Defence for 2015 and Beyond – Part 10 The Royal Air Force 2025

A series of guest posts from AndyC

More than either of the other services the strength and disposition of the RAF is determined by its support role.

The number of C-17 Globemaster and A400 Atlas transport aircraft is determined by the need to provide long distance mobility for the British Army.

Similarly, the number of Chinook, Puma and Merlin transport helicopters is determined by the need for battlefield mobility.

In addition, the number of A330 Voyager multi role tanker transports is partly determined by the needs of the transport fleet and only partly by the needs of the RAF’s combat aircraft.

ISTAR requirements are also determined by the needs of ground forces.  At present three kinds of aircraft and one UCAV are used for different circumstances.  It would make sense to pool these assets, reduce squadron numbers and have crews be equally familiar with operating different systems so that the RAF can maximise its capability while minimising its headcount.

What is surprising is that the RAF still operates a number of small squadrons which would appear to be inefficient and expensive from a management perspective.  As well as merging the three ISTAR aircraft Squadrons into one it would make financial sense to merge the two Reaper UCAV Squadrons into one, the three A400 Atlas Squadrons into two and the two A330 Voyager Squadrons into one.

It would also seem expensive to maintain a separate airbase for the 24 Puma helicopters.  Co-locating these squadrons with other helicopters of the Joint Helicopter Command would be most cost efficient and allow RAF Benson to be sold for development.

The RAF’s priority for training should be to work with the Polish Air Force and German and French aircraft that could all potentially be deployed to Eastern Europe and with the Norwegian Air Force and the French naval air arm in the north and the French and Italian naval air arms in the Mediterranean.  Consideration should be given to renting a permanent air base in Poland.

A number of new missiles are already on order and will enter service in the next five years including the Meteor Beyond Visual Range air-to-air missile, the upgraded Brimstone 2 anti-armour missile and CAMM-L surface-to-air missile to replace the Rapier for short-range air defence.

In addition, a number of new missiles have also been specifically designed to operate with the F-35B.  These include the SPEAR for targeting mobile ground targets at distances of up to 60 miles and the Joint Strike Missile for use as both an anti-shipping and land strike missile at distances up to 150 miles.  To maximise commonality and save on cost the Joint Strike Missile should also be used by the Maritime Patrol Aircraft and the Typhoon in its anti-shipping role.

There is no doubt that ground based air defences are becoming more effective.  One answer is the stealth of the F-35B but another is to extend the range of stand-off cruise missiles.  Improvements in engine technology and the use of lighter materials are enabling these missiles to be effective at much longer ranges.  The US has embarked on what it calls the ‘-Extended Range’ programme.  For example, the 200+ mile range JASSM is being upgraded to the 600+ mile JASSM-ER.  It should be a priority to improve the Storm Shadow missile to a similar extent.

From western Poland the white represents the range of a Typhoon + Storm Shadow-ER, the orange is Typhoon + current Storm Shadow.  From Coningsby the yellow is Typhoon + Storm Shadow-ER and the green is Typhoon + current Storm Shadow.
From western Poland the white represents the range of a Typhoon + Storm Shadow-ER, the orange is Typhoon + current Storm Shadow.  From Coningsby the yellow is Typhoon + Storm Shadow-ER and the green is Typhoon + current Storm Shadow.

In all of the scenarios examined there is a clear need for a long-range anti-submarine patrol aircraft to cover the large areas of sea around the UK that the reduced surface fleet cannot cover.  The most effective way to achieve this capability would be to buy a dedicated Maritime Patrol Aircraft such as either the Boeing P-8 Poseidon or Kawasaki P-1. In addition, the UK should evaluate the Triton UAV to see whether it can add to the capabilities and reach of whichever aircraft is selected in the MPA role.

A small number of fighter aircraft operating with aerial tankers are also needed to provide an anti-shipping capability in the areas that carrier based F-35Bs cannot reach and to provide fighter escort for the MPA.  With its longer range the Typhoon would be the most suitable aircraft for this role.

The minimum number of squadrons needed to provide effective air defence of the UK is four and we should not go below this.  The Typhoon’s capabilities to operate at long range, with high speed, greater agility and at least ten of the most effective air-to-air missiles make it the logical choice for this role.  Much the same applies to the Falklands Flight.


Conversely the F-35B has been designed to operate from aircraft carriers.  Each QE class carrier is capable of operating three Squadrons.  While all F-35Bs can operate in a swing-role one Naval Air Squadron will concentrate on fleet air defence/anti-shipping armed with Meteor and Joint Strike Missiles and will be permanently carrier based.  In times of conflict it would be joined by two RAF Squadrons that will primarily focus on close air support/suppression of enemy air defence armed with SPEAR and land strike/anti-shipping with Joint Strike Missiles.  If budgets were to allow for a larger F-35 force than six Squadrons the additional aircraft should be F-35As which can operate over a longer range than the F-35B.

That leaves Expeditionary Air Wing(s) that could be deployed to Eastern Europe, Cyprus or for global operations.  This force needs to be made up of at least three frontline Squadrons (with one reserve Squadron in support for major conflicts) to provide enough mutual support and to be able to operate in the full range of likely engagements.  Both the Typhoon and F-35B are capable of operating in this role and both have different strengths and weaknesses.  In the end the overall force balance will have to be decided by what the defence budget can afford.

In an ideal world the whole Typhoon force would all be upgraded with the latest AESA radar and the ability to carry conformal fuel tanks but this is unlikely to be affordable.  As a result of limited budgets there will need to be some specialisation based on the capabilities and age of aircraft.  Existing Tranche 1 Typhoons (T3/FGR4 standard) would equip the OCU and concentrate on air defence with only a limited air-to-surface capability.  In contrast, Tranche 3 Typhoons (FGR7) would be fully swing-role with AESA radar and CFTs, but at least at the start of any conflict they would specialise in long-range strike with Storm Shadow.  All Tranche 2 Typhoons should be retrofitted with AESA radar but only just over half need to be equipped with CFTs so that they are brought up to FGR7 standard, the rest could operate primarily in air defence with a significant secondary CAS/SEAD capability (T5/FGR6).

The RAF needs to maximise the combat capability of the aircraft in its inventory.  The Hawk T2 should be upgraded to operate the Meteor air-to-air missiles which, with a pair of ASRAAMs, would provide a valuable secondary level of air defence for the UK.  The older remaining Hawk T1 airframes would all be retired by 2020 to be replaced by more capable T2s.

Even though it is being retired from frontline service the Tornado is still a very effective strike aircraft.  If the remaining force were stored in the USAF boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base they could be brought back into action should the need arise.

In all of the situations outlined below the number of squadrons quoted includes reserve Squadrons such as Operational Conversion Units and the Test & Evaluation Squadron.

While both the F-35B Lightning II and the Eurofighter Typhoon are fully swing-role aircraft that can perform all combat missions the scenario analysis illustrates that there is a minimum number of aircraft required to fulfil each task and this has informed the various Options below.  Each Air Force Option is designed to be consistent with the respective Naval and (where relevant) Army Options.

Air Force Option 1 – operate a total of 15.66 combat squadrons.  To maximise operational effectiveness purchase 138 F-35s as originally planned which would equip 6 Squadrons with F-35Bs (2 Naval Air, 4 for carrier based operations and/or towards two Expeditionary Air Wings) and 2 F-35A (towards two Expeditionary Air Wings) plus 6.66 Typhoon Squadrons (4 for air defence of the UK, 2 towards two  Expeditionary Air Wings plus a Flight for anti-shipping and the Falklands Flight) and 1 Maritime Patrol Squadron, possibly made up of a mixture of aircraft and UAVs.  In total this would require ordering an additional 54 F-35Bs, 36 F-35As and 8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft.

Air Force Option 2 – alsooperate a total of 15.66 combat squadrons but save money on procurement.  Operate 8.66 Typhoon Squadrons (4 for air defence, 4 towards two Expeditionary Air Wings plus a Flight for anti-shipping and the Falklands Flight), 6 F-35B Squadrons (2 Naval Air, 4 for carrier based and/or towards two Expeditionary Air Wings) and 1 Maritime Patrol Squadron.  This would require ordering 54 F-35Bs and 8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft.

