2018 was a big year for the RAF, marking the 100th anniversary of its formation, but in many ways 2019 has been even more significant with some fundamental changes as the RAF adapts for the future. 

The year saw the retirement of Tornado and the operational debut of the F-35B Lightning. It saw a return to an old domain in the maritime and some modest steps in the new one of space.  It also saw some significant changes in people too: a new Chief of the Air Staff and the appointment of the first female 3* in the UK armed forces. Finally, it saw the sprouting of facial hair across the service as, for the first time, RAF personnel were permitted beards!

FILE PHOTO: Tornado jet.

In March the venerable Tornado retired after 40 years of service. Designed to penetrate Warsaw Pact defences during the Cold War, The Tornado earned its spurs in the Iraqi desert during the 1991 Gulf War and saw service in nearly every UK operation since, from the Balkans to Afghanistan and Libya to Syria. Under Project Centurion Tornado’s attack capabilities have been transferred to Typhoon which adds the Storm Shadow cruise missile and Brimstone anti-armour missile to its repertoire. Indeed, February saw the first use in anger of Brimstone by Typhoon when it destroyed a Daesh boat on the Euphrates.

As the Lightning force grows, it will assume more of the burden from Typhoon, but in 2019 the RAF hit its combat air nadir leaving the Typhoon force stretched. In addition to picking up Op Shader (Iraq & Syria) from Tornado, the Typhoon force had a busy detachment in Estonia from May to September conducting Baltic Air Policing for NATO and making 21 interceptions of 56 Russian aircraft over the space of four months. In November, Typhoons from 1(F) Squadron deployed to Iceland, marking the first time the RAF has undertaken Icelandic Air Policing. These commitments were in addition to maintaining UK Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) in Britain and the Falklands Islands, as well as supporting the UK’s increasing defence engagement in the Far East with an exercise in Malaysia.

F-35B aircraft at RAF Marham before deploying to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.

The Lightning force achieved some significant milestones during 2019 after declaring Initial Operating Capability (Land) at the beginning of the year. In May, 617 Squadron deployed to RAF Akrotiri, proving the aircraft’s deployable capability. The deployment went so well that the decision was taken to use the aircraft on live operations and it flew its first Op Shader mission on 16 June. In July, 617 Squadron deployed again, this time to Amendola to train alongside Italian Air Force F-35As while 207 Squadron (the Operational Conversion Unit) came home from Beaufort in South Carolina to take up residence in its permanent home at RAF Marham. October saw Lightning deployed on WESTLANT19 with Wg Cdr Adam Curd becoming the first pilot to land a UK jet on HMS Queen Elizabeth. This successful RAF/RN partnership sees the UK return to carrier operations and we can only hope 2020 will see an end to ill-informed commentary about ‘carriers having no planes’ or ‘the RAF being unable to operate at sea’.

Staying with the maritime theme, 2019 also saw the RAF take delivery of its first P-8A Poseidon. ZP801 flew for the first time in July and was handed over to the RAF in October, having been fitted out with her mission equipment. She will remain in the US, flown by RAF crews training there, until February 2020 when she will fly to the UK and we should see the force declare Initial Operating Capability in Spring. The RAF will reassume a responsibility for maritime patrol which has been filled by allies since the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) axed Nimrod. The Poseidon is a potent aircraft that gives the RAF the ability to ‘find, fix and finish’ both surface and sub-surface targets, something that will be welcomed by the RN.

The first British P-8.

As well as seeing the RAF return to the maritime domain, 2019 saw limited progress in the new domain of space. In July, it was announced that the RAF would partner with the US to launch a small satellite constellation under Project Artemis as well as joining Op Olympic Defender, a US-led coalition to deter hostile actors in space. Disappointingly, 2019 did not see a Defence Space Strategy, first promised by the then Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, in May 2018, but yet to appear. Given the increasing recognition of space as a warfighting domain – including by NATO in November – the pace of progress should hopefully pick up in 2020. A new Space Command was in the Conservative manifesto and we may see that long-promised Space Strategy as part of the SDSR.

The air mobility force has also had a busy year supporting UK operations and exercises across the globe as well as the French-led Op Barkhane in Mali. In March an A400M delivered 20 tonnes of aid after cyclone Idai hit Mozambique and the Support Helicopter force was similarly engaged with Chinooks also supporting the French in Mali and civil authorities at home as Wainfleet flooded in June and Whaley Bridge in August.

Aid is loaded onto an RAF A400M aircraft.

Tornado was not the only retirement in 2019 with the Tucano also leaving RAF service. Built by Shorts in Belfast to an Embraer design, this aircraft has trained hundreds of pilots since entering service in 1989 (including the author!) Superb fun to fly she was loved by all, notwithstanding the ergonomic quirk of having the Emergency Shutdown Lever placed next to the Flap lever which led to some exciting moments for some. Tucano has been replaced by the Texan at RAF Valley under the troubled Military Flying Training System contract, which at least now seems to have turned the corner.

2019 saw two significant milestones on the people front. In February Air Marshal Sue Gray was appointed the Ministry of Defence’s Director General of Safety and in doing so became the first female British 3-star officer. The RAF is the most gender diverse of the services but 15% female representation is widely recognised as being too low as the 21st century enters its third decade. This will be one of many issues on the agenda for Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston who assumed command of the RAF from Sir Stephen Hillier in July.

Image result for raf beards
RAF Airmen face beard Inspection.

Finally, on the first of September the RAF changed its dress regulations to permit the wearing of beards. The reasons for the change were given as promoting inclusivity and diversity as well as recruitment. Whist time will tell how much impact it actually has in these areas, the change has proved popular with serving airmen and facial hair can be seen sprouting at RAF bases across the world. Whilst some in dark blue expressed irritation that beards are no longer the sole privilege of the Navy, it should be welcomed as a reflection that the RAF retains some DNA from its Naval as well as Army parents.

