in Norway - POA(PHOT)Merrill/MoD/Crown Copyright
A Royal Navy Sea King Mk4 helicopter being used by British marines in drills in Norway - POA(PHOT)Merrill/MoD/Crown Copyright

Britain has promised to send helicopters to Ukraine for the first time in a new £50 million support package, Ben Wallace has said.

Three Sea King helicopters, the first of which has already arrived in the war-torn country, will form part of the new military aid bundle, as well as 10,000 rounds of artillery ammunition.

The Defence Secretary said it was the first time the UK had offered piloted aircraft to Ukraine’s forces since the start of the war.

He announced the new package of military hardware ahead of a meeting of European defence ministers in Norway.

The Defence Secretary said the donations would help Ukraine defend the territories it has captured around Kherson in recent weeks.

“Our support for Ukraine is unwavering,” Mr Wallace said. “These additional artillery rounds will help Ukraine to secure the land it has reclaimed from Russia in recent weeks."

The shells come on top of a commitment by Britain to ship 1,000 surface-to-air missiles and 125 anti-aircraft guns to Ukraine to bolster its fight against the Russian invasion.

A Royal Navy Westland Sea King with camouflage livery - Andrew Harker / Alamy Stock Photo
A Royal Navy Westland Sea King with camouflage livery - Andrew Harker / Alamy Stock Photo

Britain’s military aid for Ukraine has lagged behind other Western nations when it comes to offering up piloted aircraft.

The United States has previously shipped 20 Mi-17 helicopters to Ukraine, while the likes of Latvia, Portugal, Croatia and the Czech Republic have made similar commitments in recent months.

But Western governments are still refusing to donate fighter jets to Kyiv amid fears they could be used to strike targets in Russia and further escalate the conflict.

Ukrainian pilots have received six weeks of training on the Westland WS-61 Sea King helicopters, which were retired by the Royal Navy in 2018.

The submarine-hunting aircraft can be used for search-and-rescue missions as well as reconnaissance.

In recent years many of the helicopters were sold off by the Ministry of Defence as they approached retirement age.

A refurbished Sea King, which are no longer manufactured, can fetch up to £5 million at current market prices.

Britain's armed forces used a number of versions of the Sea King helicopter.

The RAF provided round-the-clock search and rescue cover in the UK, Cyprus and the Falkland Islands, from 1986 until 2016, when the role was handed over to civilian contractor Bristow Helicopters.

The Prince of Wales has trained in a Sea King during a simulated rescue mission in 2011 - John Stillwell/PA
The Prince of Wales has trained in a Sea King during a simulated rescue mission in 2011 - John Stillwell/PA

The Duke of Cambridge served in the Search & Rescue force during his time in the RAF.

The Sea King was the ideal choice for such missions as the large blades and configuration of the aircraft meant it was a very stable platform to rescue people from the sea or from mountainsides where they would otherwise not be reached

The Royal Marines used Sea Kings around the world as part of the Commando Helicopter Force, including in Norway where the aircraft were painted in a striking black and white striped camouflage pattern.

Sea Kings were also used by the Royal Navy. The Mark 7 Sea King, in the Airborne Surveillance and Control role, was used to detect low-flying attack aircraft and provided intercept data and over-the-horizon targeting for surface-launched weapon systems.

Prince Andrew flew a Sea King during the Falklands War and the helicopter also saw action in the Gulf, Balkans and Iraq wars.

Britain has also vowed to provide Ukrainian troops with winter gear, including heavy duty sleeping bags and mats, as well as heated accommodation and cold-weather clothing.

Such donations are seen as vital for the country as winter approaches, with temperatures that can plummet as low as -20C in parts of the country.