Air Force Option 3 – with only one QE class aircraft carrier the total number of combat squadrons could be reduced to 14.66.  This would include 8.66 Typhoon Squadrons (4 for air defence, 4 towards two Expeditionary Air Wings plus a Flight for anti-shipping and the Falklands Flight), 5 F-35B Squadrons (1 Naval Air, 2 carrier based and 2 towards two Expeditionary Air Wings) and 1 Maritime Patrol Squadron.  This would leave the total of new orders at 35 F-35Bs and 8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft.

Air Force Option 4 – a different combination based on two QE aircraft carriers but with one of them primarily operating with helicopters while maintaining 14.66 combat squadrons.  This would include 7.66 Typhoon Squadrons (4 for air defence, 3 towards two Expeditionary Air Wings plus a Flight for anti-shipping and the Falklands Flight), 6 F-35B Squadrons (2 Naval Air, 2 carrier based and 2 towards two Expeditionary Air Wings)  and 1 Maritime Patrol Squadron.  This would leave the total of new orders at 54 F-35Bs and 8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft.

Air Force Option 5 – faced with operating just one aircraft carrier and maintaining the number of land based air forces to give a total of 13.66 combat squadrons.  This would include 7.66 Typhoon Squadrons (4 for air defence, 3 towards two Expeditionary Air Wings plus a Flight for anti-shipping and the Falklands Flight), 5 F-35B Squadrons (1 Naval Air, 2 carrier based and 2 towards two Expeditionary Air Wings) and 1 Maritime Patrol Squadron.  This would reduce the total of new orders to 35 F-35Bs and 8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft.

Air Force Option 6 – faced with operating just one carrier while attempting to compensate for the loss of naval air power with 13.66 combat squadrons.  This would include 8.66 Typhoon Squadrons (4 for air defence, 4 for an Expeditionary Air Wing plus just a Flight for anti-shipping and the Falklands Flight), 3 F-35B Squadrons (1Naval Air and 2 based on the carrier) and 2 Maritime Patrol Squadrons.  This would reduce the total of new orders to just 16 Maritime Patrol Aircraft.


The rest of the series

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – Defence of the United Kingdom

Part 3 – Other Sovereign Territories

Part 4 – NATO

Part 5 – A Southern or Middle Eastern Threat

Part 6 – An Eastern and Northern Threat

Part 7 – Global Intervention

Part 8 – British Army 2025

Part 9 – Royal Navy 2025

Part 10 – Royal Air Force 2025

Part 11 – Conclusion

About The Author

Andy has had a lifelong interest in defence issues which he gained from his father who served in the RAF. A career has got in the way of this most of the time, including periods as a Director of the asset management companies of HSBC and Barclays. More recently Andy has thrown himself into local politics and is a Lib Dem Councillor on Dorset County Council, West Dorset District Council and Dorchester Town Council. He has stood for Parliament on three occasions

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117 Comments on "Defence for 2015 and Beyond – Part 10 The Royal Air Force 2025"

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July 13, 2014 3:01 am

“In all of the scenarios examined there is a clear need for a long-range anti-submarine patrol aircraft to cover the large areas of sea around the UK that the reduced surface fleet cannot cover.”

“cover” ? How? With fairy dust?
The only satisfactory sub search sensor nowadays is low frequency active sonar, which no ASW/MPA can employ.

July 13, 2014 3:39 pm

Are these T2 Hawks also going to get AESA radars to fire these Meteor at anything or are they using AWACS only for targeting data?

July 13, 2014 6:16 pm

@ AndyC

‘It would also seem expensive to maintain a separate airbase for the 24 Puma helicopters. Co-locating these squadrons with other helicopters of the Joint Helicopter Command would be most cost efficient and allow RAF Benson to be sold for development.’

I don’t think with the new Chinooks purchased that would be feasable. The plan is to move the Chinook OCU to Benson due to lack of space at Odiham. Benson’s space and facilities are need in the near future.

Re Tonkas in storage. I don’t think you could put them all in storage then expect to bring them out quickly. It would take a long time. You’d have no personnal to operate or man them. No current aircrew. It’s quite a lot of work to put them into storage and take them back out. Skill fade would be the killer for this idea.

John Hartley
July 13, 2014 7:23 pm

F-35B should be RN FAA only. The RAF have no credible need for them, other than to stop them getting on the carriers. I am quite happy to see the RAF getting F-35A if budgets allow.
Long range strike needs to be looked at. F-35E/LRS-B or a bigger intercontinental Tarranis are the likely options.
I agree on the need for an MPA, but should it be FAA rather than RAF, as the RAF could not be bothered to fight for the Nimrod?
I would like to see 32 sqn re-equipped with Global 5000/6000.
Would not mind the RAF getting one or two sqns of ground attack Hawks.
I also agree the UK needs a credible SAM. Bloodhound retired decades ago without replacement. SAMP-T, MEADS/THAAD are all options.

July 13, 2014 9:50 pm

I would like to think, but I have no evidence, that there’s justification for half a dozen C27 Spartans to be purchased when the C-130 are retired.

I’d also like to see the RAF support the Red Arrows be upgraded to Hawk T2, or as budgets would likely dictate, Tucanos, and maintain a 1st class display team.

Lord Jim
July 14, 2014 7:02 am

The idea of equipping the Hawk T2 with meteor as a 21st century version of the T1A is really a non starter for a whole lot of reasons. I would like to see the Red Arrows re-equipped with the T2, being leased for BAe in exchange for aiding in sales through appearances at trade shows around the globe.

The Tranche 1 Typhoons are going to have to be retired but I agree that all efforts should be made to bring both the Tranche 2 and Tranche 3 airframes up to a common standard for maximise the flexibility of the fleet. The small size of current RAF squadrons, as few as 10 airframes concerns me and is a waste if resources through additional administration costs. Rather than the planned five squadrons I would rather see four, with two at each operating base.

Given that the RAF is going to operate the F-35B in at least 2 squadrons, and with an eye on the Carriers, the more F-35Bs we have in service the better. I would like to see four sixteen airframe squadrons formed, 2 RN and 2 FAA to allow 1 squadron to be routinely embarked and a second surged if required. An area of concern though is going to be the lack of airframes in storage to allow their rotation within the fleet and therefore manage airframe hour effectively. Both the Typhoon and F-35B fleets are going to be worked hard and may not last as long as has been calculated.

For the F-35, any OCU and OEU should be situated stateside and work with the USMC. This would reduce costs and require fewer airframes. It would also increase the knowledge base regarding the operating of the F-35B.

WE need to carefully maintain the fleet strengths of our rotary and fixed wing transport fleets, ensuring all necessary upgrades are carried out as well as additional purchases made. The latter mainly applies to the Chinook fleet, where some airframes are over thirty years old and with the fleet having been heavily used in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade. I would like to see additional A400 Atlas transports purchased as I believe the 20 or so on order are not enough to meet the planned needs of our Armed forces. The c-17s have shown how invaluable they are and the purchase of 2-3 additional airframes would make sense and the opportunity to do is now time limited with the date set for the production line to close. Additionally I would like to see a refuelling probe fitted to RAF C-17s. If Boeing can do it for other platforms why not the C-17 and I am sure other users would be interested.

Often forgotten is our fleet of E-3D Sentry’s. Though heavily used there has been a major lack of investment in the platform. They are almost a generation behind those of the USAF and FAF and this needs to be rectified as a matter of urgency.

July 14, 2014 7:51 am

@LJ, RE “Often forgotten is our fleet of E-3D Sentry’s. Though heavily used there has been a major lack of investment in the platform. They are almost a generation behind those of the USAF and FAF and this needs to be rectified as a matter of urgency.”
– I seem to remember that Project Eagle made it to the Top 20 before it was cancelled?
– and the cancelling was not just due to general penny-pinching across the board, but there were “real” reasons

Anyone to shed light on this?
– btw, why don’t we just take the same upgrades as others? Interoperability and all that?