What will 2020 bring for the RAF?  It is likely to be yet another significant year and top of the agenda will be the SDSR. With a new Government emboldened by a large majority, ambitious spending commitments in other Government Departments, economic uncertainty against a backdrop of Brexit, and an MoD deficit of between £6B and £14B over the next 10 years, SDSR20 could be as drastic in some areas as SDSR10.

However, the RAF will be keen to continue adapting to the new strategic landscape along with its sister services. It will be after further investment in the increasingly important – and contested – domain of space. It will also wish to increase investment in uninhabited air systems, not just bringing Protector into service, but also exploring developing a ‘loyal wingman’ for Typhoon and Tempest.

A British F-35B landing at RAF Marham.

The RAF also will be keen to ensure that Lightning numbers continue to grow, with enough F-35Bs for the carriers, but possibly adding some cheaper and more capable (but carrier incompatible) F-35As to the mix.

2020 will see Poseidon achieve Initial Operating Capability and it can expect to be heavily tasked as Russian activity continues to increase in the North Atlantic and Arctic. Meanwhile Russian long range aviation will continue to probe QRA and ‘Global Britain’ will be keen to demonstrate global reach meaning another busy year for the air mobility force. This is before the inevitable crisis’s – both natural and manmade – arise.

The RAF may look back on 2019 with some satisfaction, but the strategic landscape is changing and the RAF will be keen to ensure that it is able to adapt fast enough to meet whatever the new Government, and world events, demand of it in 2020.


The author, Andy Netherwood, served 26 years in the Royal Air Force with operational tours flying the C-130 and C-17 as well as staff tours in Strategy, Policy & Plans, Capability Development and on the Directing Staff at the UK Defence Academy.

You can follow Andy on Twitter @AndyNetherwood


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Peter E
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Peter E

Surprised that the F35A chestnut gets another airing. Between the need to build the F35B force to viable and sustainable levels, and the look forward to investing in Tempest, it’s very hard to see how F35A can fit into the UK Fast Air picture, or the UK industrial strategy. Hopefully SDSR20 puts this one to bed for good.

Steve R
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Steve R

The only way were if the defence budget were massively increased and we doubled our order of F35s; even then I’d say keep the b model as it would maximise operational airframes rather than having 2 OCUs, 2 pools of spares etc.

To be honest I hope there is some kind of increase in defence spending, even enough to allow us to accelerate purchase of our 138 F35s on order. Even if we had 90-100 in the inventory at one time it could allow for a 5th combat squadron.

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

Not a chance in hell there will be 138 F35 in my opinion. We don’t have the people to man them. 80 – 90 is enough, and saves a small fortune.

Steve R
Guest
Steve R

Do you mean we wont order the full 138 or just not all at once?

Daniele Mandelli
Guest
Daniele Mandelli

I do not think we will order the full 138. Tempest will be coming, hopefully, and funds will go on that.
The UK will still be benefiting from the program regardless if we decide not to build the last 40 or so.

Steve R
Guest
Steve R

Doesnt that just reduce our fast jet fleet even further, at which time our Typhoons will be getting long in the tooth and their numbers will decrease much like Tornado?

If we reduce the F35s we need more Typhoons to keep the numbers up, replace the older Tranch 1s with Tranche 3 and maintain the skills base to build Tempest.

Daniele Mandelli
Guest
Daniele Mandelli

I go by Fast Jet Squadrons, which have settled on 8 in recent times but under SDSR could have gone to 6 until the changes in 2015. CAS also stated he had a 9th “in his pocket” Timeline – 5 Typhoon / 3 GR4 – 8 7 Typhoon / 1 F35 – 8 ( Currently – to stop reducing to 6 ) 7 Typhoon / 2 F35 – 9 5 Typhoon / 4 F35 – 9 Even with a reduced F35 buy we still have around 90 to form the 4 squadrons needed, and 100 plus Typhoons for 5. Would… Read more »

Steve R
Guest
Steve R

Are 9 total fast jet squadrons enough though? Especially considering that two of those are QRA squadrons, leaving us with 7 for offensive operations. Were we to end up in a confrontation against the likes of Russia for example, we can only really send a token force. If it were up to me I’d keep Typhoon squadron at 7 and accelerate F35 buy rate to give us 5 squadrons by the end of procurement, giving us 12 total. By the time we got all of them we could train the pilots in time, seeing as it’ll be at least 5… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

Agree not enough. There were 12 when Tories arrived in 2010, and over 20 when New Labour started.
Just being realistic.

Steve R
Guest
Steve R

Think there is any chance they might retain all 7 Typhoon squadrons? With 4 F35b squadrons added on that makes 11, boosts it up a bit.

gamerpower
Guest
gamerpower

I just want to know how many typhoons are in one typhoon squadron

Steve R
Guest
Steve R

12 planes per squadron.

Brom
Guest
Brom

saves a rather large fortune

Daniele Mandelli
Guest
Daniele Mandelli

F35A should be consigned to history.

If the RAF is only getting, at most, 4 Squadrons of F35, which was the aspiration, where is the efficiency in having a mixed fleet of A and B in just 4 units? 2 – 2 is ridiculous. You cannot effectively support the carriers with 2 small fleets, leaving both overstretched.

All F35B for me.

