TORNADO GR4 REMAINS KEY ELEMENT OF UK FAST JET AIR POWER CAPABILITY
By Howard Wheeldon, Senior Strategist at BGC Partners
21 Nov 11. Suffice to say that a year ago the concept that hard line regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya that had been in power for decades might have been toppled in the space of just six months would have been all but unimaginable. Indeed, I suspect that had a suggestion been made in the corridors of Whitehall at the beginning of February this year that within ‘weeks’ both the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy would already have embarked on what would be a seven month long NATO led campaign for both aimed at protecting the Libyan people from further internal oppression the idea would surely have been dismissed. Today we know and understand the reality of what subsequently occurred in Libya and we are reminded not only of the impossibility of forecasting diplomatic and geo-political events but also of the importance that should be placed on defence remembering always that there can be no holiday from history. In Libya just as they have done on the nineteen previous occasions when unforeseen circumstances required that UK armed forces should rise to the challenge they have not let us down. We commend them for what they have done and for what they continue to do in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Now it is time that our political masters should review the many lessons that must be learned from Libya and particularly those that apply to maintaining adequate levels of air power capability.
Libya 2011 should now be an object lesson why mature and responsible nation states within NATO should now defence capability to ensure that they can rise to any unexpected challenge. As a still powerful and wealthy nation, a nuclear power and one that is still a member of the UN Security Council given our large scale role within NATO we should now as a matter of priority decide what it is that we want our nation to be. I hope that our future role will be one of more of the same and that we not only have the will to succeed but the political energy to ensure Britain’s membership of the top table is maintained. Our economy may be much troubled but in the eyes of the world we still have much to commend. We must also decide what our future role should be in terms of both national and international defence and security and what our future role should be within the NATO alliance.
In the wake of the UK Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) that was published by the government just four months before Libya I believe that the potential for Britain to find itself with inadequate levels of defence capability is now greater than at any time since the 1930’s. To that end over the coming weeks I will be looking at what I and others perceive as weaknesses in UK defence capability. In the first of these I look at some aspects of perceived weakness in RAF fast jet airpower:
During late October 2010 following weeks of internal political dog-fighting and bargaining it was agreed that the soon to be published SDSR document would confirm that Royal Air Force fast jet air power capability would in future be centred on two aircraft types (the Eurofighter Typhoon of which in excess of seventy aircraft have been delivered but post planned disposal of 53 already delivered Tranche 1 planes by 2019 the RAF will have a fleet of just 107 Typhoon aircraft) plus eventually [as part of what is called future carrier strike capability] if ordered from Lockheed Martin (this would not be before 2015/16) the carrier version of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It is of course possible although we believe unlikely that as part of US based defense cuts the whole JSF project might be cancelled. Should that occur the UK government would probably need to acquire the Boeing F/A 18 aircraft which is a proven carrier based fast jet platform or maybe to take the idea of the Eurofighter Typhoon carrier version concept.
Perhaps the real po