Future of the Royal Air Force

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The planning for the future of the Royal Air Force involves supporting ongoing British military operations,[1] the introduction of new aircraft types,[2] greater focus on network enabled capability and increasing harmonisation with the United States Armed Forces and those of Europe.[1]

F-35 Lightning II

F-35 helmet-mounted display system

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engine, fifth generation multirole fighters under development to perform ground attack, reconnaissance, and air defence missions with stealth capability. It was selected for the UK's Joint Combat Aircraft requirement in 2001 and is expected to enter service with the RAF and the Royal Navy around 2020, replacing the existing Tornado GR4 and Harrier GR9 fleets (the latter already having been retired in late 2010), and operating from the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers.[3] It will be the main component of the RAF's manned strike capability. The F-35 has been designed to have a low radar cross section primarily due to stealthy materials used in construction, including fibre mat.

The version initially selected was Short Take Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of the F-35, known as the F-35B. However, on 19 October 2010, David Cameron announced that the UK would change their order to the F-35C CATOBAR carrier variant for both the RAF and Navy. The F-35C variant features larger wings with foldable wingtip sections, larger wing and tail control surfaces for improved low-speed control. This gives it a greater range and the ability to carry a larger and more diverse payload than the F-35B.[4]

In May 2012, it was announced that the UK coalition government had reverted to the previous government's plan to operate the Short Take Off Vertical Landing F-35B, due to rising estimated shipbuilding costs associated with the CATOBAR variant F-35C, and an earlier estimated in-service date for the F-35B.[5]

The delivery of the UK's first F-35B was made on the 19 July 2012 at Fort Worth, Texas, for flight trials by the RAF and Royal Navy.[6]

Commitment to the planned number of 138 F-35 Lightnings was reaffirmed in the 2015 SDSR.

Current & Future Units:

Additionally, 809 Naval Air Squadron, to be based at RAF Marham, will also operate the F-35.

Typhoon

It was announced in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review that the UK's Tranche 1 Typhoons would remain in service, equipping a further two squadrons.[7] The Tranche 1 Typhoons were scheduled to be decommissioned and replaced by later Tranche 2 and 3 variants because they were not as capable in the ground attack role as the later marks. However, the SDSR stated that a Typhoon force of 7 squadrons would be operated. The older variants are still capable air-to-air platforms, and these aircraft can be put to use in defence of the UK's sovereign airspace as interceptors, while the Tranche 2 & 3 aircraft will have the whole range of air-to-air and air-to-ground roles available.

The Government promised to invest further in Typhoon air-to-ground capabilities and in a new Active Electronically Scanned Array radar, as well as completing integration of the Storm Shadow and Brimstone missiles with the Typhoon.

RAF Typhoon

Frontline Units

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Scavenger/Telemos/Protector

The Scavenger programme will supply a next-generation medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV.[8] The General Atomics Avenger (Predator C), EADS Talarion and a development of the BAE Systems Mantis were all mooted as contenders for Scavenger.

In June 2011 it was announced that BAE and Dassault would collaborate on an aircraft called Telemos as the air component of Scavenger.[9] It has been suggested that BAE will supply an airframe and guidance based on the Mantis, with a payload from Thales and integration by Dassault.[10] Requirements and basic specifications like the type of engine, have yet to be settled,[9] but Telemos is scheduled to enter service in 2020.

In October 2015, Prime Minister Cameron announced the creation/purchase of 20 new RPAS, named "Protector", to replace the 10 Reaper RPAS.[11][12]

Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle

File:TaranisModel.JPG
BAE Taranis model, one of the most advanced UAV designs

The Strategic Unmanned Air Vehicles (Experiment) Integrated Project Team, or SUAV(E) IPT is responsible for directing the work required to establish the potential of Unmanned Air Vehicles.[13] The demonstrator will have two internal weapons bays.[14] The current plan seems to be a collaboration with France to enter service in 2030.