Joe16
Guest
Joe16

Agreed. Unless there’s a commitment to an increase in the size of the RAF’s fast jet fleet to include F-35As, it is a false economy. The increased range a capability to carry a very limited number of larger weapons internally is really not all that much of an improvement in my opinion: Yes, combat radius is greater, but you’re also quite likely to be staging further away from the combat area than a carrier-launched F-35B. I don’t foresee any great benefit, as both will likely need either external tanks or tankers to complete the mission. The number of large weapons… Read more »

JohnHartley
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JohnHartley

I think the RAF is 2 Sqns short of fast jets. I would want 12 F-35A to carry the weapons the F-35B cannot, such as the JSOW-C, that the Americans are integrating onto the F-35A for export. The RAF used to have 2 Sqns of Buccaneer, then Tornado armed with Sea Eagle. Those Norwegian JSM/NSM fit in F-35A bays, but not the smaller F-35B bays. I also think we need 12 Typhoon ECR, that Germany is about to develop/order. I think the Typhoon force would have a tough time deploying in a high SAM environment, unless it had an ECR… Read more »

Steve Taylor
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Steve Taylor

We always have capability gaps. Does buying a small number of A for a few systems, that knowing the MoD will either not get purchased or drip fed into service, make much sense against further investment in on the carrier program? Can’t NSM be carried by Typhoon? SPEAR is short range but that could serve as a light AShM. Perhaps we should be looking at buying the Japanese ASM-3 missile?

Joe16
Guest
Joe16

Ideally, it would be great to expand the RAF’s squadron count, and I don’t disagree with your other suggestions for the upgraded T1, P-8s and A400s etc. Unfortunately, the money we have is the best we can expect I fear… So you’re advocating for an additional 24 fast jets for frontline service, of related but distinct types to the orders already placed? You’re going to need extras to cover maintenance periods and training, so let’s call that ratio 1.3, that makes 30 aircraft, split down the middle for 15 F-35A and 15 Typhoon ECR (minimum, ignoring discounting attrition of airframes… Read more »

Steve R
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Steve R

“If we stick with just F35B, the UK will never get 138. That number only makes sense in a mixed A & B force.” The problem is not so much how many planes we have in total but how many operational ones we get from it. The current plan is 4 frontline squadrons totalling 48 planes. That’s our F35 combat force. Then add am OCU plus spare airframes. With a mixed force of A&B, let’s say on a 50/50 ratio, you’d get less than 4 operational squadrons. You’d have to increase the buy rate just to ensure 4 squadrons –… Read more »

JohnHartley
Guest
JohnHartley

Money is always the big unknown. Some advising Boris, will say keep feeding the black hole that is the NHS. Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron, May all fed the beast & got precious little to show for it. Unless you specify exactly where it goes, the money just vanishes for no obvious gain in the NHS. They say there are no votes in extra defence spending. True, but you can lose a lot if Britain suffers an unnecessary defeat. Blair, Brown never recovered from the working class lads lost in snatch land rovers, or the lack of ammo, helicopters & body… Read more »

Steve R
Guest
Steve R

90 airframes would allow 4 combat squadrons totalling 48 F35bs plus one OCU of 12 planes, bringing the total to 60, plus 30 spares. That’s quite a lot of spares to be honest.

JohnHartley
Guest
JohnHartley

Why build 2x massive 65-70000 ton carriers, if you are not going to make the most of them? They can carry 36 F-35B each, so 2x 36= 72. 4 of the early UK F-35B are unsuitable for combat, but ok for training/trials, so 76. With accidents, then top up buys, 80-90 over the many decades of service, does not seem unreasonable. Granted we would not operate 2x carriers fully loaded with F-35B very often, but you can imagine the outcry if there was a 1982 style emergency & the UK lacked the ability to load up both carriers.

Steve R
Guest
Steve R

Something maybe you dont realise though is that if we order 90 F35s that doesnt mean all 90 are frontline combat jets. In addition to combat squadrons you need an OCU and also a pool of spares, normally around 1/3 or so of the total inventory, to rotate airframes to reduce wear and tear and to replace units lost in battle, accidents or simply have flown too much and getting long in the tooth. The numbers I set out were based on the aspiration to get 4 combat squadrons and an OCU. It you want 72 combat jets enough to… Read more »

Steve R
Guest
Steve R

I’m sure though that of a crisis like the Falklands were to happen again or we faced a serious threat, that spare airframes can and will be brought into service, or planes taken from the OCU and attached to existing combat squadrons.

JohnHartley
Guest
JohnHartley

Well exactly. I did point out that 72 F-35B on 2 carriers would not be the norm. Dire emergency only. I think it is obvious that the UK has overcut its fast combat jet numbers. Back in the 1970s, the RAF had over 400 & the FAA still had a sqn Phantoms & another of Buccaneers. At the moment Flight Int says the UK has 118 active Typhoon + 15 F-35B. Not enough for a Kuwait 1990/91, let alone a worse crisis. My thoughts for late 2020s, would be 12 new Typhoon ECR to add to the existing 118 to… Read more »

Steve R
Guest
Steve R

I fully agree regarding the need for more fast jets, both Typhoon and F35. Though I still think they should all be the B variant. With 8 squadrons of active F35 totalling 96 aircraft you would also need to add an OCU of 12-18 planes and 30-40 spares so that number is now over 150. That’s if they’re all B. With 2 squadrons of A totalling 24 planes you would need an OCU of maybe 6 planes, plus a dozen spares. So the number of A then becomes 42, added to around 120 F35Bs needed to cover 6 squadrons plus… Read more »

JohnHartley
Guest
JohnHartley

Don’t mistake what the RAF have been doing with rationality. Do we have a third more C-17s than we use?

Steve R
Guest
Steve R

No we dont have a third more C17s than we use, but you need fewer spares for cargo planes than fast jets. Typhoons et al have a lot more stress put onto the airframes due to the speeds and manoeuvres they fly. But some are still spares. Every air force does this; spare airframes allows quick replacements of planes lost either in combat or accidents, or allows rotation during longer term maintenance, upgrades etc, so that overall capability is not degraded. So if the decided requirement for Typhoons, for example, is 7 combat squadrons* (84 aircraft) plus OCU and OEU,… Read more »

JohnHartley
Guest
JohnHartley

Qatar got away with one sqn of Mirage 2000, for many years. 9 single & 3 two seat. They did not need 30% more. A top up buy is a better way of coping with attrition.