July 14, 2014 8:25 am

I was wondering why not convert the Red Arrows over to the Typhoon T1 and retire their old T1 Hawks?
When the Typhoon T1’s are retired early what happens to them are they just stripped for parts?

Would be great to see 9x Typhoons performing at air shows and trade fairs around the UK and overseas!!

July 14, 2014 9:00 am

sea_eagle – ref why not Red Sparrow Typhoons? Noise. At Goodwood a couple of weeks back there were displays by the Arrows, by a vintage pairing of Canberra and Hunter, and a current Typhoon. The Arrows’ Hawks made similar polite old-fashioned jet noises as did the Canberra & Hunter (the Hunter in particular being very quiet except when climbing at full chat). No trouble hearing the PA or chatting with friends while these displays were performed. Once the Typhoon arrived, even shouting directly in the ear of the person stood alongside failed to be heard. The entire display – at higher flying height than the earlier displays – was so loud as to be physically painful with the exception of the occasional descent or minimal throttle flypast. So much for stealth.

And you want to put nine of them together?

July 14, 2014 9:11 am

“And you want to put nine of them together?”

Yes absolutely. Sounds like a brilliant show. :D

The display team should grab you by the ears and scream LOOK AT ME!

The Vulcan is deafening and loud enough to set off car alarms. It’s why the crowds love it.

A Different Gareth
July 14, 2014 10:05 am

Andy C wrote: “The RAF needs to maximise the combat capability of the aircraft in its inventory. The Hawk T2 should be upgraded to operate the Meteor air-to-air missiles which, with a pair of ASRAAMs, would provide a valuable secondary level of air defence for the UK. The older remaining Hawk T1 airframes would all be retired by 2020 to be replaced by more capable T2s.”

Along a similar line I think the Tucanos should be Super (or similar) and capable of COIN/CAS roles.

John Hartley said: “Long range strike needs to be looked at. F-35E/LRS-B or a bigger intercontinental Tarranis are the likely options.”

Scale Taranis up, make it manned and call it Vulcan 2.

Daniele Mandelli
July 14, 2014 11:44 am

Sea Eagle, who do you think the RAF are teh USAF!!!??? No way will we be operating a front line fast jet type for the Reds, people are moaning about using Hawks as it is! They will need new Hawks soon though, and for 100 Sqn and the new FAA unit who’s number I forget.

I’m content with around 150 Fast jets. I think the F35B should be all RN owned, and the RAF expand its Transport, Air to Air refuelling, Support Helicopter, and ISTAR force, all vital enablers for Power projection and army support.

Closing Benson is a no no as the SHF training facility is there, and we need more space for the Chinook fleet.

If MoD must close facilities then naval bases and airfields should be excluded, all strategic assets. Close Army barracks if they must. I like the way teh army has occupied ex RAF airfields as this keeps them under MOD and possibly useable in the future if need be, with their hard standings, runways, fuel and SSA’s, and the all important links to the GPSS.

July 14, 2014 6:15 pm

@Sea Eagle; @Chris; @Chuck; @Daniele Mandelli – The Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels once downsized to the T-38 trainer and the A-4 Skyhawk respectively once upon a time. As soon as possible, they re-equipped with first line jet aircraft to demonstrate the capabilities of the Air Force and the Navy. As for the racket produced, when people complained about the noise from the Air National Guard fighters at the closest international airport to my abode, those who understood the importance of those aircraft referred to it as “The Sound of Freedom.”

July 14, 2014 6:30 pm


I like it.

Never going to happen though. It’ll be Hawk T2’s because of cost. :(

July 14, 2014 6:44 pm

I imagine the running costs of Typhoon to be an order of magnitude higher than Hawk, plus perhaps not as reliable. Bit embarrassing to advertise nine cabs and only seven turn up.

July 14, 2014 6:53 pm

Oh, yeah! The USMC C-130 known as “Fat Albert” that is the Blue Angels support aircraft demonstrated JATO takeoffs until the last of the Vietnam-era bottles were expended during the 2009 season. A C-130 at full power with eight (8) solid-fuel 1,000lb thrust JATO bottles firing wasn’t quiet either. BTW, the F/A-18s the Blue Angels use have reached the end of their carrier arrestment functionality, so there is precedent for using Typhoon Tranche 1 aircraft for the Red Arrows. :D

July 14, 2014 7:04 pm

@A Different Gareth – Re: Super Tucanos – Exactly! We already use the Beechcraft T-6 Texan II for basic flight training. We should also have AT-6s for armament training and crappy jobs like Afghanistan where air superiority is not an issue and to support special operations instead of burning airframe hours on our front line FJs! They also cost less to operate, are faster, and have longer loiter time than AH-64 Apaches.

A Different Gareth
July 16, 2014 1:45 am

RE: Hawks, Red Arrows, etc.

How much more development can the Hawk take?

I’ve recently been wondering whether a less sporty and cheaper Eurofighter could take over the training and export sales the Hawk is aimed at. Less powerful engines, no radar absorbing materials, fewer expensive sensors, etc with upgrades to full Eurofighter capabilities as an option.

July 16, 2014 2:29 am

Not a bad idea, I don’t think you could get the cost down as low as Hawk, just because the airframe construction is much more advanced, composites, plastiformed(sp?) titanium etc, but if you could get it down to the 25-35 million range(the hawk coming in at 16mil) I think you’d have a winner at export. I don’t think there’s much on the market that could compete at that price, particularly kinetically, which will be it’s big selling point.

I’d leave the engines alone though, a bit part of it’s performance comes from it’s thrust to weight and people love commonality on that front.

Full spec tiffies go for about 75 mil. What portion of that is gold plating of if that even includes the shinier bits I have no idea, but if it does, might well be feasible. Simply paring it back to a level that will undercut Rafale and Gripen might be worth doing too. I think the India situation will repeat itself(hold a big competition then just buy the cheapest) more than once. Competing on price rather than frills seems a smart move in the current market. Also gives buyers the option to just bolt on their own frills.

July 16, 2014 2:39 am
July 16, 2014 7:10 am

Is a less sporty and cheaper Eurofighter a Gripen? ;)

1/3rd UK built:

Wonder how much of the Boeing/Saab trainer for T-X that will hold true for?

Not sold on the Scorpion so far, however to date the low level CAS role has been pushed. If even the exceptionally engineered and tough A-10 cannot sustain availability it’s uncertain what the Scorpion does differently. Note that the sovereign patrol, intercept, reconnaissance and light attack roles are starting to push into the promotional material.

I think it could be useful for smaller militaries, I just don’t see a fit for the UK.

July 16, 2014 7:37 am

TOC – ref Gripen – wash your mouth out! While its considered by many to be irrational impolite and just plain stupid to argue against the “There are lots of armoured 8x8s – just go out and buy one of them” lobby, you just can’t point out there are lots of perfectly adequate fast jets (or, worse still, frigates) being made around the world that we could just buy. It is apparently stupid to suggest such.

July 16, 2014 8:16 am

For shame! For shame! I shall go forth and self-recriminate for the next three minutes… ;)

35% work share on the Gripen E, 33% share on the Eurofighter and let’s presume optimistically (for now at least, fully aware of history) a 50% share in a FCAS UAV.

Not too shabby for the UK FJ industry.

July 16, 2014 8:30 am

Ditch Hawk? Buy Gripen for training and 2nd tier air combat and strike?

We already have one in the Empire Test Pilots’ School anyway!

Excellent aircraft.

July 16, 2014 8:59 am

Indeed gripen is a great aircraft. One prob with Chris idea weve built/sold more typhoons than Sweden have gripen by some margin. Thing is when we make aircraft we get overseas sales when we make tanks or Indeed ships no one wants to buy them what’s that tell you…

I think the etps gripen has been to the uk once as far as I know it’s still perminantly based in Sweden.