The autonomous BAE Taranis is a technology demonstrator programme, possibly leading to a future Strategic Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) for both ground attack and reconnaissance roles. It is an unmanned warplane which is designed to fly between continents. With the inclusion of "full autonomy" the intention is thus for this platform to be able to "think for itself" for a large part of the mission.[15] It will carry a variety of weapons which will enable it to attack planes and also targets on the ground. It will utilise stealth technology making it difficult to detect and it can be controlled from anywhere in the world via satellite communications.[16][17] A £120 million Anglo-French defence contract was signed in the later part of 2014 for further development in the FCAS/UCAS programme.[18]

Zephyr High-Altitude UAV

Separate from the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that "British-designed unmanned aircraft will be constructed to fly at the very edge of the earth’s atmosphere and allow us to observe our adversaries for weeks on end, providing critical intelligence for our forces."[19] Gareth Jennings of IHS Janes identified this as the solar-powered Zephyr UAV or Qinetiq Zephyr.[20]

Novel Air Concept

The Novel Air Concept is a "Capability Vision", an initiative of the Ministry of Defence to stimulate innovative solutions to long-term defence challenges that may lead to a future capability.[21] The NAC concept, announced in 2009, envisages a UAV with folding rotor blades that would allow it to take off as helicopter and allow operation in an urban environment.[21] So far there has been no progress on this concept.

Transport and air-to-air refuelling

Atlas

The first A400M on final approach, during its fourth flight on 15 January 2010

Future transport capability will rely on the Airbus A400M Atlas, of which 22 are to be used to replace the remaining Hercules C1/C3 (C-130K) aircraft.[3]

The Airbus A400M will increase the airlift capacity and range compared with the aircraft it was originally set to replace, the older versions of the Hercules and Transall. Cargo capacity is expected to double over existing aircraft, both in payload and volume, and range is increased substantially as well. The cargo box is 17.71 m long excluding ramp, 4.00 m wide, and 3.85 m high. The height is 4.00 m aft of the wing and the ramp is 5.40 m long. The Airbus A400M will operate in many configurations including cargo transport, troop transport, Medical evacuation, and electronic surveillance. The aircraft is intended for use on short, soft landing strips and for long-range, cargo transport flights.[22]

Current & Future Units

Hercules

The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review included a reprieve for some of the Hercules fleet, with the Government announcing 'we will upgrade and extend the life of our C130J aircraft, allowing them to support a range of operations until 2030'.[24] It had been reported that the Army's senior leadership and especially Special Forces units were unhappy with the retirement of the Hercules aircraft,[25] with uncertainty regarding the capability of the RAF's larger A400M and C17 aircraft in certain tactical scenarios. It is likely that the maintenance of the Hercules capability is as a part of the investment in Special Forces capabilities. The SDSR envisions a fleet of 14 C130J aircraft; while the UK currently operates 14 of the stretched C130J-30 variant, it was not explicitly made clear in the Review whether the fleet would consist of entirely the stretched version.

Voyager

Fourteen Voyager air-to-air refuelling aircraft will be in service by 2025, with one fitted for transport of the Prime Minister, senior cabinet officials and the Royal Family.[26]

Signals Intelligence

Air Seeker

First British RC-135W arrives at RAF Waddington in November 2013

Three Boeing RC-135 Rivet Joint signals intelligence aircraft have been ordered to replace the Nimrod R1, which was retired in 2011.[27] These will be known as the Air Seeker when they enter RAF service in 2014.[28] The aircraft is an extensively modified C-135 with onboard sensors which enable the crew to detect, identify and geolocate signals throughout the electromagnetic spectrum. The crew can then forward information in a variety of formats to a wide range of consumers via the onboard secure communications suite.

Sentinel R1

The Sentinel R1 will remain in service until the next decade with the intention that it be withdrawn by 2025.[29]

Shadow R1

The Shadow R1 will remain in service until "at least" 2030. Two more aircraft will be procured.