Steve R
Guest
Steve R

No, a top up buy is not a better way. Imagine if we’re at war against a peer enemy and start losing planes. Where do the new planes come from to keep the numbers up? Best case scenario for buying new planes would be months if not longer. It’s not like popping down to Tesco and picking a dozen F35s off the shelf. All the time our air power is degraded due to attrition. Having spares means you can replace a downed jet in days, perhaps even hours. Also allows for us to retain our operational aircraft numbers whilst planes… Read more »

JohnHartley
Guest
JohnHartley

Fine if you have the extra money. We don’t.

Steve R
Guest
Steve R

Well we do, because that is what we do. The fact is: if we buy 90 F35s and make them all frontline fighters then within a few years that number will drop to 80 or 70 as the oldest fighters are taken out of service for maintenance, then 60, then 50 and so on. What you end up with is a fleet of knackered fast jets in a state of poor repair. Say 20 years after we bought the F35s you want to do a midlife refit and upgrade on them; without spares you are basically losing a squadron or… Read more »

JohnHartley
Guest
JohnHartley

That is why I suggested top up buys as & when we need them. We have no money for expensive jets to sit in hangars unused for years.

Steve R
Guest
Steve R

1. As I just said, it actually works out more expensive to do that. It also takes months, if not longer, to purchase additional planes. An agreement has to be made, monies paid, and then the things need to be built. That’s useless if we need to quickly replace units lost in combat. Planes in storage can be sent to replace lost units in hours. 2. They are NOT sat unused in hangars for years. As I have said. Multiple times now. They are rotated fairly regularly to minimise the wear and tear to any single airframe. This adds years… Read more »

Steve R
Guest
Steve R

Oh joy, another defence review next year; let’s see what they cut this time.

Taking all bets!

Peter E
Guest
Peter E

One to watch will be the transport fleet. In SDSR15 the Hercules fleet was reprieved, on the basis that it could so things for the Airmobile and Special forces that Atlas couldn’t. But its left us with 3 airlifters in services, Hercules, Atlas and C17. With Atlas now maturing, will we see a rationalisation, perhaps with a top up order for Atlas from our cash strapped allies, and Hercules heading for retirement?

Harry Bulpit
Guest
Harry Bulpit

Unlikely. C130 was kept for special forces an organisation that has its own allocation of the budget and a decent bit of it at that. Not only that but atlas simply isn’t practical for SF work. To big, to noisy and to blatant. Lots of nations have more then three types of transports.

Daniele Mandelli
Guest
Daniele Mandelli

I think DSF considers Atlas too big for their needs, so I doubt it. As UKSF is a growth area that HMG use above all, both in ops and in training and influencing allies, that area should have its funding maintained.

Likewise ISTAR.

For me, the Army needs reorganising. Badly. Number 1 priority in SDSR2020.

Joe16
Guest
Joe16

I’ve come to exactly the same conclusion; all the service branches seem to be singing from the same song sheet except army at the moment…
Any ex-soldiers on here, please, I’d love to hear some experienced opinions- all my knowledge comes from what I read on here and elsewhere. I don’t want to unfairly accuse the army if they’re not deserving of it.

Wayne
Guest
Wayne

Change is coming for the Army in terms of upgraded equipment and structures. On the equipment side CR2 and Warrior are finally being upgraded. CVRT is being replaced with AJAX and Boxer is being added to increase mobility. I will be very interested to see what happens in the new SDSR in terms of structures and manpower. This is what I would like to see: 3 Div: 1, 12 and 20 Armoured Infantry Brigades. 3 CR2, 6 Warrior, 1 Ajax (Div Recce) and 3 Arty units. 1 Div: 11 and 51 Infantry Brigades and London District. 2 Cav, 6 or… Read more »

Joe16
Guest
Joe16

Yes, I’m glad that some of their programmes are beginning to see the light of day! However, a lot of people with more knowledge than I have noted some issues with how that all fits together- especially Strike and suchlike. This is what worries me, that when viewed as a whole, the parts don’t stitch together well, especially when compared to allies and potential opponents. RUSI and other think tanks, as well as very knowledgeable defence bloggers such as UK Armed Forces Commentary and Think Defence have said as much… I honestly don’t know enough about army structure to make… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
Guest
Daniele Mandelli

“Cap Badge Mafia” Joe.

Joe16
Guest
Joe16

Yes, I’ve of this before. It is a fine line between preserving the history of the armed forces and being pragmatic, but something has to be done…

700 Glengarried Men
Guest
700 Glengarried Men

Joe cap badge meant family, when I was in there were many whose father had or were still serving. The regimental system and its history until recent times served us well. I personally blame left wing councils refusing the army recruiting in their areas many a great jock came from Scotlands housing schemes

Joe16
Guest
Joe16

Apologies if I came across as dismissive of the importance of cap badges completely; my understanding is that they’re a great source of pride, esprit de corps, whatever it is that you wish to call it, but something that sets certain militaries apart from others; having a celebrated history of service gives both an encouragement and inspiration to new soldiers that they can aim towards, following in the footsteps of great men! Like you, I think that the armed forces are a great leveller, and give people from tougher backgrounds a place to excel and come out the other end… Read more »

Wayne
Guest
Wayne

It certainly has been a barrier to effective change. We really do need our infantry just not at a loss to capabilities used to support them.

Wayne
Guest
Wayne

The CR2 upgrade will give the tank the firepower, mobility and additional protection it needs. Warrior CSP is a good upgrade, the fuel tank issue on Warrior is over hyped, it’s in the best place for mine strike (under track) and direct attack (low in the vehicle). The only other place for it would be under the dismount Infantry. Artillery is a weakness and future upgrades or vehicles should focus on this area. I would also like to see better Air defence and tactical drones. Strike Brigades are useful for certain types of conflict and their logistics tails should be… Read more »

Joe16
Guest
Joe16

I may be wrong, but my understanding is that LEP doesn’t address the armament or power pack- only improvements in mission systems. I don’t deny those are important, but the CR2 will remain the slowest MBT in NATO and also the only one using a non-NATO standard gun. There is another programme looking at the powerpack, but I’ve not heard anything about this producing a more powerful pack into service. The weight of the CR2 has gone up by 1/3, and CR2 was never fast to begin with… That’s interesting to know about the Warrior, thank you. I do wonder… Read more »

Peter Elliott
Guest
Peter Elliott

If the Warrior upgrade were straightforward surely the contract would’ve been signed by now. Would a Boxer AFV with 40mm and Brimstone, be a better long term bet…?

