In the short term the fleet will go from 5 to 4 as the RAF are forced to cut one of the aircraft, a unique capability in Europe, in order to save money.
It is understood now that a push to extend the service of the aircraft to 2021 has been unsuccessful and the type will retire in the coming years.
Speaking to a source in the Royal Air Force, we were told:
“This has been a long time coming, the platform has had reprieves but the impression we had was that Sentinel was living on borrowed time. This is hugely disappointing and incredibly short sighted.”
The Sentinel is an airborne battlefield and ground surveillance aircraft based on the Bombardier Global Express ultra long range business jet and serves a role similar to JSTARS with the RAF, the jet was adapted by Raytheon to meet the RAF’s requirements.
Sentinel was originally known as the ASTOR (Airborne STand-Off Radar) programme.
In 2014, Prime Minister David Cameron announced the retention of the aircraft in the face of their expected retirement due to budget cuts.
Last October, Minister for Defence Procurement, Harriett Baldwin announced a £131.5 million support contract for RAF’s Sentinel surveillance aircraft. The deal with Raytheon UK will provide the Sentinel aircraft with in-service support and maintenance, meaning it can continue to meet the RAF’s operational requirements.
With the ability to gather intelligence on enemy movements and track specific targets, the Sentinel remains a key element in the UK’s operations against Daesh in Syria and Iraq.
Minister for Defence Procurement, Harriett Baldwin said:
“Sentinel aircraft provide vital intelligence to our Armed Forces, giving them the ability to make decisions that helps keep Britain safe, including on current operations against Daesh.
As part of our £178 billion equipment plan, this contract is supported by a Defence budget that will rise every year until the end of the decade, meeting the NATO commitment to spend 2% of GDP on Defence. This new support contract will sustain 160 jobs across the UK and demonstrates the very tangible benefits which Defence is bringing to the nation’s economy.”
Despite this often touted £178 billion equipment plan, there will now be a cut in numbers and eventual scrapping of the capability.