Conflict Prevention from Above

A week or two ago, the MoD released a news story that described how an RAF C-17 from 99 Squadron had deployed to Hungary to conduct training in Hungary.

UK Ambassador to Hungary, Iain Lindsay, said:

It was fantastic to fly above Lake Balaton with the C-17 crew and to witness an intercept by Gripens from the Hungarian Air Force. This is the first time the RAF have held a joint exercise working with the Heavy Airlift Wing; it’s a fantastic capability and I hope to see the RAF’s C-17s back in Hungary soon. We value our allies and partners and our existing cooperation. NATO will remain in the heart of UK defence strategy. There’s great scope for more UK-Hungary defence cooperation in the future.

No. 99 Squadron pilot Flight Lieutenant Ben Mountfield, said:

This is a fantastic opportunity for us to train at an airfield specifically designed for C-17s. It’s great to enjoy the free airspace around Pápa, which allows us to manoeuvre the aircraft to develop our tactical procedures. Our NATO allies here in Hungary have been so welcoming – they’re beyond reproach. We’re absolutely looking forward to working with them again.

Although the deployment was ostensibly a training one, there was a valuable defence engagement opportunity to be exploited. A flight and assault landing with VIP’s from the Hungarian Ministry of Defence was carried out.

This is the theme of this post, the value of using ‘air’ capabilities in the defence engagement role.

Defence Engagement, Capacity Building and Conflict Prevention

Chatham House held a workshop in 2014 to explore the role of the British Army in Conflict prevention with General Sir Peter Wall and Allan Mallinson, click here to read the transcript. The Army’s Adaptable Force as part of Army 2020 continues to evolve, the August 2015 Joint Doctrine Note 1/15 describes the MoD’s defence engagement approach and the International Defence Engagement Strategy provides additional information.

Our collective experience from operations tells us that Defence Engagement activity is a constant: it rises and falls in volume and extent as situations evolve and events happen but the boundaries are blurred.  There may sometimes be a fine line between Defence Engagement and combat operations – equally Defence Engagement may continue inside a country or region during combat operations. Therefore, when understanding Defence Engagement, consensual flexibility in both scale, metrics and effect is needed.

Defence engagement is therefore designed to build understanding and develop capacity with the objective of preventing conflict.

The Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS) is a joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Department for International Development (DFID) and MOD strategy for conflict prevention. BSOS also outlines three main mutually-supporting pillars of the Government’s stability strategy;

  • Early warning
  • Rapid crisis prevention and response
  • Upstream conflict prevention.

Defence engagement supports all three of these pillars.

Defence Engagement creates effects through four broad ways; security and non-combat operations; Defence diplomacy, defence and security exports; and regional stability, conflict prevention, post-conflict reconstruction and stabilisation.

Upstream conflict prevention, is a simple concept that at its core seeks to make the UK safer by providing help to unstable nations such that they can help themselves to stabilise. The theory is that an Ounce of prevention saves a Pound of cure. Getting in early, de-escalating early stage conflict and supporting overseas development efforts are all seen, quite rightly, as effective means of preventing wider and much more expensive conflict.

The British Army and Royal Navy conduct upstream conflict prevention missions all the time and can range from a training on an opportunity basis to more involved and lengthy engagements. Some no doubt are successes, others less so, that of course being the nature of the beast.

Short Term Training Teams and enduring deployments like the British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT), together with regionally aligned Adaptable Force brigades, demonstrate how the British Army devotes considerable resource to the task, especially in Africa.

There has been a couple of posts on defence engagement over the years on Think Defence, including this from David Hulme Footsoldier;

Current defence doctrine defines capacity building somewhat generically as “a range of activities in support of developing an indigenous security force, such as training, mentoring, partnering, monitoring and enabling.” Defence capacity building is often regarded as synonymous with Security Sector Reform (SSR).  However the two are distinct and while SSR normally incorporates an element of defence capacity building, capacity building can (and often does) occur in the absence of a meaningful SSR effort.  The distinction is important because the effect the UK policy seeks to achieve (stabilization) is probably best achieved by capacity building nested within SSR rather than capacity building in isolation.