Peter Elliott
Guest
Peter Elliott

Challenger 2 is surely on the way out eventually. Its a tiny boutique fleet with no industrial base or development path. The only question for me is whether we try and nurse it along with minor ugrades wile we try and buy our way into the new Franco -German tank programme, or take a deep breath and buy say 150 Leopard 2 now as a stopgap. Instinct says new tank could be more years away than we can afford to wait, and that bodging Challenger will take a big slice of budget and still deliver a sub optimal result, so… Read more »

Wayne
Guest
Wayne

Challenger 2 development path is RBSL’s LEP. It is certainly no bodge. I believe it will on par to Leo 2 Mk7 in many respects. Under SDSR 2020R we will be left with two armoured regiments (about 120 manned CR2) in two Armoured Brigades with six Battlegroups. I’m hoping the next SDSR will increase this number. The new Franco-German tank will take many years to develop but might be well worth joining. I do not like wheeled AFVs, I don’t care how quickly they can potentially get to the fight if they can’t survive it. A peer Armoured Brigade would… Read more »

Wayne
Guest
Wayne

It’s not straightforward… no upgrade of this scale is. Warrior is an excellent platform and well worth upgrading.
Boxer might not be able to support a turret of that size easily (centre of balance and weight). The Germans have gone for a unmanned 30mm turret that is very good for supporting dismounted infantry.
Brimstone is a great long range killer but its huge and not easily fitted into AFVs. LLM, Brimstone or Hellfire on a dedicated missile firing platform would be very useful in armoured cavalry and anti tank platoons.

Corin Vestey
Guest
Corin Vestey

Yes, as would more Ajax variants

Wayne
Guest
Wayne

The RBSL (Rheinmetall and BAE) contender (in a one horse race) for CR2 has a new turret with a new 120mm smoothbore gun, new optics, fire control and ammunition. A 1500 hp engine is available but let’s see if they include that. https://www.janes.com/article/91160/dsei-2019-rbsl-s-challenger-2-lep-contender-comes-out-in-the-open I would guess that cost is the main reason for not replacing warrior completely. I would hope the hull would be replaced in time. The new turret is a step change in terms of capability though. A better armoured, fully stabilised turret with automatic 40mm cannon, better fire control, ammunition (both AP and HE) and optics will… Read more »

Steve Salt
Guest
Steve Salt

As the C17 is getting on a bit, been discontinued by Boeing and has been worked to death in RAF service whats the replacement ? Atlas doesnt have the lift capabilty.

Daniele Mandelli
Guest
Daniele Mandelli

C17 is another niche capability we have. Do the US have any spares at Davis Monthan we could acquire when the time comes?

Steve Salt
Guest
Steve Salt

I know that the remaining white tail new builds were snapped up by India, not sure there are any in storage at DM.

Cam
Guest
Cam

The money’s already been found to keep the remaining c130 fleet going for a few more years.

Andy P
Guest
Andy P

I mind a quote from way back, “Britain doesn’t have defence reviews, they have defence cuts”. Its stayed with me as it seems apt.

Steve R
Guest
Steve R

Makes me tempted to get into politics. Vote me as Prime Minister for the next general election and we’ll have “SDSR2024: Forces Want, Forces Get!” 😉

Daniele Mandelli
Guest
Daniele Mandelli

Sold!

HF
Guest
HF

Pretty accurate, I’d say.

TwinTiger
Guest
TwinTiger

On the flip-side though, when is the first Wedgetail arriving?

Peter E
Guest
Peter E

The there’s support helicopters. The UK has bet heavily on Chinook for heavy lift and this looks set to continue. But the fudge between Puma and Merlin in the medium lift fleet will have to be resolved eventually. For CEPP and for extending the range of both ASW and AEW cover the Navy would doubtless like us to procure a medium tilt-rotor, most likely V-280, but that might not be perceived as affordable for the Army’s medium lift requirement. There will also be the question of whether Wildcat gets rolled into that buy or not. There ought to be a… Read more »

Harry Bulpit
Guest
Harry Bulpit

Wildcat and Merlin perform two different roles and both are required within the navy.

Joe16
Guest
Joe16

Personally, I’d give all the Wildcat and Merlin to the RN; The Wildcat is the right size for operating from smaller escorts, but really too small for a lot of what the army would seem to need it for. The Merlin would be useful to the army, but is too big for some jobs so a smaller helicopter would still be needed. The USAF have just put in a relatively big order for AW139 in a military spec; they are just the right size to replace Puma. I’d still try and get them built in the UK, but we could… Read more »

Harry Bulpit
Guest
Harry Bulpit

Wildcat is essentially acting as a replacement fir gazelle. It makes a very good observation aircraft. Especially when paired with apache.

Joe16
Guest
Joe16

I’d heard it did a bit of that, and maybe some light transport duties too? I guess its high speed comes in handy. It’s a very expensive replacement for Gazelle though, and I imagine that Apache actually packs better sensors? I’d still stick with my previous plan, to be honest; drones are going to make much better observers for Apache, and the E models that we’re getting are set up for controlling and targeting from them. It’s also safer that way; even a limited conflict against Russia in the Baltics is going to be dangerous enough for an Apache, let… Read more »

JohnHartley
Guest
JohnHartley

Wildcat should have had the foot longer cabin from the Lynx 3 prototype, then it would have had a bit extra room inside.