July 16, 2014 9:24 am

Mark – ref no-one buys our tanks – the armoured vehicle industry since WW2 has supplied lots of exports; some heavy (Centurion was a big export success, late Chieftain versions/early Challenger where the designs morphed one to the other had limited sales), few medium weight (one Warrior order?) but lots of light armour (FV600 Saracen & Saladin, CVR(T) in very large numbers, Stormer, Simba, even a few Saxon). And we shouldn’t forget the likes of protected JCBs – a fine company making fine machinery. I would suggest the armoured vehicle export record matches (or at least comes a close second) to military aircraft sales. Or at least once did…

I agree in recent years the export record has not been great; our industry now has a fraction of its previous capacity, and new designs that might interest other nations surface once in a blue moon – the Ricardo/Force Protection (UK) designed Ocelot/Foxhound had export potential but GD saw the potential and bought product line and manufacturer, intending I believe to manufacture in Canada. No UK exports there then. As I’ve noted before, the 25-35t IFV market has many fine contenders around the world, and I doubt FRES/Scout in its UK form would be competitive. ASCOD with some of the UK funded developments will probably have a few exports but from Spain.

So as I see it the reasons AFV exports have dried up are 1) very little new & exciting being designed in the UK mostly because MOD no longer engages with new design, and 2) the few products that have gained some success are greedily acquired by big corporations often not UK based where the product development and manufacture may be moved away from UK.

July 16, 2014 9:58 am


Yes I’ve looked into this a bit more and you are right that Odiham doesn’t have the capacity to take the Puma as well so you may well be right that what actually happens is that the Chinook OCU moves to Benson to spread out the airframes.

July 17, 2014 3:44 pm

@ Topman in the Part 9 commentary

As we’ve seen over the past twenty years it’s very difficult in any SDSR to accurately predict what’s going to happen over the next ten years.

One lesson that should be learnt from previous exercises is the need to be flexible.

So, let’s take a hypothetical (but not unrealistic scenario) where in 2020 or 2021 relations with Russia have substantially deteriorated. The MoD decides we need 60 extra strike aircraft. Just how long and how much would it cost to get them? Well at the moment it takes 3-4 years from placing an order to actually getting your new plane. But, if everyone else in the West wanted some new F-35s at the same time the wait could be considerably longer. And the cost: £4 billion easily.

So how long and how much would it cost to bring 59 Tornados back into service? Well it would be a lot quicker and a lot cheaper. Keeping a few Tornados in the desert should be regarded as an insurance policy. Is that really so unreasonable?

It also helps that the MoD seems to have suddenly found a pot of money to launch not one but two upgrades of this excellent aircraft.

July 17, 2014 4:53 pm

@ Andy C

To my mind the chances of some sort of Cold war replay in the 2020s as very slim and then deciding and being prepared to bring back a/c sat in the desert that have been there for 5 years as equally as slim. Timewise it would be quicker but you’d probably surprised as to how close it would be. same for the costs to man them you would need to ‘overman’ else where. In effect have them waiting to man these 59 Tonkas that’s not cheap. Likewise setting up a maintance facility out in the desert won’t be either.
Once a/c go to DM or other storage facilities they go as spares a/c, very few return to service.

Of course the idea is possible but it hinges on having a large uplift on money. As I assume this new threat to the UK won’t just be meant by Tonkas. Within the current or planned budgets, it’s a none starter. Even if we did get a large increase in money I don’t think bringing Tonkas back would go down tri-service in the MoD as a reasonable use of funds. The infamous Tonka mafia might be though ;)

July 17, 2014 8:54 pm

@Andy C – On March 15, 2001, the Italian government signed a deal to lease 30 F-16As and 4 F-16Bs (with 3 additional F-16As as “spares/maintenance trainers) for a period of 5 years due to the delays in the Eurofighter Typhoon program. The aircraft were withdrawn from AMARC for a complete update and the first three were delivered on June 28, 2003. The lease was exended and on May 23, 2012, the surviving F-16s were retired. By June 1, 2012, all but 15 of the F-16s were back at AMARC. (5 or 6 crashed; 1 is on display at Aviano AB; and the rest are stored. The “spares” are just gone…

This was during peacetime without “pressure” for the regeneration of the stored aircraft

Jordan’s experience was more of the same only faster: “New ground was broken with this Foreign military Sales program: taking ‘used’ F-16s from the desert (AMARC), completely refurbishing and modifying them and delivering the aircraft to the customer within a 17-month time frame.”

July 18, 2014 7:22 am

@ Kent

I wasn’t aware of those two examples and thank you very much for sharing them. I guess that shows that what you and others have been saying is right and there’s no point in storing them.

On another issue relating to the Tornados. I wonder if with these upgrades the MoD is laying the ground work to extend their operational life beyond 2019 – perhaps because of the delays in the F-35 programme?

Any comments?

July 18, 2014 7:31 am


The MOD will more than likely accelerate the retirement of GR4 post-2015 as soon as the Typhoon is cleared for Storm Shadow carriage. Once done the Typhoon can do almost everything the GR4 can, except carry a recce pod and there are plenty of plans to drop the RAPTOR pod completely and rely fully on Litening for imagery. Word on the ground within MOD at the moment supports this – Tornado hasn’t got long to live. The article you linked describes RAF aspirations to complete the upgrade programme, but has little hard evidence.

July 18, 2014 7:51 am

@TAS, I am sure you are right. Just out of curiosity, could Tornado do a much better range than Typhoon, only carrying the pod and max. fuel?
– the tiffy conformals have no confirmed plans
– afterall, unarmed “big-wing” Spitfires were still serving in the mid-50’s

July 18, 2014 7:52 am

We should follow the Spanish tactic and just sell the tornadoes to whomever wants them. China May fancy a few more strike aircraft, although I think they would be after knock offs of the new stuff,not second hand. Argentina could use a few tornados to compliment their mirage 2000s. It may cost or our allies in the future ……but a couple of million in the hand………..its not like it’s an assault ship or three.

July 18, 2014 8:30 am

@TD and @Mark have been following RAPTOR alternatives closer than I have I think.

There’s no official end of service life for Tornado at the moment, although the 2019 date has been “slated” [1]. The same source also confirms there are no official plans for the RAPTOR pod on the Typhoon (specifically the UTAS DB-110 sensor[2]).

Rafael has been pitching [3] it’s Toplite sensor [4] as part of its Reccelite pod [5] for Typhoon at Farnborough.

Meanwhile there is news alongside the Maritime Radar functionality modifications that Sentinel R1 will also be receiving significant Optical sensor upgrades and that these will be the same DB-110 sensor as found in the RAPTOR pod [6].

At the same time there’s news of an upgrade to DB-110 in the form of a long range Synthetic Aperture Radar called TacSAR being put together by UTAS and Selex [7] which would dramatically improve results in all weathers as well as adding features. No news as to whether TacSAR will be included in the Sentinel R1 upgrade.


July 18, 2014 8:41 am

ACC, absolutely no idea, sorry. As far as I’m aware neither Typhoon nor Tornado have especially long legs and need tankers for anything longish-ranged.

July 18, 2014 8:56 am

Thanks TOC, checked your link [6] to find out about any aerodynamic (endurance) penalty – there will be none!

But that same page has a further link to KIngAirs; how far they have gone with Boeingkitting them up.
– only half of the endurance of the platform we are speaking about (range-wise even a bigger difference).

July 18, 2014 8:58 am

I think we should have a balanced combat jet force

c140 Typhoon, trickle buying some more T3s to replace the T1s if only because I see nothing on the horizon, F35 included, that will be a better aircraft for the primary task of air to air / defence of UK airspace.

Upgrade the 50-60 Tornados to keep them relevant and retain for the foreseeable future until a decision is made re future strike. Long range storm shadow trucks, recon, EW, anti ship possibly, they would be the contemporary buccaneers or canberras and in my mind a useful ‘insurance policy’

No more than 72 F35B – enough for four squadrons purely for carrier ops – one carriers routinely with 12-24, or two carriers with a 36:12 or 24:24 allocation

I wouldn’t be rushing anytime soon to have the F35A for the RAF, with a 200 fast jet fleet of upgraded Typhoon / Tornado, supplanted by 72 ‘FAA’ jets, we can take a proper strategic decision about long range strike and future air defence. The former potentially unmanned and the latter will have to be another joint European Typhhon type project (preferred) or the next gen US beast

July 18, 2014 9:43 am

Shadow R1 reporting is much more quiet and often confused with both the Boeing updates and General Atomics updates.