“Security Sector Reform addresses security problems and tries to improve the situation through institutional reforms.” “…the crux of the reform of the security sector is the development of both effective civil oversight and creation of institutions capable of providing security.” The problem with defence capacity building in the absence of an SSR effort is that it is highly unlikely to be sustainable. The Iraqi Army did not suddenly collapse in Ramadi in May 2015, it corroded from the inside out over a period of some five years as predatory political and institutional interests undid almost a decade of US and Coalition defence capacity building efforts. Military capacity building in isolation of an SSR effort is unlikely to address root causes of military weakness, in much the same way that building military capacity in unlikely to deliver stability unless security weakness is the primary driver of instability.

DHF concluded that capacity building to prevent conflict must be integrated with Security Sector Reform (SRR) and share three characteristics;

  • Focused, prolonged engagement,

that includes

  • Train, Advise, Assist and Accompany,

and is

  • Nested within an SSR context.

Phil also wrote another post, highlighting risks and urging some degree of caution with upstream engagement;

The logic behind upstream engagement is sound in the abstract – it is better to invest smaller amounts of resource and effort early than it is to invest huge amounts of resources and lives later fighting a bigger threat. But in practice as we have seen upstream engagement brings with it its own additional and different risks which means we  must be realistic about its limitations as a corner-stone of our military direction. The further upstream you go, the more your success or partial success becomes a dynamic non-event (undermining efforts to mobilise support for action) or inappropriate action is taken.

What does this mean in practice?

It means we have to accept some realistic fulcrum point will always exist and that we will sit by and watch threats emerge and grow to a certain critical mass where they therefore become clearer and the phenomenon of safety being a dynamic non-event thereby becomes less applicable. This will be reinforced when domestic governments get their fingers burned in an early engagement, either by history judging an intervention as inappropriate in itself, or by early actions themselves being inappropriate: thus will Governments become more averse to upstream engagement and thus ironically increase the overall security risk through being less inclined to meet threats early again in the future. This will also therefore fundamentally undermine the whole strategy which represents one of the biggest risks of all since we’d still have on the surface a force structured to engage in defence and upstream engagement thereby leaving us less able to meet conventional threats and give us false reassurance in our seemingly pro-active direction

From these two posts, it is apparent that upstream engagement and capacity building are connected, have risks and must be seen in a wider context to be successful.

The Air Component

Joint Doctrine Publication 0-30 defines UK Air and Space Doctrine, particularly the three core air power attributes;


Air capabilities exploit the vertical dimension. Aircraft are usually faster than surface vehicles and can often go directly to their destinations. By definition, elevation is inherent to air operations. These factors result in the core air power attributes of height, speed and reach


The advantage of height is an enduring military reality. Air power’s high vantage point allows us to observe and dominate activities in other environments. At the tactical level, height may put us out of vertical range of some surface threats. It also allows us to manoeuvre in three dimensions, helping to enhance our survivability.


The speed of aircraft allows us to project power rapidly and responsively and to complete missions quickly. This increases tempo and provides the opportunity to exploit the fourth dimension – time. At the tactical level, speed allows us to create surprise and reduces our exposure to hostile fire, thereby, increasing survivability.


The pervasiveness of air power provides reach. This potentially exposes all of our adversaries’ resources to influence through attack or observation, regardless of their location.

On preventing conflict…

204. Preventing conflict involves identifying and managing threats before they materialise. This demands an integrated, cross-government approach, including outreach, influence activities and conflict prevention based on diplomacy, deterrence and aid Air power provides particular opportunities to support these activities. These include: Engaging overseas, beyond our core alliance within NATO – activities include providing mentoring, advice and training to other air forces (capacity building); Building understanding – using air-derived intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) for horizon-scanning to identify threats and opportunities; Managing developing crises – by delivering humanitarian aid, disaster relief and early-intervention forces; and Supporting conventional deterrence – providing a demonstrable and credible capability to hold potential adversaries at continuous risk.

JCN 3/12 described the future UK Air and Space Doctrine and whilst it provides some additional context for capability building and conflict prevent as part of the Adaptable Britain posture.