Daniele Mandelli
Guest
Daniele Mandelli

In my opinion the Wildcat was very much a mix of “jobs for the boys” coup and inter service politics, concerning the army purchase. Ex brass moving from MoD to the board of Westlands, so I hear. Maybe wrongly? They needed to keep Westlands going. The needs of the UK Military Industrial Complex are always put before the needs of the UK military as far as I’m concerned. It is admittedly a difficult balance. Wildcat for the RN, certainly. For the army? I read that we were offered a good number of Blackhawks for 300 million. In service, plenty of… Read more »

Peter Elliott
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Peter Elliott

I tend to agree that wildcat was an industrial buy and on ruthless commoality probably shouldn’t have been done. If Watchkeeper only worked I think Army Wildcat would be on a much shakier peg, and the Navy always wanted a single type, integrating both ASW and ASuW weapons, anyway. Which takes us back to the question first posed: what is the future of the medium utility rotorcraft force? When Puma goes, do we just such it up and roll the budget into more readiness for Chinook? And what comes after Merlin, which is now covering three key roles in CHF,… Read more »

Glass Half Full
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Glass Half Full

I suspect the Army and ultimately the RN (a long way in the future for the latter) are looking to the US FVL program as I posted up thread. If the UK plans to plug in alongside the US in a major conflict then it seems likely they will want/need the attributes of the aircraft in the FVL program.

Steve R
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Steve R

Seems ridiculous they’d reject that! From what I’ve read, a Black Hawk is approx. $6 million, so around £4.5 million per airframe. Even if that were inflated to £5milion that’s 60 Black Hawks for £300 million! That’s a massive increase in our helicopter capabilities. For the same £1billion price tag we could have had 200 Black Hawks, or a mix of Black Hawks and Sea Hawks! Hell, we probably could have still built them here on licence. I’m not saying that the everyone who make these stupid decisions should be publicly flogged, but if we did it to one or… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

This is my position too Steve. It should receive the coverage it deserves. If Dom Cummings has this sort of thing in mind I hope he delivers as it simply cannot go on. MoD budget is primarily there for the Military Industrial Complex, not our forces, as far as I’m concerned. I know a sovereign military industrial capability is desirable, especially in tech like Subs, ships, and ISTAR. But a balance is needed. For me that means a balance between Quality and Quantity. I have argued for this for years on various forums. I really think in the current political… Read more »

Glass Half Full
Guest
Glass Half Full

As with much of UK defence, vertical lift is likely to be a story of how do we get from here to there. How to increase vertical lift for the RN and the Army and enhance capabilities? So the logical solution IMV is to transfer Wildcat to the RN, and enable more ASW focused Merlins by adding V-247 tiltrotor UAV for AEW to free up the more or less dedicated Merlin AEW role on the carriers. V-247 might also potentially add organic AEW for non-carrier ops. The Army continues with Apache and Chinook for at least the next 10-15 years,… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

Interesting stuff, thanks Glass.

Harry Bulpit
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Harry Bulpit

Hopefully the coming SDR will simply keep everything as is ans just pot more investment in to future technologies. Although since i like playing fantasy forces as i know so many others on here like to do. Please tell me what you’d like to see change in the miltary, in an ideal but practical world.

Daniele Mandelli
Guest
Daniele Mandelli

“in an ideal but practical world.” RN – Same as, just try and get more ships to sea, like the mothballed LPD. Modest increase in personnel. T31 and RB2 to take on most constabulary roles, including based abroad. Maintain 3 Cdo Bde. RAF – Same as, more emphasis on Space, already happening with an RAF Space Command. Prioritise RAF SHF, Transport, UAV, and ISTAR forces. Only F35B, not A. Modest increase in personnel. Army – Completely rethink Strike Bdes, we have talked enough of that already! Reform 1 ( UK ) Division, cutting some infantry battalions ( Cap badge mafia… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

Also parts of the Labour version. DO NOT scrap everything in sight remotely offensive, but pay everyone better and spend lots on mental health, better living accommodation, as JC mentioned. Might hep with recruitment.

Pay, conditions, mental health, goes without saying should be improved.
But I guessed you meant formations, equipment, and so on.

Harry Bulpit
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Harry Bulpit

Definitely agree that improving pay and living standards for service personnel and family is the priority.

Harry Bulpit
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Harry Bulpit

For myself. Remove the tidenet renew costs and pensions from the mod budget, and hopefully increase MOD budget to 2.5% if not 3% of GDP. Initially most additional expenditure should go in to increasing living standards for service personnel. To therefore increase recruitment and retention. Also invest more in foreign bases meaning service personnel can deploy with their entire amidiate family including secondary school age children, so they don’t need to dump them in a boarding school. Now on to the fun stuff. As i say ideal world. RAF- most of the same but an increase in atlas number by… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

Flippin heck!

I was being realistic and practical as you asked!!!

In an “ideal world” you are suggesting, will have a scan of that shopping list.

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

I agree with much of that. Being realistic though, without major uplift it is not happening. I settle for no major cuts, and small increments in key areas, with reformation of the army. I like the BBMF idea. I would like to see an RAF station with the museum and heritage stuff like BBMF, Reds, and possibly other preserved aircraft co located, to be a place for schools to visit, help with recruitment, and so on. Your army reforms are similar to my thinking, but differ. I’d keep 16AA as is, SFSG does not need 3 battalions worth in my… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

Lol! REFORM – not reformation!!!

Harry Bulpit
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Harry Bulpit

As i say fantasy forces. Id be happy to simply except no more cuts. I’m very interested in the idea of having an RAF “vistir centre” with museum and display teams. However, since Coningsby only has a single small tarmac runway i doubt it would be a serious contender for hawks. As for the amphibious force i think 3 commando has lost to much in the way of fighting forces to conduct any actual opposed amphibias assault. Hence why i think the LSSs are the future. As for the LHD i see your point but i think the treasury can… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

True.