The latter often equips them as surrogate Reapers with the MQ-9 sensors and electronics (i.e. The STAR SaFire EO/IR kit on the RAF models).

I’d really like to see the RAF gain access to the Gorgon Stare 2 ARGUS-IS equipment. Shadow R1 receiving them first for onboard operator trials then roll out to our Reapers.

July 18, 2014 9:58 am

tonkas much more likely to go earlier than be extended, in pretty short order there will be 2 sqns plus an ocu. not really many options in a small force. @tas i’d be surprised if raptor were replaced by LIII pod. the imagery quality is far better on raptor, very much in demand last time i had sight into it. The army were particularly keen on as many flightd as poss with it. might end up on another platform. @ ACC i think it would be a little better, by the virtue of carrying more fuel internal and external, but not much in the grand scheme. its older engines, heavier and not as aerodynamic.

July 18, 2014 10:06 am

Would we not better off, if we binned Tornado as fast as possible and replaced them with a few sqn’s of leased (option to buy if we deemed them useful enough) Gripen’s?

More weapon options, truly multi-role and cheaper to run plus the Swedes are integrating a cruise missile. Plus 6 Gripen’s down south would be more of a deterrent due to the multi role nature of the frame. Save our money upgrading the Tonka’s and concentrate on the Typhoon tranche 2 and 3 development which is woefully slow.

July 18, 2014 10:11 am

Or… We let the RAF continue to do what they’re doing?

i.e. Move the weapon systems to Typhoon and shifting the sensor that is the heart of the RAPTOR Pod to the Sentinel R1.

Only risk in this strategy is the Conformal Fuel Tank development on the Tranche 3, although centreline fuel tank and AAR are still available.

July 18, 2014 10:18 am

But we are spending money upgrading Tonkas who’s only advantage to anything we already have is storm shadow carrier and Raptor. Would we not be better off cutting Tornado now (and maybe tranche 1Typhoon) and accelerating Typhoon development, and supplement the lost airframes with a capable mature multi role airframe that is cheaper to run?

July 18, 2014 10:21 am


Not sure i agree with all of your fast-jet proposals but i’d definitely look to trickle buy some more Typhoon Tranche 3 and keep a 140 strong fleet going. Would be enough for 7 squadrons so they could do air-defence and a fair bit else instead of being confined by a lack of numbers. It would also have the benefit of keeping the production line going for longer to give BAE a chance to secure some more export orders, it would be a dam shame after all that time, effort and money if production has to wind down in 2018 due to a lack of extra business, just at the point where the product will have matured into a proven and capable system as well.

With a larger Typhoon force i think their would be options in terms of closing the gap left with the Tornado’s retirement. Storm-Shadow will be on the Typhoon from 2016 on-wards anyway, so either tankers, or investing a bit more money into conformal fuel tanks, or a mixture of both will surely make it effective in the long-range strike role?

July 18, 2014 10:21 am

The upgrades (don’t forget Brimstone) won’t complete until 2021, although there’s a push to bring this forward to 2018. The suggested 2019 retirement is five years away.

I’d rather the current overlap/complement in capabilities to transfer skills rather than a sharp handover between crews that could results in techniques falling between the cracks or, even worse, gapping a capability entirely again.

July 18, 2014 10:33 am

there is the issue of the total fast-jest fleet.

i am all for maintaining typhoon numbers are a latest current spec, but not at the expense of an ambition to operate a fleet of 72 F35b…

July 18, 2014 10:43 am

There is rumours that the tranche 3 typhoons may initially be flown to storage, if that is indeed the case I would have thought that it maybe better to increase the number of typhoon squadrons and remove tornado sooner. Personally I think the uk needs a fastjet force of 9-10 sqns, 6-7 typhoon and 3 f35 but I doubt the budget is there.

As for the cheap multi role airframe I think reaper is the going to take over the “cheap” airframe in a low level threat area it’s taken over the majority of attacks in afghan now I believe.

July 18, 2014 10:48 am

If we can get Typhoon to do all that Tornado can then fine but with a plan of 107 Typhoon and XX F35B we are asking way too much of Typhoon numbers and any major deployment will leave us bare at home

@DN, I like that idea, but can we really see it happening?

We should have around 250 fast jets if we want to carry real weight at the top table. Just looking at options to acheive this. A Gripen buy would be consistent with my RN thoughts on strength in depth and some form of real reserve – if the Typhoons and F35s are committed to a major op, UK and BOT defence has adequate fallback

July 18, 2014 10:54 am

The Gripen would be an off the shelf replacement for Tornado, which has a more mature weapons integration than Typhoon and could be used in the same threat areas as both. just leasing a couple of sqn’s would be a cheapish way of keeping capability until the true Tornado replacement arrives plus negating the loss of capability and giving us overlap as the Typhoon integration is a few years off. This way would we not be able to divert funds to Typhoon and accelerate the process without loss of capability?



July 18, 2014 10:56 am

Topman, RAPTOR is indeed much more capable, the Army love it and it is a much easier product to share with allies, but there is almost no interest in developing a recce pod for Typhoon. There is a feeling that LIII is ‘good enough’. Absurd and stupid I agree, but that’s the feeling in town.

July 18, 2014 11:03 am


What process are you using to arrive at the 250 FJ mark?

July 18, 2014 11:11 am


F35 is replacing tornado there is simple no room for a 3rd fastjet type in uk service. Problem with gripen is the paveway 4 brimstone or stormshadow are not available on that platform.

Tas but that doesn’t mean a raptor pod capability won’t go onto something like sentinel or reaper I would hope. Raptor pod can’t be migrated to typhoon as far as I’m aware.

July 18, 2014 11:11 am

@ tas main thing is its kept in service, if it moves from a fj platform so be it. last time i heard in a briefing (probably 8 months ago) there was some effort by 1* to get one. perhaps thats changed, i suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

July 18, 2014 12:10 pm


Is the F35 definitely replacing Tornado, What about the UCAV’s in developement?

July 18, 2014 12:27 pm


A post 2030’s typhoon replacement.

July 18, 2014 12:34 pm

@ mark
And who says the MoD is slow to act? I oinly floated the idea here a couple of days ago
“rumours that the tranche 3 typhoons may initially be flown to storage”

Joke – joke!

July 18, 2014 1:53 pm


So we are replacing our Typhoons with UCAV’s? no air superiority then, or are we going to be relying on the F35 to be generations ahead all its service life?

July 18, 2014 2:07 pm


Its 20 odd years away yet not sure anyone really know what the force mix may look like or the capabilities available on either f35 or a ucav.

July 18, 2014 2:29 pm


It’s 16 years away and not one combat UCAV of the capability required to replace either Tornado or Typhoon is in service any where in the world, the US are close but still years away.

I think I’d hedge my bets and lease some Gripens, bin the Tonkas and tranch 1 Typhoons and maybe save some money.

July 18, 2014 2:32 pm


They were working on a 2035 date last I heard maybe its been brought fwd don’t know.

But if you want gripen what do you want to delete typhoon or f35 no room for a third type?

July 18, 2014 2:39 pm

@ TOC What process are you using to arrive at the 250 FJ mark?

72 F35Bs gives me the carrier force structure of 4 available squadrons

107 T2/T3 Typhoons is the current plan

Gaping hole on future F35 / taranis / LRB options – years ahead before any deployment

Hence 30 or so additional T3 Typhoons as a contingency giving a couple of extra squadrons for overseas deployments as necessary

30-40 Tornados retained longer term

If you drop Tornado, I think 140 or so Typhoon and 70 F35b is as small as it should get if we want to remain top table and potentially support 2 carriers and other planned deployed formations

I think to not work the Typhoon investment with at least 140 aircraft is a horrendous waste. They seem fine aircraft for the foreseeable future

July 18, 2014 2:40 pm


Twenty years is still a short space of time to design and build an aircraft. Why would you have delete either F35 or Typhoon? the Gripen is a much cheaper aircraft to run and you would have already binned the tranche 1 aircraft.