One of the issues of using the RAF for upstream conflict prevention is nothing at all to do with them, it is the other guys. Whilst the British Army can train an infantry solder from Sierra Leone in first aid or section attacks without needing Challenger 2 tanks it is more difficult (although not impossible) to exploit the many advantages of air power without aircraft.

Although the RAF conducts defence engagement activity with many nations and like the other services, has many nations wanting to come to the UK for training, the complexity of the RAF’s basic equipment does have a limiting effect on the types of defence engagement activity it can carry out.

For many years the gulf between modern Western combat aircraft and those of less developed nations has grown ever wider.

Aircraft like the Typhoon or even F-16 are enormously expensive to purchase and operate and need a developed engineering and training infrastructure that is simply unattainable for most, especially those likely to benefit most from even basic air power components such as logistics and ISTAR.

One of our guest authors has previously chronicled the complete waste of money and almost total failure of ISAF’s efforts to create an Afghanistan air force but in Iraq, the US had much more success. In Iraq, they started with simple equipment and worked up to the F-16’s they are now flying. The Iraqi forces had the advantage that they could read and write and that they had used complex aircraft before, but by starting with aircraft like the Cessna Combat Caravan they achieved a workable, sustainable and effective capability without breaking the bank or it collapsing under the weight of its own complexity.

AC208B Cessna Caravan AGM114 Hellfire

Accepting the extensive and excellent work carried out by the RAF with NATO partners and other advanced air forces this is a proposal to extend that down the technology ladder for less advanced air forces, especially those in Africa and some parts of the Middle East.

Building on the activities that are currently carried out.

If as a nation we are at all serious about preventing conflict then we must include the benefits of ‘air-power’ and invest in capabilities accordingly.

Roles and Requirements

When it comes to roles and requirements the ‘fightiness’ diagram is useful, again.


Small, relatively low tech air forces in Africa may well require all of them but at a level significantly lower than more advanced forces.

A more detailed view of potential roles is described below;



Is the Royal Jordanian Air Force going to be conducting airborne early warning or the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (Air Component) going to be conducting deep attack, unlikely.

Both still would aspire to mobility, situational awareness, and control of the air and attack at a lower level though.

In addition, roles in the ‘safety and security’ areas would contribute significantly to security and stability, counter poaching and illegal fishing for example, both of which have major implications for national and regional stability and security.

Typical roles might include;

  • Training and logistic support,
  • Air transport and despatch,
  • Surveillance and reconnaissance,
  • Air interdiction and close air support.

I have left out missions such as airspace battle management, air superiority and counter air defence missions because of their inherent complexity. This assumes that those nations in receipt of such support from the UK would use it for counter piracy, poaching and fisheries protection, counter insurgency and humanitarian support in an environment where Mig 29’s were not the principle threat.

We have to be realistic.

Neither is this a proposal to create a neatly boxed off self-contained unit, it is about a collection of people and equipment that can be tailored for the needs of sustaining a deployed training and mentoring capability with varying levels of support, a modular capability of you will.


The RAF has no spare cash or spare personnel.

This means, if we are to expand the conflict prevention activities conducted by the RAF and/or Army Air Corps, there has to be new sources of both funding and personnel.

The use of ex RAF and AAC personnel, sponsored reserves, contractors, other government department personnel and RN/Army/RAF reserves should all be considered as part of any personnel matrix. Given that the objective is build host nation capacity, the fundamental principle of  using host nation personnel is central to success.

In cash terms, the Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS) provides an obvious route to funding.

The overall conflict pool settlement was £683 million in financial year 2014-15, with peacekeeping at £444 million and the Conflict Pool at £329 million. The conflict pool allocations are shown in the below.

