A question asked and answered today in Parliament would seem to indicate that the Sentinel fleet will be retained until at least 2021.
Jack Lopresti, MP for Filton and Bradley Stoke, asked during a defence questions session in Parliament today:
“Will my honourable friend confirm that the RAF will retain their existing surveillance capability Sentinel which proved to be so effective in Mali and the existing fleet will be maintained and continued?”
Under Secretary of State for Defence Procurement Harriett Baldwin answered:
“I can confirm that I had the pleasure of going to north Wales recently to extend the Sentinel contract to 2021”
Earlier reports had suggested that 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. While the future fleet size isn’t made clear this announcement would appear to dismiss claims that a push to extend the service of the aircraft to 2021 was unsuccessful, we reported on this at the time here.
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, Under Secretary of State 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.
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.”
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.