July 18, 2014 2:42 pm

I’d agree the Gripen would be a nice low cost addition to the RAF. It’s not brilliant but it is cheap (quoted as 1/4 of Typhoon?) however if we had money for a third type of FJ we wouldn’t have binned Harrier. If we did bring in Gripen, I think some people might be somewhat miffed after we binned Harrier to lose a FJ platform to save money. Although I’m a bit wary of the claims made by it, all singing all dancing, small economies of scale yet can do lots that Typhoon can do. To get it that far down on cost there must be all sorts of compromises.

July 18, 2014 2:46 pm
July 18, 2014 2:50 pm


‘I think some people might be somewhat miffed after we binned Harrier to lose a FJ platform to save money’

We will be getting it to replace the Tornado, so you might have a chance of arguing your case. Also we will be leasing and not buying, but your right about the compromises that will invariably exist. I was thinking more to the fact that it’s weapons integration is very mature and we are still looking at a few years before the Typhoon becomes the aircraft it can be. The Tonka’s are old and expensive and are slowly becoming one trick ponies, at least the Gripen is multi role.

July 18, 2014 2:50 pm


‘If you drop Tornado, I think 140 or so Typhoon and 70 F35b is as small as it should get if we want to remain top table and potentially support 2 carriers and other planned deployed formations

I think to not work the Typhoon investment with at least 140 aircraft is a horrendous waste. They seem fine aircraft for the foreseeable future’

Couldn’t agree more!

July 18, 2014 2:54 pm

’70 F35b’

Are we guaranteed to get 70?

July 18, 2014 2:58 pm


Yep I know there were other factors at play first hand, just short hand comment. Trust me I don’t want to rerun that debate!

@ DN

I suppose you would have to work out the numbers to see if it wa worth it. I would say it can do mutli role, but then we have a large requirement historically and looking into the future for A-G. Would it be better than the Tonkas? Unlikely tbh, for all the critisism (mainly from those that knew FA^2 about them) they were very good at what they were asked to do. However the cost saving aren’t something that can be ignored.

July 18, 2014 3:00 pm

138 is the Workshare commitment, ostensibly F-35B. Likely to be a “whole of fleet life” purchase.

4 is the number ordered to date of which 3 delivered. 1 in construction.

14 more are expected as the next order to stand up a squadron.

48 stated as a possible F-35B total purchase. Lead to suggestions the remainder for the RAF Tornado replacement would be be F-35A’s.

July 18, 2014 3:02 pm


I’ve read that thin-pinstriped-line article before and it’s the same paragraph that always leaps out…

These challenges, coupled with a renewed challenge on the defence budget meant that something had to give. Ultimately the decision was taken to withdraw the FA2 from service in 2006, and instead transfer the entire force to the upgraded GR9 fleet standard. This decision remains controversial, with supporters of the FA2 force claiming that the RN remains unable to deliver fleet air defence, and that the GR9 would be unable to deliver this requirement.

Should have kept FA2, run GR into the ground, and deployed Tornado if necessary.

It is odd that we scrapped “defence” over “offense”, which not only do I find odd, but I dislike my taxes being spent this way, especially since everyone knew strike jets would fail to have any measurable effect on terrorists walking amongst civillians.

Although it might seem as though I’m simply being pro-Navy, I’m actually not. I’m very pro-Typhoon for mainland air defence and pro-SHAR for fleet air defence. Especially when CAS could be readily delivered with Apache.


July 18, 2014 3:04 pm


I don’t think it would be better than the Tonka for A-G but it would still be very usable, the swedes want to integrate Taurus and the new upgrade for the Gripen gives it the capability to launch Meteor and the SDB, so it would be a decent enough airframe. What capability block are our F35’s going to enter service with?

July 18, 2014 3:09 pm

@ DN

I guess it’s a compromise, like I said from what I’ve seen of it and if it’s capabilities vs costs are true it’s an impressive a/c. Funny you should mention new developments, Gripens were here working with 41(R) Sqn just a few weeks ago.

I’m not sure tbh, have my hands full with what’s in service :)

July 18, 2014 3:14 pm

@ Simon
Do you think that ‘offensive’ jets would have been more ‘measurable effect on terrorists walking amongst civillians.’ than strike or I am misreading your post?

July 18, 2014 3:25 pm


Ok we have 7 Sqn fastjet fleet by march next year that will be 5 typhoon and 2 tornado. Tornado sqns and marham were there based will migrate to f35 over the next 4 years.

So moving to gripen where would you base them, are you gonna increase fast jet Sqn numbers do you to want to bring new weapons into uk service or do you want to integrate paveway 4 brimstone asraam onto gripen?

July 18, 2014 3:36 pm


Good question on capability block. Blocks are all software dependent now that the hardware is largely fixed. There are Technology Refreshes throughout the program to allow for improvements in computing and significant step changes in other hardware (e.g. sensors, DAS).

Blocks 2B and 3i are the likely candidates for UK F-35B.

Block 2B is the USMC IOC capability block going into service next year and what the USMC and UK are testing and training on now. Essentially A-A and limited A-G capability.

Block 3i is the same software running on upgraded processing hardware. To upgrade largely involves Integrated Core Processor and FPGA swap outs from their racks in the fuselage.

After 3i it’s back to pure software updates. Block 3F (multi-ship sensor fusion) and Block 5 (Maritime sensors and strike i.e. JSM) is where it gets really interesting.

My guess? The next 14 will be 2B and orders after that 3i onwards.

July 18, 2014 3:50 pm


Completely agree. There’s disturbing echoes in the calls to split the F-35 purchase into A/B sub-fleets.

The F-35B doesn’t hamstring the RAF whereas the F-35A hamstrings the RN. Significant numbers of Typhoon, F-35B and AH-64E secures the flagship fleets for all three services from hitting the consequences of the minimum fleet levels as Sir H describes of the Harrier sub-fleets.

We can argue all day about the range/payload of the A vs B when you try and fit practical payloads, however if the RAF find they can’t deploy effectively to the Bokoharamistan Caliphate all because they’re short 5 aircraft as a result of arguing for split fleets then the points are completely moot…

July 18, 2014 4:06 pm


So moving to gripen where would you base them.
RNAS Yeovilton

are you gonna increase fast jet Sqn numbers.

Not at first as they would be an immediate straight replacement for Tornado, we may need to keep the Gripens for a few years until all the integration for Typhoon is complete and the F35’s are up to full capability after they are delivered, thats why it’s a lease.

you want to integrate paveway 4 brimstone asraam

asraam and stormshadow. Are we going to be using the SDB with the F35?

July 18, 2014 4:17 pm
July 18, 2014 4:20 pm

Plans seem afoot to integrate Brimstone, Meteor, Stormshadow and SCALP onto the Grippen. In my darker moments I do wonder if we should just invest in the Sea Grippen and go STOL on the carriers… sometimes seems closer than getting the F35 into service. Of course would then need to go for a STOL Strike UAV also…

July 18, 2014 4:23 pm

Understandable. Been through this thought loop often:

To optimise the carrier’s ability to generate fixed wing sortie’s you need to angle the deck.

If you’re paying to angle the deck, you may as well add catapults and arrestor cables.

If you add cats and traps, why do you need Sea Gripen?

You also impact on rotorcraft operation.

July 18, 2014 4:23 pm




Sorry and addition – do you to want to bring new weapons into uk service.

Yes. I would see if the Swedes would do a straight swap for some Stormshadow in exchange for RBS 15F. If not buy a small number.

July 18, 2014 4:23 pm
July 18, 2014 4:29 pm

Ahh, I was looking in the wrong place. Knew I’d seen an article of yours on the topic. Thought that it might have been orphaned in the re-tagging and clean up exercise.

Thank you very much, kind Sir!

July 18, 2014 4:39 pm

@ DN

Where would you base gripen…..

