No surprise to hear that a venerable Royal Air Force Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules aircraft – one that has been used in a great many airlift evacuations in the past and which can land and take-off from rough terrain, landed on an airfield north of Khartoum, Sudan following a two hour flight from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus at just before 0900 Hours and departed within the hour.
With a window of opportunity given by what we are led to believe is a seventy-two-hour ceasefire the hope is that the Royal Air Force, assisted by some allied air forces such as the from the US, France and Germany will work together to lift their people out.
For the Royal Air Force evacuation procedure is almost a standard practice. Yes, every piece of terrain, every war, every airport, every situation is different and complex but for a former member of the RAF to suggest that as the Royal Air Force is small, its deployed on operations around the world at the moment – you don’t have the aircraft at an airport just waiting to fly into Sudan…..they are going to have to be taken off live operations, almost beggars belief.
Former RAF Harrier pilot Air Vice Marshall (Rtd) Sean Bell and who I know well was speaking to the masses on BBC Radio 5 Live earlier today talking about the “huge complexity” in working out who is a priority for evacuating and how they will get to the airfield adding apparently that “trying to identify where they are, get them to one place through enemy fighting and then get them safely out,” is not a simple undertaking.
No one ever said it was and unless the Royal Air Force Regiment is involved, neither is it the job of the Royal Air Force – it is the job of the British Government.
Compared to the evacuation of Kabul Airport in Afghanistan, if the cease fire does hold then I would suggest that the Royal Air Force should be in a position to get the reported number of between three thousand to four thousand British nationals out of Sudan in the space of three days. My understanding is that 1,400 UK military personnel are currently involved in the rescue effort of British nationals (passport holders) from Sudan.
It is all too easy in situations such as this to hide behind a situation that suggests Sudan remains “dangerous, volatile and unpredictable” – words used this morning by the British Foreign Secretary.
Meanwhile, for the UK the other Elephant in the room is that the RAF is now just six weeks away from dumping its fleet of (14 remaining?) still very capable C-130J aircraft and that have been used on every evacuation mission that, ever since the earlier versions of Hercules type first entered service with the RAF back in 1968, have been used in every evacuation the RAF has been involved ever since.
With the French and Germans having already taken delivery of additional new build C-130J’s very recently to ‘compliment’ the Airbus A400M fleets that they have (Australia has just agreed to acquire 24 new Lockheed Martin C-130J’s) and with the SF equipped RAF C-130J fleet also having sophisticated self-defence laser anti-missile systems and full night vision capability, what a crass decision it is to withdraw such excellent and still young capability just because they are saleable to third party air forces.
Don’t get me wrong – the Airbus A400M is fine capability but in situations such as Sudan, the proven C-130 does what it says on the tin. So too, when the areas in question are properly protected – hopefully by the RAF Regiment this time rather than the Army – does the brilliant Boeing C-17 Globemaster of which by some miracle, the RAF still has eight aircraft.
I know well, because I was there at the time, when members of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee asked whether it was sensible to allow disposal of the C-130J of the outgoing Chief of the Air Staff and that he played that one to the book implying that the RAF had sufficient medium and heavy lift capability. Well, as if to back Air Vice Marshall Sean Bell up in his argument made during his radio broadcast to the masses, the answer is clearly that we have not got nearly enough capability in the right place.
The decision to sell the fleet of RAF C-130J’s remains one of the most stupid decisions I have ever had the misfortunate to observe. After July this year when the last is stood down, RAF tactical air transport capability will be significantly down-graded. This UK Treasury inspired and forced decision, one which the RAF has sadly been all but silent on accepting, will further severely limit RAF deployment and support options – a point well made by the House of Commons Defence Select Committee at the time and completely ignored by HM Government.
A Very Welcome New House of Commons Defence Select Cttee Inquiry Is Launched
Confirmation yesterday that the House of Commons Defence Select Committee is launching an inquiry in order to probe the UK’s readiness for war. The Committee has requested that written evidence on the following be submitted by Monday 5th June 2023.
- Are the armed forces sufficiently capable, resourced and ready to protect the UK and our allies?
- What are the main gaps in capability and /or readiness, and what will it take to fill these gaps?
- Are the UK armed forces a Tier one fighting force’? Do they need to be?
- What are the consequences of the army having been “hollowed out and underfunded”? Which of these consequences needs to be addressed most urgently?
- Are Government’s plans sufficient to address any shortfalls?
This inquiry will examine a range of factors influencing combat readiness, including supplies and stockpiles and regular and reserve force numbers. Logistics and military planning will also be covered, as well as the expectation of collaboration with allies and defence partners.
Launching the inquiry Chair of the Defence Committee, Tobias Ellwood MP, said:
“In an increasingly unpredictable and volatile world, our Armed Forces need the ability to respond to crises at a moment’s notice. Maintaining robust combat readiness isn’t just a matter for active wartime – readiness is a vital deterrent against future conflict.
From the cuts to boots on the ground, to a decrease in real terms funding and potential capability gaps on the horizon, concern around our ability to respond to provocation is understandably high. Even the Secretary of State for Defence himself has described the British Army as ‘hollowed out’, and there have been suggestions that the United States no longer view us as a top tier fighting force.
The world is becoming more dangerous, not less. In this inquiry we will examine the UK’s current state of combat readiness – both our strengths and potential weaknesses.
Our Service personnel are amongst the most skilled and highly trained in the world and this inquiry will ask what impact cuts to numbers and funding may have on their ability to respond to new or escalating conflicts.
We’ll also ask how the UK Government can address any shortfalls and which gaps must be given urgency.”
Whether or not I will submit written evidence remains to be seen but what I would sincerely hope and request is that in respect of taking evidence in respect of how bad UK defence capability currently is, that rather than relying on academics, the Committee asks some of the more respected former Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy chiefs to provide real and genuine views on what they believe now needs to be done before it is too late!
My thanks to a number of you who responded in agreement to my piece in relation to the resignation of Dominic Raab in the wake of bullying allegations. Interestingly, from over one hundred responses received only one, from someone I have always respected, took an opposing view and which of course, he had a perfect right to do and I am glad that he did.
CHW (London – 25th April 2023)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785