Britain’s retired fleet of Sentinel aircraft is to be sold to the U.S. Army and flown to the United States after work is undertaken to make them flyable again.
A source on the team that was supposed to be scrapping the aircraft last night told me:
“The Ministry of Defence has accepted a joint bid from Raytheon USA/Bombardier. This will involve us making the aircraft flyable again to go over to the States. The rumoured end customer is the U.S. Army.”
It is understood that much of the systems had already been stripped out in preparation for scrapping. When I asked what work is being done on them in the UK, I was told:
“Work has started to make them serviceable for flight already. Just enough to get them over the pond. Nothing to do with the mission side.”
It’s reasonable to assume that work will be done in the United States to provide new/updated mission systems.
The move is somewhat controversial as the Ministry of Defence previously advise that the aircraft were to be sold for scrap and “not for reuse”. According to the Ministry of Defence in a potential sales notice last year:
“The Defence Equipment Sales Authority (DESA) is inviting expressions of interest from Companies interested in being considered for receiving an Invitation to Tender (ITT) in respect of the proposed sale of the aircraft for stripping so to harvest all reusable parts for potential resale, recycling or disposal and final dismantling and removal of the remaining platforms. Note these aircraft are not for reuse.“
It would seem the Ministry of Defence have changed their minds on that last point.
🚨 BREAKING NEWS | A source has told me that the MoD has accepted a joint bid from Raytheon USA/Bombardier to make Sentinel aircraft flyable to be flown to the United States with the rumour that the end customer for the aircraft will be the U.S. Army. pic.twitter.com/Vbnir4U34b
— George Allison (@geoallison) November 16, 2021
What did Sentinel do?
The aircraft, described on the Royal Air Force website as “the most advanced long-range, airborne-surveillance system of its kind in the world”, provided the British armed forces with long-range, wide-area battlefield surveillance, delivering intelligence and target tracking information. The aircraft had been operationally deployed in support of operations in Afghanistan, Libya and Mali, and was deployed in support of British and Coalition operations in Iraq and Syria.
The Sentinel R1 fleet was a key C4ISTAR asset for the British armed forces. Operated by the Royal Air Force’s No5 Army Cooperation Sqn, the Airborne Stand-off Radar system incorporates linked ground components with the aircraft’s powerful active electronically-scanned array surveillance radar, the system included a moving target indicator and was capable of generating synthetic aperture radar imagery, for what the Royal Air Force called “unparalleled situational awareness”.
The imagery is then passed by secure data links to ground stations at all levels of command and control. By operating at high altitudes, and at considerable longrange stand-off distances, the radar platform is able to remain over safe territory while providing an excellent ‘look-down angle’ of the target area.
Why was Sentinel retired?
Officially, the aircraft was scrapped “due to obsolescence” with the Ministry of Defence claiming that the aircraft was “now increasingly obsolescent and will face increasing reliability issues as time progresses”. It was becoming obsolete because the money wasn’t spent to upgrade it.
Jeremy Quin, Minister for Defence Procurement at the Ministry of Defence, even stated that Sentinel was introduced in 2008 in the knowledge that a significant equipment upgrade would be required in the mid-2010s.
“Sentinel was introduced in 2008 in the knowledge that a significant equipment upgrade would be required in the mid-2010s. The Defence Review in 2010 cancelled this expected upgrade bringing forward the likely out of service date. The SDSR 2015 determined that Sentinel should be retained for a further period and set a new out of service date of March 2021. While some work was conducted on the on-board equipment this fell well short of a full system upgrade. The radar and mission system are now increasingly obsolescent and will face increasing reliability issues as time progresses. Retaining the capability would have required significant upgrade expenditure.“
The UK however never found that money, never upgrading Sentinel.
“That Sentinel required capability upgrading should not have been the reason for its premature withdrawal. ISTAR remains one, if not the most important, element of air power capability and taking a [capability] gap is unacceptable. The decision to scrap Sentinel capability is not only one of the worst that emerged out of SDSR 2015 but it is also the one that I believe the U.K. will most likely come to regret. The lack of such important capability, and with no imminent replacement in prospect, is dangerous and ill advised.”
What will the U.S. use it for?
That’s currently unknown but the aircraft is almost identical to concept imagery used to depict the replacement for the E-8 JSTARS replacement.
However, during the 2019 U.S. budget rollout it was announced that the U.S. Air Force will not move forward with an E-8C replacement aircraft. Funding for the JSTARS recapitalisation program was instead be diverted to pay for development of an advanced battle management system comprising of a network of sensors linked to a ground-based command and control system.