No thanks….. It’s been lovely and quite since the sea harriers left……faster jets, just say no…….we like our helicopters thank you

I know its a Waste of a 1.1k runway,but I feel a bit NIMBYish today.

July 18, 2014 4:52 pm


You’ve a 3/4 year window from today perhaps less until all the capabilities will be on typhoon and f35 declaring IOC. To bring gripen in is gonna take min 18months I would have thought and if the personnel on the tornado sqns are transferring to gripen who’s left to transfer to f35?

Your favourite helicopter is at yeovilton so its a no go. There’s only 3 fastjet bases left now Leuchers is going green so either we expand them or refurbish another base which is gonna kill any cost savings.

Much as I’d like to see gripen in uk service I can’t see any possible combination of events that would make it possible without more money or someone taking a very courageous decision on f35.

July 18, 2014 5:16 pm

Gripen is cheap to run but what capability does it actually have?

As a fighter its definitely inferior to Typhoon (by quite a way) and simply not up to modern threats. The short range means that QRA performance is much worse than Typhoon.

As a strike aircraft it doesn’t have UK weapons integrated which means a couple of hundred million and 4-5 years to wait to integrate them. As well its very short ranged compared to Tornado – about half the range and no Stormshadow for extra stand-off distance. Survivability is poor in defended airspace as per most modern fast jets.

Does Sweden actually have that many spare Gripens around to lease? For a one to one replacement of Tornado GR4 FE@R (18 currently I believe) we’d need about 60 aircraft which is roughly equal to ALL the Gripen’s that Sweden has in service.

This just doesn’t make sense.

If we have any money and a appetite for decision making then withdraw the UK from NETMA, invest in UK-only Typhoon upgrades and save quite a few years and money, and buy more Tranche 3 aircraft.

July 18, 2014 5:30 pm

Why don’t we just replace tornado squadrons with new tiffies like for like? I know they’re not cheap up front but the savings from running a lower number of types should go a long way to make up for it. Remember the big difference in spending comes from number of types not number of airframes. Will leave us with a large pool of highly versatile and upgradable airframes. Typhoon and F35 will make a good pairing IMO.

Bumping the current purchase of 160 to the originally planned 232 would cover all this and might be worth something when it comes to the next round of collaboration “Hey we stuck to our numbers” or just in short term workshare. Give us time to find a few more export numbers too. I think the market will much better in a few years. Lots of cold war vintage planes lifing out around the world and procurments that have been delayed due to the economy will be getting looked at again.

July 18, 2014 5:37 pm

Hypothetically speaking, you could make use of RAF Honington, it has a large number of HAS Shelters, the Airfield itself is currently inactive though. I doubt it would take that long to reopen it.

You would have to move the RAF Regt Depot, if you wanted to make use of the large hangers for maintenance or just purchase the Farmland around the base and expand it with new facilities and housing. Just a thought!

July 18, 2014 5:40 pm

I’m not to worried about finding an airfield you can’t drive 50 miles in this country without tripping over at least one old RAF base. Yeah you’ll need to reactivate them, but it’s not nearly the imposition that opening a new one would be.

July 18, 2014 5:45 pm

Hannay, not quite, but the remanufacture of Gripen C’s into NG’s has already started, sonotmany to spare
” originally ordered 204 aircraft, including 28 two-seaters. Sweden leases 28 of the aircraft, to the Czech and Hungarian Air Forces. The SwAF has 134 JAS 39s, including 50 JAS 39As, 13 JAS 39Bs, 60 JAS 39Cs and 11 JAS 39D Gripens in inventory in January 2013,[131] with approximately 100 JAS 39C/D Gripens in operational use (including 31 A models refitted to the C level).[258] The 60 original JAS 39Cs are to be retrofitted to the E level by 2023″

All Politicians are the Same
July 18, 2014 5:46 pm

@ Hannay

I think you are being a bit harsh, especially on the new Gripen E which is a highly mvrble mach 2 fighter capable of super cruise with a highly advanced AESA radar, IRST and data link. meteor and IRIS-T are integrated. I would say that is a pretty capable platform.
Not saying we should buy/lease them but if i was a smaller country looking for a single FJ fleet all round capable aircraft then it is a strong option.

July 18, 2014 5:48 pm

The problem as I see it is there are currently 7 squadrons in the budget: 5 Typhoon and 2 F35B.

We’d all like to see another 2 squadrons stand up. And there are strong arguments both for 2 additional Typhoon squadrons (commonality, industrial policy, leveraging past investments) and for 2 additional F35B squadrons (ability to send serious of stike airwings to sea).

But unless there’s a major change in the threat assesment there’s no money for either. Unless the Russian thing kicks off totally in the next 12 months can you seriously see the SDSR 15 busting the Fast Air budegt from 7 squadrons to 11 or even to 9? While there’s still money to be found for vital renewal of ISTAR capabilities?

Best bet for more Typhoon sales would therefore be to find some imaginitive ways of financing sales to the Ukrainians and others in East and Central Europe who want to beef up their defences.

July 18, 2014 5:48 pm

Typhoons don’t have any option other than fighting their way to a ground target and back again.

Tornado’s have their low level awesomeness up their sleeves to help them intrude whereas the Lightening II’s have Low Observability and a growing electronic warfare capability to slip in and out.

Think of Typhoon as a supplement to Strike, with Tornado and, later, F-35 as your goto platforms.

July 18, 2014 6:01 pm

Is there some technological reason Typhoon couldn’t be just as good at low level? I know it would need development and training, but I’m not aware of anything that would preclude it. Correct me if I’m wrong. They seem to handle the Mach Loop just fine.

Realistically Typhoon is going to be the bulk of our fleet for a good while yet, we need to squeeze everything out of it.

July 18, 2014 6:04 pm


Gripen E doesn’t exist yet for a possible UK lease or purchase.

Its less manoeuverable than Typhoon and cannot usefully supercruise (i.e. when carrying weapons and not pointing downhill a bit).

The new AESA is the result of all the R&D money the UK has pumped into Selex over the last decade or so, but its fundamental small power-aperature with limited range performance. This is a significant downside in smaller fighters compared to the large amount of real estate in the nose of Typhoon or F-22.

The new IRST basically seems to be PIRATE as used in Typhoon with a different name.

But all together its an attractive package for the price if you only want to operate at short range against limited opposition.

July 18, 2014 6:08 pm

Yeah no reason at all chuck

July 18, 2014 6:39 pm


‘Your favourite helicopter is at yeovilton so its a no go’

In that case we can use it as a range! (I’ve nothing against Wildcat for the Navy, it’s just not what the Army need)

who’s left to transfer to f35?

Navy and new pilots, we are going to need new pilots eventually if we buy more F35’s anyway

I know it’s not going to happen, but I think we should have a plan B as a cheap stop gap just in case.

July 18, 2014 6:43 pm

Chuck, I know of some possible reasons, mainly due to different environmental considerations between high altitude and low. Just as an example, engines are designed to work at certain altitude ranges and the air mix at that level. Go lower and the air is denser and the air mix is different. Temperature too. This might also affect control surfaces as some designed for slicing through thinner air might end up floundering at a denser air. Just some factors that MAY affect, and in general, not specifically about the Typhoon.

July 18, 2014 6:43 pm


‘Why don’t we just replace tornado squadrons with new tiffies like for like?’

We haven’t got the money, when II Sqn form up that’s (pretty much) it.

July 18, 2014 7:13 pm


Would it really break the bank to drip buy 33 extra Typhoon’s and run say a 140 air-frame fleet? The RAF was running 9 fast-jet squadrons up until early this year so it has the people and infrastructure if not the money immediately available.

Not saying it would be easy, but IF SDSR 2015 provides the RAF and RN with a comparatively good deal and we see a slight increase in overall spending as well then it would be difficult but surely feasible.

July 18, 2014 7:17 pm

@ Challenger

‘if not the money immediately available. ‘

That’s the situation I’m afraid, no cash for it. Whether it might seem reasonable or not unfortunatly that’s it for Typhoon force wise. If there is a large uplift in money maybe one more. But under current and future planning 5 Sqns plus OCU/OEU is it.