Conflict Pool Allocations
Programme Financial Year 2013-14 Allocation(£m) Financial Year Allocation 2014-15 (£m)
Afghanistan 45 26.8
Africa 51.5 53.7
Middle East and North Africa (MENA) 39 60*
South Asia 20 20.5
Strengthening Alliances and Partnerships (SAP) 10 12
Wider Europe 36 35.2
Stabilisation Unit 10.8 10.8
Early Action Facility (EAF) 20 20*
TOTAL 232.3** 239
*£5 million has been pre-committed from the £20 million EAF to the MENA programme ** Includes over commitment of available resources by £3.3 million

The Middle East and North Africa programme (MENA) included additional resources for the crises in Syria and Libya as well as their regional consequences. Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia and Iraq also received funding. The Africa programme included funding for Somalia, Nigeria, the Sahel region, North and South Sudan, Zimbabwe, East and Central Africa, and with the African Union.

The 2015 SDSR included provision for the £1.5 Billion Joint Security Fund and other changes to overseas development assistance parameters.

From the Commons Library a description of the funding landscape for confict prevention, Changing parameters of Overseas Development Assistance

An area where scope for flexibility has been identified in supporting the budgets of ‘non-protected’ government departments like the FCO is through increased counting of their spending as Overseas Development Assistance (ODA – as defined by the OECD). The UK’s ODA budget has reached the UN target of 0.7% of Gross National Income and the Government is committed to maintaining this level of spending.

In a significant move, ODA was now to be used to serve the national interest.

The Conflict, Security and Stability Fund starts up…

The Conflict, Security and Stability Fund (CSSF) became operational in April 2015. A beefed-up version of the tri-departmental (FCO, MOD, DFID) Conflict Pool but now managed and controlled by the National Security Council, it represents an attempt to fulfil the long-standing aspiration for a ‘whole of government’ approach to national security. The CSSF has become the main mechanism for the implementation of the 2011 Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS), which sets out the conflict prevention agenda originally called for by the 2010 NSS. A key element of the UK’s conflict prevention agenda during the last parliament was a greater focus through UK ODA on fragile and conflict-affected states. This has been achieved: the target set was to spend 30% of UK ODA on them by 2014-15. In 2013, 43% of UK ODA was spent on them. This upward trend looks likely continue over the next five years.

It s clear that the UK sees conflict prevention as a significant part of the remit of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) and that funding will follow.

 A key element of the UK’s conflict prevention agenda during the last parliament was a greater focus through UK ODA on fragile and conflict-affected states. This has been achieved: the target set was to spend 30% of UK ODA on them by 2014-15. In 2013, 43% of UK ODA was spent on them. This upward trend looks likely continue over the next five years. First announced in 2013 and funded from core departmental budgets, the CSSF is worth £1.033 billion in 2015/16. The Government has said that, under the departmental allocations from the Fund in 2015-16, the FCO will receive £738.8 million, the MOD £191.5 million, DFID £59.9 million, and other departments and agencies £42.81 million. The CSSF can be counted as ODA or towards the pledge to spend 2% of the national budget on defence – or both, if this is “consistent with the classification guidelines”.

What does this tell us?

There is cash available for conflict prevention, serious cash, and that priorities or delivery mechanisms can be changed.

Developing the Capability

The good news is that in seeking to develop a capability to develop other nations air forces to support the conflict prevention agenda is that between the RAF, RN and British Army, the know how already exists. As above, additional capacity can be evolved from a changing view of the use of contractors, sponsored reserves, former service personnel and commercial organisations.

Developing an airborne capability starts on the ground; airfield facilities constructions, engineering support, logistics, operations planning, escape and evasion, air traffic control, fuel management and other support functions.

On the Ground

Each nation will start from a different point, Sierra Leone and Nigeria may be close geographically but some distance apart in terms of air forces. It would make sense to have a regionally focussed core capability that is supplemented with country specific groups.

And so the first area to consider is the ‘ground components’, everything from whiteboards to remote airstrip fuel storage and dispensing. A composite field engineering and airfield construction squadron, together with and air operations wing would be the core onto which individual country operations would be attached.

The overall capability and capacity building programme would be tailored for each country and this core capability supplemented with contractors and other organisations as the programme develops. Again, the intent is to develop national capability, not do everything for them, so not only would knowledge transfer but also equipment and facilities.

