05 Apr 22. Amid the many issues, tensions and higher levels of threat that the UK military is currently facing as it does its best to support Ukraine conflict by supplying equipment that can be used by them against their Russian invaders was news last week that yet another important Royal Air Force Squadron has been stood down.
Based until last week at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire, the disbanding of 100 Squadron and withdrawal of the majority of its Hawk T1 aircraft will leave the 28 Hawk T2 jets plus a few retained T1’s based at RAF Valley as the only military fast jet capability for students to train on outside of the highly invested dedicated simulator based training done at RAF Valley.
100 Squadron and its T1 Hawks had moved to RAF Leeming in 1995. 100 Squadron’s primary role has been in supporting ‘aggressor training’ which is essentially about simulating enemy forces and providing essential training to the RAF front-line units.
In addition, 100 Squadron has often been engaged in carrying out close air support training of British Army units. Concurrent with the standing down of 100 Squadron the Royal Navy also stood down 736 Naval Air Squadron which, since 2013 has performed a similar role for the Royal Navy including training of ships’ companies against incoming aircraft or to simulate missile attack as well as training Royal Navy Flight Controllers. Other roles I understand have included airborne surveillance and control crews and aiding radar development. These roles, along with so many others in the modern-day RAF and Royal Navy are being contractor outsourced.
No one is about to deny that the RAF Hawk T1 fleet of aircraft are overdue replacement and that the issue could no longer be swept under the carpet. The RAF and Royal Navy T1 Hawk aircraft have given outstanding service and the export success achieved by the Hawk T1 has been simply amazing, but of course, these aircraft will not be replaced and while a few are being retained in order to support and be swapped with the small fleet of Hawk T1’s that serve the RAF Red Arrows, it isn’t hard to imagine what the powers that be might well do when it really is time for the ‘Red’ T1 Hawks to be stood down as well.
Please don’t get me wrong. I have since its inception engaged with the highly invested synthetic based simulation training activities that are now all based at RAF Valley. I do believe that synthetic based training has proved without any doubt that it has the ability to do so much more and a faster speed and lower cost than the hitherto base of 100% actual training. But like all things in life, there has to be a balance. With only 28 Hawk T2’s and understandably, not all aircraft available all the time, my concern is that increasingly in the air domain, we have nothing left in reserve.
On the good news front, separately last week it was announced that the UK MOD was investing a total £695m over the next 11 years to provide in-service support the RAF fleet of 28 Hawk T2 training aircraft and to maintain an undisclosed number of existing Hawk T1 aircraft flown by the RAF Red Arrows and that may be required as spares.
The Hawk T2 jets are, as implied earlier, vital training assets required in the process of training fast jet training of trainee RAF pilots and, based at RAF Valley, these assets are an integral part of the UK Military Flying Training System – UK MFTS (a partnership between Lockheed Martin and Babcock International).
The Hawk Integrated Support Solution comprises of two separate contracts placed by the Ministry of Defence’s procurement arm Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S). These contracts will provide support for Hawk T2 aircraft, and the T1 Hawks used by the RAF’s Aerobatics Team, the Red Arrows.
The Hawk contract with BAE Systems (BAES), valued at £590 million, will cover all Hawk T2 airframe support elements. This work will ensure the Hawk aircraft continue as global ambassadors for the UK. In addition, a separate £105 million contract for engine support has been placed with Rolls-Royce.
The new contract will initially secure more than 500 highly skilled jobs working for BAES and its maintenance partner Babcock International. These are mainly based at RAF Valley, with a small number of BAES support roles located at their other UK sites.
Asked by Mark Francois, MP for Rayleigh and Wickford a few weeks ago in a written parliamentary question “what plans he has to replace the Hawk T2 aircraft in RAF service, and what was the planned out of service date for these aircraft, Jeremy Quin, Minister of State for Defence responded:
“The planned out of service date for the Hawk T2 aircraft is 2040 and there are no plans required yet for its replacement.”
Given other things that I hear such as the MFTS facilities being prevented from bringing in well-proven additional state of the art training aides that can further benefit pilot training and retention (note here that sorting out pilot training was very clearly stated to the current Chief of the Air Staff when he assumed the role as being of the absolute highest priority to resolve) I am not filled with much confidence as I see more crucial training assets being scrapped.
CHW (London – 5th April 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785