Observing reports in German newspapers yesterday stating that only four Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft from a total of 128 operated by the Luftwaffe are deemed to be combat available requires that I put the record straight.
The bottom line is that problems now being suffered by the German Defence Ministry (Bundeswehr) on its Eurofighter Typhoon fleet are entirely self-inflicted, the result of incompetence on the part of the German Government and a dangerous and heavy handed manner that the Bundeswehr is forcing through spending cuts.
The story of the Luftwaffe Eurofighter Typhoon fleet problems begins many years ago back during the development phase of the programme when Germany decided that in relation to DASS (Defensive Aids Sub-System) it would break away from the rest of the NETMA (NATO Eurofighter and Tornado Management Agency) consortium arrangement in order to fund development of a domestically designed DASS system developed by what was then Daimler Aerospace (DASA) and that is today part of Airbus.
Eventually Germany re-entered the NETMA DASS fold but not before the damage was done. Years later in an attempt to reduce the high cost of keeping its own designed system in service, the Luftwaffe decided to reduce the number of DASS pods it would hold by opting for a “just-in-time” ordering process. The rest is as they say, history.
So why have the original designed DASS pods been failing on Germany’s Eurofighter Typhoons? The reason can be put down to coolant leaks and the problem has been compounded by the fact that the original supplier for the part needed to repair the leaks is no longer in business.
More importantly is that while the rest of Eurofighter Typhoon fleet users chose to upgrade their DASS systems to what is known as the Praetorian DASS system built by Leonardo, Germany did not. Being left without a supplier for spare parts of its problematical DAS system and with no current plans in sight to upgrade existing Eurofighter defensive aids systems explains why most of the Luftwaffe Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft will remain grounded until either a new supplier can be found to supply new parts to the original DASS system or they take the sensible option and decide to upgrade to the Leonardo system.
Lack of spare parts due to heavy handed defence cuts have caused problems on other front line fast jet capability as well. Panavia Tornado are being grounded for ridiculously long periods awaiting spares because not enough of these were ever ordered. Equipment flaws that have not affected UK or Italian air force Panavia Tornado aircraft capability have included shortcomings in outdated electronic equipment, a lack of proper communication encryption, absence of NATO-compatible friend-or-foe detection systems and the inability to fly operational missions at night because the cockpit lights are too bright for pilots using night vision gear.
For the record amongst other problems that have hit the Bundeswehr this year include the German Navy refusing delivery of the first of a new class of frigate after the ship failed sea trials made worse by only five of the Navy’s existing 13 frigates were capable of being deployed.
In addition, at one point last year all six of the German Navy fleet of nuclear powered submarines were out of commission awaiting spares and I believe that most still are today.
Separately, the German Army failed to have sufficient numbers of tanks and armoured personnel carriers let alone enough soldiers to fulfill its NATO Very High Readiness Task Force commitment. Recent press reports have suggested that while 105 from a total number of 244 Leopard 2 tanks termed ready for use by the Army only nine could be fully armed for the VHRF. Similarly, only 12 from a total of 62 Tiger Attack Helicopters together with 16 from a total of 72 of Germany’s CH-53 Cargo Helicopters were available for exercises and operations last year.
Further RAF Base Closures Announced By MOD
Apart from the runway which was resurfaced only in 2013, I suspect that with much of the remaining infrastructure at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire long overdue investment, the announcement yesterday that RAF Scampton is soon to be closed and sold will have come as little surprise.
The spiritual home of 617 ‘Dambusters’ Squadron, and currently home base of the RAF Red Arrows aerobatic team together with the Mobile Meteorological Unit and No 1 Air Control Centre, closure of RAF Scampton will come as a huge disappointment to the six-hundred personnel who work on the base just as it also will to many aviation historians and personnel that served there and who recall member the vital role that the base played during the second world war. But, in an age where pressure to do more with less is a prerequisite and with pressure to reduce costs of paramount importance if new capability is to be acquired and large investment in existing bases such as RAF Marham, RAF Valley and RAF Lossiemouth is to continue, something has to give meaning that the Royal Air Force has no choice but to further reduce the number of bases it has. Closure of RAF Scampton is likely to occur within two years and the base sold off by 2022 at the latest.