This latter point is an important one, assets would be transferred to the country in question, and new ones purchased going forward. There is also an opportunity for defence exports, some of the equipment may be manufactured in the UK.

Defence engagement has a stated role in supporting the UK prosperity agenda.

Some of the ground elements could be housed in demountable and rapidly constructed equipment such as Rubb Shelters and the Deployable Engineering Workshop for example. The Deployable Engineer Workshop (DEW), supplied by G3 Systems, supports Royal Engineer artisan trades such as carpenters, fabricators, welders, fitter machinist’s, builders, structural finishers, electricians , utilities engineers and petroleum engineers. All the containers and shelters are supplied by Ably Shelters (Denholm Defence), the RACU and EXTENDA being specific examples.

Of course, these trades would need to change, instead of a carpenter, an avionics technician for example. The principle is sound though, deployable self contained systems that can be used whilst more permanent infrastructure is being developed.

Deployable Engineer Workshop 01

The MoD has a well-established relationship with Rubb UK, fabric building specialists.

Rubb produce a number of different products for port warehousing and their specialist military range, the EFASS (Expeditionary Forces Aircraft Shelter System). EFASS can be used for storage, as a hangar for aircraft or temperature controlled maintenance space. It is available in 11.1m, 20.4m and 25 m spans with typical lengths up to 100m. Power, heating and cooling options are available, as are a range of doors, double skin fabrics and other ancillaries. They are quick to erect, with a 25m x 100m shelter built in 13 days, and not overly expensive.


Warehouses (25m x 100m)

Rubb EFASS Warehouse Container

Rubb Military EFASS-SV Aircraft Hangar Horizon Flight Academy Project

Typical Container Packing For EFASS Hangar

Fuel storage and dispensing (Fluid Transfer Ltd), navigation aids and control facilities are also available in containerised and/or vehicular form

Operational planning, developing air navigation and survey information, personnel management and logistics will all need space, power and computing facilities.

As an example, the Nigerian Air Force has recently established a helicopter maintenance capability as part of its Aeronautical Engineering and Technical Services (AETS) capability, it is exactly this kind of development we could support with a combination of second user equipment, expertise and finance.

So even before we can consider aircraft, there are a huge variety of other things to sort out.

There might be a desire to move quickly past these essential ‘back office’ functions and go straight to F-16’s but developing air power has to be seen as a multi-year effort that starts on the ground.

In the Air

For nations that have little or no existing capability, air transport and surveillance and reconnaissance are likely to offer the greatest and most cost effective means of improving security and stability. Working in conjunction with land and maritime forces, a single aircraft type may be all that is needed.

Countering illegal fishing, counter poaching, medical evacuation, light transport and surveillance are all easily delivered by simple aircraft like the Britten Norman Defender or Cessna Caravan. These can also be used for national geomatics, surveying, agriculture and flood prevention.

Where the current capability is next to nothing, even something we might ordinarily consider rudimentary can make a significant difference.

Aircraft examples…

General Purpose Single Engined

Widely used for basic light cargo and passenger transport in wilderness locations, a number of manufacturers have also adapted them to surveillance ad other specialist roles. What characterises these is there very low cost, rugged construction, simplicity and low running costs. These results in a sustainable capability for an emerging air force.

We do have to be realistic about capability though, they are unsuited for anything but the most permissive of environments, generally unarmed and certainly limited in speed, carrying capacity and general sophistication.

Mahindra Airvan 8

Manufactured in Australia the Gippsland Aeronautics (Mahindra Aerospace) GA8 Airvan is a simple single engine utility aircraft with a payload of approximately 600kg or 7 passengers.

The Airvan 8 has a very low operating cost and can be fitted with a cargo pod, a pod that can carry a retractable EO sensor. Maximum endurance is 8 hours and it can take off (50ft obstacle) in 480m and land in 490m.

If extreme short take-off and landing are key performance requirements there are a couple of other options, the Pilatus Porter and the Pacific Aerospace P-750.

