Royal Air Force Future Plans
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Future Plans

Defence cuts announced on 21 July 2004:

11 Sqn at RAF Leeming with Tornado F.3 to be disbanded by 31 October 2005 - leaving only three Tornado F.3 squadrons.

Jaguar aircraft to be retired two years early. RAF Coltishall to close by December 2006. Coltishall based units - 54 Sqn to disband by 1 April 2005, 41 Sqn by 1 April 2006 and 6 Sqn to move to Coningsby before disbanding by 31 October 2007.

Nimrod MR.2 fleet to be reduced from 21 to 16 aircraft. Nimrod MRA.4 update to be reduced from 18 to 'around' 12 aircraft.

22 Sqn with Sea Kings at St Mawgan to move to RAF Valley.

230 Sqn to lose six Pumas.

VC10 and TriStar tankers to have their service lives extended by two years until replacement is available.

Four C-17s currently on lease to be purchased when lease expires and one additional aircraft to then be purchased.

A review of the future requirements for military airfields and helicopters will be announced later in the year. (The futures of St Mawgan and Leeming are in doubt, with the possibility of closing Kinloss as well).

Previously Announced Plans:

Procurement of 232 Eurofighter Typhoon to replace Jaguar and Tornado F.3. This will comprise 40 Typhoon T.1 combat trainers and 192 Typhoon F.2 fighter-bombers. Establishment of an Operational Evaluation Unit (17 Sqn), an Operational Conversion Unit (29 Sqn), and two front-line squadrons (Nos. 5 and 29) at RAF Coningsby beginning in 2002. IOC planned for 2005. Subsequent deliveries will be to RAF Leeming and then RAF Leuchars. (Premature retirement of the Jaguar appears to indicate a reduced purchase of Typhoons).

Numerous problems during development of the 8 Chinook HC.3, purchased for specifically Special Forces use, mean that all but three are currently in storage at Boscombe Down. The HC.3 is not thought capable of achieving a Military Aircraft Release and therefore cannot enter RAF service. The fate of these helicopters has not yet been decided.

Take delivery of 18 (now 12) Nimrod MRA.4 maritime patrol aircraft, upgraded from MR.2 standard, from 2005. (Despite being originally called 'Nimrod 2000' the first example has still yet to fly.)

RAF Lyneham to close by 2012 when C-130K Hercules C.1/C.3 withdrawn from service. C-130J Hercules C.4/C.5 units to then move to Brize Norton to join the A400M units based there.

Procurement of 25 Airbus A400M military airlifters to replace the remaining Hercules aircraft.

Procurement of 5 Bombardier Sentinel R.1 (based on Global Express business jet) as part of the ASTOR programme. Delivery due in 2005.

Replace TriStar and VC10 tankers with 12 new Airbus A330-200 aircraft from AirTanker consortium from 2008.

Take delivery of 20 new-build Hawk Mk.128 jet trainers (with 24 options) from 2008. Unlike to the Hawk T.1, these aircraft have fully digital cockpits - ideal for training future Typhoon pilots.

Integration of RAF Harrier and Fleet Air Arm Sea Harrier squadrons under Joint Force Harrier command. FAA pilots to fly Harrier GR.7 as Sea Harrier is progressively withdrawn from service. Harrier to be eventually replaced by the Lockheed Martin F-35B STOVL version. In the meantime, the Harrier GR.7s are to be upgraded to GR.9 standard.


On 21st July 2004, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon announced a sweeping series of cuts in the British Armed Forces. While periodic reviews of national defence needs are normal and indeed desirable, the latest round of cuts has surprised many by their depth and scope.

For the RAF, the cuts involve the loss of 130 aircraft by the end of 2007, comprising four complete frontline combat squadrons together with reductions for other units. One air base will definitely close, and further base closures and cuts in the helicopter force are expected to be announced later this year.

It is argued that a 'rebalancing' is needed to ensure that British forces are equipped and trained to successfully carry out their duties in the future. Britain's principle ally, the United States, is developing a network-centric warfare capability, where battlefield target data can be rapidly shared between all elements of a fighting force. This technology is expensive and still relatively immature. It has been assumed that future conflicts will involve British forces working closely with a coalition of Allies - and such technology will play a vital part in integrating the various elements brought to a coalition force by different countries.

An implicit assumption is made in the current defence plans that future battles will be fought at a distance from the UK - most likely in the homelands of the terrorists and their sympathisers. Hence there is a continued emphasis on 'force projection' capabilities such as in-flight refuelling tankers and heavy-lift transports.

However, the cuts will result in a real loss of rapid-reaction capability. The Jaguar is the RAF's principle rapid deployment combat force, able to deploy quickly and operate without sophisticated support facilities. It is both reliable and effective, having recently received the Jaguar 97 avionics upgrade which significantly enhanced it's capabilities. RAF Harriers have also been used for overseas deployments such as Northern Watch over Iraq, but the previously announced demise of the Navy's Sea Harrier force will see part of the RAF's existing Harrier fleet committed to carrier operations, reducing the number available for other roles.

The Eurofighter Typhoon is said to be the future of the RAF, but with 3 less Jaguar squadrons and one less Tornado F.3 squadron to requip, the number of Typhoons required will fall substantially, perhaps to as low as 100-120 aircraft. This will have catastrophic implications for BAE SYSTEMS, whose workshare is determined by numbers ordered. Halving the workshare will export hundreds of jobs abroad.

Apart from meeting the costs of expensive new technology, the defence budget is also being squeezed from another direction. The Treasury (UK Finance Ministry) has refused to pay 0.5 billion of the money spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead of coming from the National Contingency Fund (specifically established for such occasions) this money has to be found from the existing Defence budget. Parsimonious Defence funding over the past ten years has led to continuing job cuts in all the services, but the Treasury refuses to fund redundancy payments, so the Ministry of Defence is financially penalised for having insufficient money to fund its payroll. The Ministry of Defence's notoriously incompetent management of high-profile new projects - Apaches delivered without Army pilots trained to fly them, Chinook HC.3s delivered straight to storage and Nimrod 2000 still awaiting it's first flight - has also wasted a lot of good money. Any expectation that future programmes will have a smooth entry into service is surely misplaced.

No sensible person would run a business by retiring production-line machinery years before new replacement equipment becomes available. Yet this is increasingly becoming standard procedure in British Defence planning. The Sea Harrier will be long out of service when the Royal Navy finally receives an air defence fighter (the F-35) for its carriers. The premature retirement of the Jaguar removes an existing proven capability without waiting for the promised new technology to be introduced into service.

The threats to the security of the United Kingdom and its Allies are not always obvious. Who would have predicted in 1998 that the British Armed Forces would be called upon to fight in three full-scale wars in the next five years - Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq? In al-Qaeda, the United Kingdom faces an enemy that has no hesitation in plunging into the depths of human depravity in order to achieve it's aims. The word 'terrorist' has become devalued by overuse - but the emergence of merciless psychotic savages dedicated to attacking the West represents a threat as great as any faced during the Cold War. At the same time, rogue states are developing WMD capabilities that cast a shadow far beyond their immediate neighbours.

The latest defence cuts have been deliberately misrepresented to the public as resulting from strategic considerations rather than financial reasons. The shortfall in funding is due to repeated political failures at the heart of government. By the end of 2007 the RAF will have been reduced to it lowest strength since before World War 2. Weak politicians are taking risks with the security of the country and sooner or later the price will be paid.

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First Created: 25 July 2004 - Last Revised: 25 July 2004
Copyright © 2004 John Hayles.     e-mail: