The Typhoon is expensive but is now achieving some level of maturity and showing its versatility, recent trials have confirmed its excellence in close air support operations and its air dominance power, especially when’ the Meteor comes into service, will be more than a match for most foreseeable opponents.
This proposal is a controversial one so we are going to get it out early!
In order to provide economies of scale, a streamlined training and logistics stream it is proposed that the RAF revert to a single, genuinely multi-purpose fast jet for strike, close air support, air dominance and other supporting roles, the Typhoon.
The Harrier should be withdrawn from service as soon as possible and the Tornado phase withdrawn over the next decade as more Typhoons become operational and the Tornado reaches the end of its useful operational life. The exact timescale of this withdrawal would depend of many factors including aircrew, basing, logistics and availability of Typhoons.
This will achieve two things; massive savings and a large hole in the RAF’s capabilities but in the context of this overall proposal the reduction in capability is accepted. There are advantages to reverting to a single, swing role aircraft, training becomes much more streamlined and efficient and the type can be properly supported from an aircrew and engineering perspective.
To support this, the full originally planned purchase should be completed.
Full integration of all weapon types should also be carried out, for example Storm Shadow, Brimstone and others.
Electronically scanned radar and thrust vectoring (which has many more advantages than just combat agility) should be implemented as the technology matures and a clear needs case can be made. The existing CAPTOR radar is very capable and the agility of the Typhoon is not in doubt but as other aircraft come into service the Typhoon should not stand still.
Conformal fuel tanks should be fitted early into the Tranche 3 production aircraft because this will support longer loiter times or greater range. The existing capabilities programme should be extended to bring the earlier tranches to as common a capability as economically feasible.
It is proposed to form 9 squadrons of 15 aircraft each, either configured as air defence or swing role depending on the particular Tranche of the aircraft. Excess aircraft would form an attrition and fleet rotation group in addition to conversion, evaluation and other uses. Each formed squadron will also be allocated two in squadron spares.
5 squadrons would be allocated to UK air defence, Falklands air defence and Quick Reaction Alert obligations with the other 4 acting as our expeditionary capability. Some flexing between these roles may be feasible depending on prevalent threats.
From a full buy of 232 (even though we have only confirmed 160 in 5 squadrons)
Forward Squadrons = 135 (9 x 15)
In Squadron Spares = 20
Operational Conversion Unit = 24
Operational Evaluation Unit = 4
Falklands Flight = 4
This would leave only 45 airframes for attrition reserves and to manage usage across the fleet which is simply not enough if readiness and availability is to be maintained over its lifespan so additional purchases will be required although decisions on this would not need to be made immediately.
An unequivocal commitment to Typhoon will also contribute greatly to its export potential, export sales generate significant revenue for the UK and support the UK aerospace industry.
Arguments rage back and forth across the internet about the cost and capabilities of the F35 or Joint Combat Aircraft; it is in development so the actual final cost and capabilities are not known by anyone but there seems to be no doubt about two things, it will be very capable in comparison with the Harrier and very very expensive.
There are many positives to the JCA but quite simply, we must spend our scarce budget on other things. The UK has made an investment of circa £2billion in the development of the F35 in order to secure a high level of work share and whilst the impact on the programme would be considerable it would not be catastrophic.
Cancellation of the JCA would also have significant impact on the Royal Navy future carriers, we will discuss these implications in other posts.
As the types and airframes are reduced it is self evident that personnel and base locations should also be reduced. The principles of basing should be a core location with at least one alternate in order to mitigate concentration risk. Quick Reaction Alert will also demand geographically dispersed basing but it is possible for training to be concentrated at a single location.
Additional airframes may need to be purchased in order to support this increase in planned fleet size.
Looking further ahead, developing a long range autonomous strike UAV system is a sensible goal and worth investing in as part of our long term strategy for a Typhoon replacement.
The one thing we never seem to achieve is economies of scale; this would go some way to achieving this and will leave the RAF with a single swing role fast jet combat aircraft. It is accepted that this single design approach carries risk and yes, this proposal has many compromises but we need the money elsewhere.
- Cancel JCA
- Withdraw Harrier as soon as possible
- Withdraw Tornado when its out of service date is reached (circa 2018)
- Consider extra Typhoon airframes to maintain availability
- Continue with weapon integration and improvement programmes
- Support ongoing development funding for UAV based strike platform
- Consolidate basing and training