The Ministry of Defence claim that the aircraft is “now increasingly obsolescent and will face increasing reliability issues as time progresses” and will still leave service in March 2021, as originally planned.
Jeremy Quin, Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence, stated that Sentinel was introduced in 2008 in the knowledge that a significant equipment upgrade would be required in the mid 2010s.
“The Sentinel R1 has been operationally deployed in support of a number of operations. Some operations are considered to be both conventional and counter-insurgency; for example operations in Afghanistan (Op HERRICK) and Iraq (Op SHADER). It has also been deployed on operations in Libya (Op ELLAMY), Nigeria (Op TURUS) and Mali (Op NEWCOMBE), all considered conventional operations.
Sentinel was introduced in 2008 in the knowledge that a significant equipment upgrade would be required in the mid 2010’s. 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 and the March 2021 out of service date has been retained.
No identical capability is operated by the UK (though similar capabilities exist in the NATO inventory). The UK does however have a number of other intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities that collect different types of intelligence information, including long-range strategic assets (Sentry, Rivet Joint and Poseidon) and shorter-range more tactically-focused assets (including Shadow, Reaper and Watchkeeper).”The aircraft, described on the Royal Air Force website as “the most advanced long-range, airborne-surveillance system of its kind in the world”, provides long-range, wide-area battlefield surveillance, delivering intelligence and target tracking information to British forces.
The aircraft has been operationally deployed in support of operations in Afghanistan, Libya and Mali, and is currently deployed in support of British and Coalition operations in Iraq and Syria.