UK MoD OUTLINE PLANS FOR COMBAT AIR PROGRAMMES
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
15 May 14. Covering fast jet, Unmanned Air Systems and military flying training the £18.8bn that the MOD plans to spend on Combat Air programmes over the next ten years will despite the potential for more cuts in SDSR 2015 see the UK have one of the most modern and sophisticated air forces in Europe. And whilst there are many questionable elements of SDSR 2010 particularly in relation to the overall air power component in terms of quantity and capacity of the capability strategy there can be little doubt that the combination of Typhoon and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that has been designed to provide the critical elements of high-end power projection has been the right path to tread.
With the Combat Air element of ‘Future Force 2020’ envisaging the addition of 48 F-35B STOVL aircraft by 2018/19 (these to be purchased from Lockheed Martin in the US with whom Britain is a Tier One manufacturing partner) together with 107 Typhoon (Tranche 2 and Tranche 3) aircraft that are either fully operational or in production at BAE Systems at Warton we may conclude that UK combat air capability to be used for national defence, NATO contribution, protection of dependent territories and future carrier power will be limited to just 155 fast jets.
While the growth of remotely piloted air systems and there wider use must be fully acknowledged I consider the planned level of manned fast jet aircraft capability in terms of numbers of aircraft available to be dangerously low.
Given that the planned out of service date for Tornado GR4 is also 2019 and that the existing plan currently envisages retirement of all Typhoon Tranche 1 aircraft starting in 2016 and ending in 2018 I feel entitled to question that even when all Tranche 3 and F-35 STOVL aircraft have been delivered and are to be considered operational and fully multi-role capable whether the UK will have a satisfactory element of front line combat air capability in terms of available capacity and numbers of aircraft.
Typhoon has already proved itself to be a brilliant in terms of combat air capability and by the time the aircraft is fully multi role capable by 2019/20 Britain will be able to claim to have some of the most efficient and capable combat air capability available. Already carrying AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile), ASRAAM (Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile), Enhanced Paveway 2 and 1,000lb Freefall bomb Typhoon in Royal Air Force service is capable of a very broad range of combat missions.
To achieve required full multi-role capability the current MOD plan provides for Typhoon to eventually be fitted with an additional suite of complex weapons that will include MBDA’s brilliant Beyond Visual Range Active Radar Guided Meteor air-to-air missile (due in 2017/18), the MBDA Storm Shadow cruise missile (this is already fitted to Tornado GR4 and is due for integration on Typhoon for 2015), the Brimstone air-to-ground missile (this is likely to be added in 2020), Raytheon’s superb Paveway 1V precision guided bomb (integration on Typhoon is currently under way) and finally, the Small Diameter Bomb.
Additional complex weapons that Typhoon requires to be fully multi-role capable should on current plans all be operational on the aircraft by 2020. Nevertheless, given that it will be some time yet before the politically delayed Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar is fitted to Typhoon the reality is that the full designed operational capability for the Royal Air Force Typhoon fleet may not actually be reached until 2021.
Until the STOVL version of the F-35 aircraft (the first fourteen of which are likely to be ordered very soon) arrive and that together with Typhoon Tranche 2 and 3 aircraft can be considered fully multi-role capable and operational the UK will continue to rely on the already much reduced force of brilliant and w