I’m sure you meant Cosford regards the runway not Coningsby.

I just checked, it is 3770 Foot. Also has a railway line next to it, built up areas, and the expansive Cosford station facilties for training, so yes not for the Reds. So where else?

My candidate is Scampton itself, given its history and that the Reds are already there, and close to the current BBMF.

But MoD want to close it.

Daniele Mandelli
Guest
Daniele Mandelli

The “Visitor Centre” Each service could have their own. Or, if needs must, make it a tri service “Defence Visitor Centre” It would have museums, display teams, heritage stuff, samples of army equipment, the Red Arrows, the BBMF, all on one site. I would make it law that all schools must visit, to teach the history of the forces, what they do, why they are necessary, in both warfare and the current PC side of humanitarian support and so on. There would be in house military recruitment staff on site, no Capita here. Install some pride in the military in… Read more »

Harry Bulpit
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Harry Bulpit

Agreed.
RAF: as we’ve seen its difficult to decide.
Navy: would have to be Portsmouth hopefully we could stick a type 23 along side when they begin to go. And have one of the Merlin MK1 airframes in storage brought out with some fake Mk2 parts to make it look more modern and stick that on helo deck. Or now that I think about it we could just park a 23 on the Thames.
Army id suggest two given the relative cheap ness of display items. Also one up north and another south to widen the net as it where.

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

Yorkshire. Sailsbury area. Where they are already.

Harry Bulpit
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Harry Bulpit

The barriks in York is definitely a contender. Although enviably London would have to be involved. Although perhaps all bases and stations should have there own miniature visitor centre.

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

Which one in York? Imphal or outside at Strensall?
Strensall has more space and is, remarkably, slated for closure.

I don’t agree on all sites having a visitor centre. Place to watch planes outside the wire maybe, but nothing more.
Not at operational sites. Think of the security issues.

I think one big, well known site that schools can visit. Like the annual Armed Forces Day but in one location, and alongside that popular and well supported yearly show.

Harry Bulpit
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Harry Bulpit

Was thinking Imphul but the traffic bad enough as it is. In terms of one at every site it wouldn’t be that difficult. Essentially just a room of from the guard house with some recruiters in and a display of the bases history, role and units. Along with a few small items like helmets and models. Members of the public wouldn’t be allowed to go any further then that.

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

Yes, suppose so. It could work.

Harry Bulpit
Guest
Harry Bulpit

Scampton is ideal but three issues. 1 its being closed, 2 the RAF museum already have Hendon and Cosford, so i don’t think they have enough in the reserve collection to open a third. 3 the RAF museum already have Hendon and Cosford both in the general south so a new one would be competing in a market Cosford is already well established in.

Daniele Mandelli
Guest
Daniele Mandelli

Agree. I think to work my hypothetical centre would need to closure of the other two to put all resource into the one.

Cosford is established, has a rail link, close to motorway, and has the museum collection already.

I would have liked the reds there too though.

Daniele Mandelli
Guest
Daniele Mandelli

Other RAF options –

Benson, if the Pumas go.
Linton on Ouse, closing, 6020 ft runway.
Church Fenton. Long closed, rebuild.
And finally, the little known RAF Syerston. Already in use by cadets and has 2 runways.

Harry Bulpit
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Harry Bulpit

Wittering. Plenty of hangers, working airfield but no units besides ATC and straight up the A1 from London.

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

Possibility yes. It is a big airfield. On A1 as you say. Always enjoyed looking out for the GR7 gate guard as I drive by. Has other units already though mate, basic flying training as you say and others in the A4 force. I discounted it as it is still an operational station, and I think this hypothetical visitor centre should not be at an active RAF station, just an MoD owned airfield. Units include – Low Flying Ops Squadron. No 6 Flying Training School. Cambridge University Air Squadron. East Midlands University Air Squadron. No 115 ( R ) Squadron.… Read more »

Harry Bulpit
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Harry Bulpit

Fair enough. Although isn’t Coningsby a active base?

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

It is. Which is why I have never understood the BBMF being there!

BBMF museum is one small building. And in expanding the whole thing with thousands of school kids and other visitors to a bigger scale like we are envisaging needs more space, away from operations. Hence my suggestion of a non operational location.

Steve Salt
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Steve Salt

St Mawgan.
Massive runway and apron and it`s here in Cornwall !!

Harry Bulpit
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Harry Bulpit

There was talk many years ago when BAE was closing down the old Hatfield air field, of making that in to a sort of visitor centre. By moving the RAF museum form Hendon to there along with the De Havilland trust. Then base the red arrows there and use it as a base for visiting display teams from around the world. With a secondary role as a staging airfield for operations in and around London.

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

I don’t know of that site Harry. Interesting. That is near St Albans I think. M25.

Harry Bulpit
Guest
Harry Bulpit

Yeah that’s the one. I use to volunteer at the local DH museum.

Laurence Harvey
Guest

How about 1 type 26 2 type 31e 2 Astutes Take the 12 Merlins in store and upgrade to Mk 2. Take Dreadnought out of the defence budget. Add additional 4 billion per year for 5 years all funds to be aimed at equipment above. Also other equipment for RAF and Army.