The Scampton closure decision will also mean that the RAF Red Arrows aerobatic team will be moved from the base, the choice will most likely be between RAF Wittering and RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire although one could not completely rule out the possibility of RAF Cranwell.
Separately the MOD also announced yesterday that following the planned move of 72 Squadron to RAF Valley next year, the Royal Air Force will withdraw from RAF Linton-on-Ouse, a base that is also in North Yorkshire by 2020. However, one notes that in this case, the MOD statement avoids the suggestion of the base being sold.
Despite hoping that this day would never come suffice to say that the impending closure of RAF Linton-on-Ouse (Station Commander, Group Captain Keith Taylor, himself a former OC 617 Squadron) has been an open secret for several years. Currently one of the busiest RAF airfields in the country, training for another year fast jet pilots on Short Tucano aircraft for the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, Foreign & Commonwealth students plus those of export customers in preparation for advanced training on the Hawk T2 at RAF Valley, I and other who know the base will be very sad to see it go.
While RAF Scampton was opened in 1916, making this one of the oldest remaining RAF bases in the UK, RAF Linton-on-Ouse was opened in 1937. Both bases played a very significant part in the one hundred year history of the Royal Air Force and in this context, having stayed on the base myself on a number of occasions over the past ten years, I would mention that RAF Linton-on-Ouse contains one of the most fascinating museums that I have ever had the pleasure to visit.
Founded by the late Bill Steel, the large single room museum oat RAF Linton-on-Ouse offers a snapshot in photographs, stories and artefacts from the second world-war, these telling what is a very poignant story not only of the original bomber base that it was but also of 1 FTS from its formative years in 1919 when based at Netheravon in Wiltshire right through to the present day No 1 Flying Training School based at RAF Linton-on-Ouse today. The Memorial Room is I believe open to the public on one day each week and apart from what I have already mentioned, the room devotes much space and an insight into life during the worst days of WW2 and later during the war when it was used by the Canadian Air Force.
With 72 Squadron moving to RAF Valley in 2019, a base that has enjoyed significant investment in infrastructure over the past two years including runway resurfacing and rebuilding of facilities formally home to 202 Squadron Search & Rescue, Basic Fast Jet Training (BFJT) will operate as part of UK MFTS. BFJT students will now be trained on a mix of synthetic based training and live actual training using a small fleet of Beechcraft Texan T Mk 1 aircraft.
At this stage and notwithstanding that there is another year of hard work for them to do at RAF Linton-on-Ouse I would like to repeat something that I wrote in UK Defence (286) – RAF Linton-on-Ouse – Basic Fast Jet Training Excellence – that still holds to this day:
“I can genuinely say that in all the years I have spent visiting Royal Air Force and Royal Navy bases, I have never seen a better example of what today we classify as ‘whole force concept’ working so well. I refer principally to the manner in which members of the Royal Air Force at Linton-on-Ouse and those of the engineering and support contractor, Babcock International interact in order to ensure that sufficient numbers of Tucano aircraft are made available to support Squadron training mission requirement. Maintaining older aircraft for which the act of obtaining spares and parts gets increasingly more difficult requiring sometimes that these are made in-house and in coping with increasing obsolescence is no easy task”.
Just as RAF Linton-on-Ouse has the Memorial Room so too does RAF Scampton have its listed Heritage Centre, one that includes Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s (recently restored to 1943 condition) office which is where he worked when not flying and training his team ahead of and during the Dambuster raids. Clearly this part of RAF Scampton will be saved but to old hands it will of course feel very different when no longer be a fully operational base.
Given the pressure to close more bases not just in order to create efficiency of operation and save money but also in order to allow the MOD to reduce vast amounts of real estate, I suspect that these will not be the last RAF bases to close. However, it is not my position to speculate or cause angst and I will keep my own counsel on which these might be.
CHW (London – 25th July 2018)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785