SOLOMON

In 2004 the RAF initiated Project DABINETT, an integrated architecture to collect, process and disseminate intelligence from manned and unmanned aircraft such as Sentinel and Watchkeeper. Initial Gate was approved in January 2008; when assessment phase contracts were awarded to BAe INSYTE and Lockheed Martin UK in February 2010 it had been renamed Project SOLOMON. Phase I concentrates on disseminating information over the UK Defence Information Infrastructure networks, with Initial Operating Capability in March 2012 and Full Operating Capability in March 2015.[30]

Maritime Patrol

Poseidon P-8

The P-8 Poseidon will be procured by the RAF

One of the most anticipated announcements in the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 was the purchase of a Maritime Patrol Aircraft to replace the capability lost with the scrapping of the Nimrod MRA.4 following the previous Defence Review in 2010 without replacement. The UK has had to rely on NATO allies such as the United States and France to supply Maritime Patrol assets to identify and pursue Russian submarines in UK territorial waters, notably in the week before the Defence Review was published, it was announced French Orion aircraft had deployed to Scotland to hunt a suspected Russian boat.[31]

The UK will purchase 9 Boeing P-8 Poseidon aircraft, to be based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. They will include 'overland surveillance capability', and it is thought that this aircraft will likely be the replacement for the Sentinel R1 in RAF service.

Helicopters

Chinook

On 16 December 2009, the MoD announced that 22 Chinook helicopters would be added to the fleet bringing the total number in service to 70 by 2013. In the 2010 SDSR, this number was reduced to 14.[3] The deal has been made and the Chinooks will enter service from late 2014 onwards. In 2006, the retirement dates for the HC2 and HC2A fleets were scheduled for 2015 and 2025 respectively,[32] however if planned upgrades were made both types could expect to be flying until 2040.[33]

Puma

A total of 24 Puma HC1's will be upgraded to HC2 standard to prolong their life until 2025.

Training

The training provided to Royal Air Force aircrew is evolving, through a shift towards contractor-provided training, and increasing use of simulators to supplement flying time. The aircraft currently in use are approaching the end of their working lives. In order to fund new aircraft, the training system is being outsourced to the private sector, over a 25-year Private Finance Initiative valued at £6 billion. The consortium running the new UK Military Flying Training System isn a partnership between Lockheed Martin and Babcock International, is known as Ascent Flight Training. The current generation training aircraft will be replaced over the next few years:

Training Phase Current Replacement Base
Elementary Flying Training Tutor T.1 Grob G 120TP RAF Cranwell, RAF Wittering
Basic Fast Jet Training Tucano T.1 Beechcraft T-6 Texan II RAF Valley
Advanced Fast Jet Training Hawk T.1/T.2 Hawk T.2 RAF Valley
Multi-Engine Training Beechcraft King Air Embraer Phenom 100 RAF Cranwell

The current helicopter training system is set to be replaced in the same way, with the MOD selecting a bidder in 2016 to be operational by 2018.

Bases and deployments

The 2010 SDSR resulted in the closure or planned closure of a small number of UK RAF stations. Many stations will be upgraded or realigned over the coming decade to accommodate new aircraft and modes of operation. Following the consolidation of aircraft types and roles to a smaller number of larger bases, the smaller stations which only host one or two flying units may have an uncertain future.

It is likely that RAF Linton-on-Ouse will be closed at some point, given that the new UK Military Flying Training System coming online in 2016 envisions basing the future T-6 Texan II Basic Fast Jet Training course at RAF Valley following the replacement of the Tucano T.1 trainers currently stationed at Linton-on-Ouse with 72 Squadron, who are the base's only flying occupants. RAF Leeming's sole flying occupants, 100 Squadron, equipped with the Hawk T.1, also have an uncertain future in their role as aggressor trainers, and a replacement has not yet been identified.[34] Potentially, 100 Squadron could reform as one of the new Typhoon squadrons announced in the SDSR, and would likely move to RAF Coningsby.

Missiles

The RAF has signed a contract to receive the Meteor BVRAAM missile for its Eurofighter Typhoons, expected to replace the AMRAAMs in service.[35][36]

See also

References

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  2. "Future Capability". Royal Air Force. 2011. Retrieved 20 April 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Wall, Robert."U.K. Cuts Aircraft Fleets in Strategic Review". Aviation Week, 19 October 2010.
  4. Wilson, Amy (10 November 2010). "Babcock says Aircraft carrier changes will add up to £800m to taxpayer bill". The Daily Telegraph. London.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "U.K. Makes F-35 U-Turn to Cut Costs, Narrow Carrier-Defense Gap." Bloomberg News, 10 May 2012.
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  21. 21.0 21.1 [1][dead link] Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "N.A.C" defined multiple times with different content
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