BV Buster
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BV Buster

Greetings, my 2 penneth worth on the Army points, not a clue about the dark blue or light blue. I’m 100% convinced of the Strike concept, I know it sounds a bit fluffy, I’m a chap that likes loud bangs, tracks and clearly a working BV but its out best option. What people are missing when it comes to strike is the massive reduction in the logistic capacity that the Army has suffered recently. Deployment times for an armoured brigade to eastern Europe will take the best part of 2 months (according to a google search), by that time the… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
Guest
Daniele Mandelli

Morning BV. It has been suggested elsewhere, that we could have 2 identical divisions each of 3 Brigades – 1 Heavy – 1 Medium – 1 Light. I’m interested in this concept myself. The 4 ( 2 Medium and 2 Heavy we already have in the current and future Armoured and Strike Brigades, and the 2 Light Brigades would be found from using Light Infantry Battalions from 1 ( UK ) Division. Other battalions could be cut to create manpower for their supporting CS & CSS elements which we know don’t exist! My question – based on your comment on… Read more »

BV Buster
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BV Buster

Morning. 1 division comprising of 3 different brigades would be difficult to implement due to all 3 having vastly different sets of capabilities. Take speed in the advance for instance, maintaining balance across the divisional frontage would mean slowing one brigade down so the other could keep up. If the division came up against some sort if resistance an armoured brigade can punch through quickly where as a medium may take longer due to its lack of firepower and protection thus stopping the armored brigade from exploiting its success, it would be terribly staccato. A light brigade in this example… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

I suspected as such. Thanks.
I hope 1 UK is reorganised in this SDSR because as it stands it’s a bit of a shambles.

HF
Guest
HF

Absolutely. You can have all the kit you want but it’s useless without the people to man it. Improve pay & conditions across the board and the manpower problem will be fixed.

Joe16
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Joe16

You pretty much sum up my thoughts. The only thing I’d say is that it’s the personnel that are really stopping the RN from putting more ships to sea; my understanding is we have a T23 and T45 tied up most of the time purely for that reason (more or less). I’d therefore suggest a slightly more than modest increase in sailors to achieve this. Other than that, I’m on board! Long term, I’d like to see a slightly more radical review of how the three branches operate together; everything in the army inventory should be amphibious capable and trained… Read more »

Harry Bulpit
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Harry Bulpit

I like that idea. Except the fact that we would never be able to deploy the army amphibiously nor would we really need to. But a larger emphasis on sea lift using ro ro a LSSs may give the same result.

Joe16
Guest
Joe16

This is the kind of thing I mainly had in mind, although some form of “amphibious” capability for elements such as bits of a Strike Brigade would allow an augmented contribution to situations that could develop in the SCS or with Iran around the Straits of Hormuz, or in the Baltic/Norway when it comes to rapidly delivering heavyish forces to deter a land grab. I don’t know exactly what that would look like, but I wouldn’t expect it to be a contested landing as such, just an austere landing in a hurry!

Harry Bulpit
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Harry Bulpit

Yes definitely an interesting idea amd would certainly give the army more options when it comes to deployments. I’ve always liked the idea of having the army treated like the USMC.

Joe16
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Joe16

To be honest, with the size of armed forces that we have, and the security and strategic direction the government says it’s going, the USMC makes a rather good model for our armed forces in many ways. Not all, but many, beyond just the Royal Marines taking a look at their playbook.

Harry Bulpit
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Harry Bulpit

Agreed

HF
Guest
HF

‘hostile actors’ Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’ ?

nicholas penney
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nicholas penney

What happens to the tornados?

Peter Elliott
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Peter Elliott

The Watchkeeper air vehile is another that I’d flag up for the chop at this SDSR. I dread to think how many millions ee’ve poured into it without actually managing to make it work. My temptation would be to chop it, and divvy up the budget between smaller truck lauched drones organic to the frontline units, and a top up buy of more Protector UAS, on the grounds that its a proven system that we seem to be able to operate successfully. Fixing that boondoggle will also make ratioalisation of rotorcraft more likely, sharing out the Army Wildcat budget between… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
Guest
Daniele Mandelli

Thing is, how much would be saved?
Only one regiment operate it, 47 RA, and the 57 or so air vehicles purchased are paid for. Some have crashed already so unsure how many remain. Running costs should not be that high?
1 battery of 47 RA is reported to be available, and now trains in Cyprus.

Agree though half a billion for 1 working battery and the rest in store is another Dominic Cummings example.

BV Buster
Guest
BV Buster

The Army is full of things like this, running competitions for millions of pounds where there is clearly only one company capable of winning. Defence chiefs listening to so called experts in the defence industry who have a massive vested interest in selling crap kit. I will give you one example, SA80, an appalling weapon, the only people who advocate for it is people who have not fired any other weapon or people who don’t have to use it. How much would a replacement cost? who should we talk employ to give us a rough guess? H&K, the people who… Read more »

Glass Half Full
Guest
Glass Half Full

A few thoughts. 1. F-35 is likely to be in production well beyond the 2040’s so the UK’s commitment for 138 may well be spread over 30+ years. Why? Because there is nothing else even being talked about as a direct replacement, especially for F-35B and F-35C variants. The capabilities however are likely to change significantly because nowadays its much more about what goes in and on the aircraft in terms of avionics and weapon systems. The F-16, F-15 and original F-18 Hornet are good examples of longevity in fighter production and use, I doubt F-35 production will be any… Read more »

r cummings
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r cummings

I have a sinking feeling that the defence review will bring another round of cuts. The Government has pledged further spending in other areas and it is a safe bet that cuts will be made elsewhere to pay for the election handout. As always, cuts will be in areas the public doesn’t see and defence is an easy target. The debate should really be about making up for the last round of cuts. The forces were cut by 25% in the 2010 SDR. The justification was austerity. Austerity is now officially over.So how much is the Government proposing to restore… Read more »

CHRIS GOODING
Guest
CHRIS GOODING

I personally think 6 F35B squadrons.. specially if you are keeping 2 carriers operational you would need 4 squadrons + 2 at home.. That would equate to 6 x 15 then the OCU with 12 So 3 air force 3 navy. I doubt the old Tranche 1 typhoons be replaced. Puma fleet needs replacing and the AW189 military version AW149. 30 aircraft home built by Leonardo. Would be the perfect replacement. 8 Poseidon aircraft isnt enough.. this should be at least 12 to 16 aircraft. The tempest looks a beast but would be typhoon replacement. But thus is just air… Read more »

gamerpower
Guest
gamerpower

I just want to know how many typhoons are in one typhoon squadron