July 18, 2014 7:40 pm

Typhoon’s large delta results in a low wing loading. Great for higher altitude supersonics and transonic manoeuvring, but not as stable at low altitude. It’s affected by the denser air, changes in airflow due to stores release and the larger turbulence all found at low level to a greater extent to the region of air it’s more designed for. Typhoon’s a relaxed stability aircraft with computer controlled adjustment which would offset the issues however.

Tornado’s smaller area wing gives it a higher wing loading, it’s naturally more stable at low level and its gust resistance is “baked in” in the same way as Typhoon’s knife-fighting agility is.

July 18, 2014 7:53 pm

@Chuck – “Is there some technological reason Typhoon couldn’t be just as good at low level? I know it would need development and training, but I’m not aware of anything that would preclude it. ”

Anything the least little bit indicative of “mud moving” is anathema to the zipper-suited thunder gods who fly fighter aircraft. It is this attitude by the USAF “fighter mafia” that led to the demise of the A-10 Thunderbolt II, more familiarly known as the “Warthog,” much beloved by the troops on the ground and disdained by the A2A gang. One genius claimed that the F-16 could do anything the A-10 could, even if they had to put the GAU-8 in a pod. Well, THAT didn’t work!

(The above is meant all in good fun because I’ve met many (well, two or three :D ) fast mover pilots who were very dedicated to dropping ordnance right in the pickle barrel from treetop level if necessary.)

Then there are the B-52 pilots flying aircraft older than they are who understand that flying over a target area low enough to be seen by all and sundry (AFTER air defense assets have been appropriately suppressed) and carpet bombing an enemy unit in the field has a much greater deleterious effect on surrounding units than simply bombing from high altitude. (They like being able to look back and see what they did, too.)

July 18, 2014 7:56 pm


“Woo pwetty mushroom cwoud!!”


July 18, 2014 8:44 pm

@Observer – More like “Well, the plowing is done. It’s Miller® time!”

At the risk of angering the anti-jointness gods, I hope the USAF T-X program selects the BAe/Northrop-Grumman offer of an off-the-shelf Hawk (either a T-2 or a T-45″D” Goshawk). (Everyone is using the Beechcraft T-6 Texan II for PriFli.)

July 19, 2014 8:01 am


I think you might have got me a bit wrong…

I’m saying that we scrapped a defensive capability (FA2) in favour of an offensive capability (GR7/GR9) at a time when we had a rather more effective land-based strike capability (Tornado) which just like GR7/GR9 was unlikely to work against a terrorist threat walking amongst civilians anyway.

The only valuable COIN strike capability we had (if we did at the time) was Apache.


Did someone mention the idea of removing the lift-fan from B and fitting a fuel bag or did I dream that?

July 19, 2014 8:37 am

I believe there is a common misconception that all of the tranche 1 Typhoons are going to be withdrawn. If you carefully read the MoD statements they don’t say that. What the statements actually say is that tranche 1 will start to be withdrawn from 2016 – they never commit to how many.

Nowhere can you find any Minister or senior official actually say they’re all going. The official statements are far vaguer than that and allow for plenty of wriggle room.

If it was simply a case of tranche 1 all being withdrawn as tranche 3 came in then the fleet would never have grown beyond 107 aircraft and 2 Squadron wouldn’t be being set up next year. The interesting point is that by 2016 the Typhoon fleet will be at 140.

By then it will consist of:

5 frontline squadrons (1, 2, 3, 6 and 11) with 15 active aircraft each

1 OCU with 20 active aircraft

41 Sqdn with 3 active aircraft

Falklands Flight with 3 active aircraft

That gives a Forward Fleet of 101 Typhoons and implies a Depth Fleet of 35 with 3 IPAs

Between 2016-18 the RAF will get it’s final 20 tranche 3 aircraft. If current plans go ahead only then will just 20 tranche 1 aircraft be withdrawn. Alternatively the option exists to have a sixth frontline Squadron stand up – probably replacing the Tornado’s 31 Squadron.

July 19, 2014 9:44 am

@AndyC, interesting, thanks.

6 active squadrons gives your 4 for AD plus two for deployments. If the airframe fleet can be maintained at an appropriate number for that, an OCU plus the flights, then I’d be ok with that. That’s you 6.66 option?

Typhoon has been expensive, but it works and will be relevant for many years to come. I see no rationale in binning that investment fro the next new expensive shiny toy (F35) that is many years off operational availability and in the A to A role may well be a backward step.

I would be looking at trying to squeeze a few more airframes out – how do you get to your 8.66 Typhoon option with no further buys, just standing up the depth fleet?

July 19, 2014 10:17 am

@andy c you’ve gotten to 140 because your numbers are abit high. knock off about 15 from the forward fleet and a few more from depth fleet. that will fit better with numbers closer to 100 than 150.

July 19, 2014 10:40 am


You didn’t dream it. TD mentions it.

From memory the USMC were investigating but more from a ferry point of view. The LiftFan area is where the additional tanks on the A and C are.

July 19, 2014 11:44 am

@ mickp

8.66 Typhoon Squadrons equates to:

6 frontline squadrons (3 air defence, 3 multi-role) of 15 active aircraft each = 90 altogether

1 OCU of 20 active aircraft split 15 for air defence (the 4th AD Squadron) and 5 (a Flight) for anti-shipping

1 OEU with 3 active Typhoons

Falklands Flight with 3 active aircraft

That gives a Forward Fleet of 116, a Depth Fleet of 40 and 3 IPAs which comes to 159 aircraft as one crashed a few years ago.

With 7.66 Squadrons you get 101 in Forward Fleet, 35 in Depth Fleet and 3 IPAs which is what we’ll have when 2 Squadron gets up to strength.

With 6.66 Squadrons you get 86 in Forward Fleet, 30 in Depth Fleet and 3 IPAs which according to a recent Parliamentary answer was the position in March of this year.

July 19, 2014 5:19 pm

@AndyC thanks

July 21, 2014 10:38 pm

Gripen E , being the Swedish (and now Brazilian) main fighter of choice, is optimised to do much of what Typhoon Tr. 2 can do but with obvious limitations on its range and similar aspects. If the RAF need to maintain QRA at low cost it is arguably a better day-to-day aircraft than Typhoon, though inferior at longer range strike with equvilent development and weapons clearence. Since the above-mentioned countries’ have an interest in qualifying it for multi-role cability and Saab are pushing further exports, it overcomes some of Typhoon’s lack of enthusiasm issues while being undoubtedly cheaper to operate at an in-service by-the-hour calculation.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what the opportunity cost would be of leasing these for 10 years while F-35 got into its stride; it would make an admirable low-end (in RAF) terms platform for most of the missions that the FJ fleet are actually asked to undertake, is pretty surviveable, modern and likely to remain developed. If I were thinking solely in FJ terms (foolish fantasy as that may be) I might consider an enlarged squadron to offer QRA, DCAT and possibly dedicated SEAD until the Tiffie Tr. 3 and F-35 were truly inducted.

Given Saab are quite cool about leasing, the aircraft itself is a mixture of European and US parts and it is cleared or may well be cleared for most of the weapons and sensors we use, it has a beguiling quality.

Roll in a large, leased Gripen Squadron to replace the Tornado gap, sowly replace Typhoon with Tr. 3 and hold on F-35 for the CAG until it looks a litle more dependable. They will all last a long time, all be open to streamlining training and MRO and will offer a rolling improvement in capability.

That answers some issues RAF ‘effects’ issues, thought would probably break the overall bidget given the inability to get good contracts at present

July 22, 2014 2:42 am

@Andy C – Why, oh, why would you only put three first rate (3) aircraft at RAF Pleasant Hll in the FI when there are four (4) there now? (And I don’t believe that four (4) is enough. Four (4) Typhoons would be enough if you had 10 Hawk single-seaters (8) and T.2s (2) to support them.)

July 22, 2014 2:16 pm

@ Kent

My assumption is that only 3 of the 4 Typhoons in the Falklands are active at any one time with the 4th undergoing maintenance and thus counted as part of the Depth Fleet. I’m not proposing any changes there.