Pacific Aerospace P-750

From New Zealand, the P-750 has incredible short take-off and landing performance. With a payload of 1.8 tonnes is can carry more than the Airvan 8, although like the Airvan 8, can carry an under fuselage cargo pod. At maximum weight, take off distance is less than 250m, or 30m less than the length of the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier (just sayin!). Landing distance is 160m.

The undercarriage is designed for semi prepared airstrips with simple maintenance requirements, endurance is 8 hours and the basic design has been used for a wide variety of roles, 10 seat passenger carrying or fire fighting and aerial survey for example.

The Northrop Grumman AirClaw system has been demonstrated on a similar aircraft to the P-750, the Quest Aircraft Kodiak.

Pilatus Porter

The well known Pilatus PC-6 Porter has a long track record in utility and special mission roles, carrying up to 10 passengers or a large electro optical payload with downlink and onboard processing systems.

PC-6 Yeti Airlines Nepal

PC-6 Flir Mission08

Pilatus PC-6 Extreme STOL

A day with Susi Air - Pilatus Porter - The real STOL Operation

Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter Short Take-Off (STOL)

Isn't It Time for the Pilatus Porter PC-6

The PC-6 has a maximum payload of 1,000kg and is an extremely rugged aircraft. Because it is a mature design there are many options and role fits available, everything from skis and floats to a extensive medical evacuation systems. Take off distance is 200m or 440m with a 50ft obstacle, landing is 130m or 315m with a 50ft obstacle.

Specialist Surveillance Aircraft

With a highly evolved systems architecture, a number of specialist surveillance only designs are available. They lack the general utility and austere operating capabilities of the those described above, but extended endurance, power management and multiple sensor locations means they have greater utility where surveillance is the prime requirement.

Again, they are not intended for hostile environments but provide much lower operating costs than helicopters, or likely, unmanned systems.

Seabird Seeker

How cheap to you want to go, how about a second hand Seabird Seeker for less than £90k?

The Seeker started out in Australia, the product of Seabird Aviation, Queensland Australia.

The owners (Don and Peter Adams) noted an upcoming niche for a low cost airborne observation aircraft and the first SB7L-360 Seeker flew in 1993, just over ten years after the Seabird Rousabout flew (a similar but smaller aircraft). Seabird also recognised that despite many light observation tasks being fulfilled by helicopters those helicopters flew from conventional airfields and did not use vertical flight or hovering, instead, low speed safe operation was the most important factor. With operating costs at least a third lower than for even the cheapest of helicopters the Seeker was a modest commercial success in the pipeline and power cable monitoring markets, environmental protection and security sectors.

A number of improvements were made in 2003 and the Seeker 2 bought into production. This coincided with a joint venture in Jordan being formed with the King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau (KADDB). Trials were carried out focussing on border patrol and road surveillance including operations from austere location, as can be seen from the image below, refuelling does not need much in the way of specialist equipment!

A couple of them were supplied to the Iraqi Air Force, equipped with FLIR 8600 surveillance systems. Flight costs were claimed to sub $100 per hour

Development has increased capabilities since then and Seeker Aviation is now owned by the US joint venture, Seeker America. Read more about the evolution of the Seeker here

It can take off in just over 250m and land in under 200m, endurance between 4 and 7 hours (depending on speed) and be fitted with a range of mission equipment and sensors, including the Thales iMaster SAR system as used on Watchkeeper. The cockpit is NVG compatible and a down link can transmit imagery to receivers up to 100km away. In 2013 the USA supplied a dozen Seekers to the Yemeni Border Guard. Manned aircraft like the Seeker look nothing like a Predator and in some circumstances, that is a very good thing. They are cheap to operate and capable of being used by less advanced forces without the technical and logistic depth enjoyed by others.

New aircraft, fitted with all the military bells and whistles, came in at less than a million pounds in 2003 but for the Yemeni purchase of 12 aircraft, the US DoD paid $27m including pilot and sensor operator training, a maintainer and Field Service Representatives (FSRs) and an initial provisioning of spares, detailed in the request.

The Seabird Seeker reminds me of the Edgley Optica trialled by the Army in Northern Ireland.

As a starter aircraft for use in totally permissive environments and to provide surveillance and reconnaissance at an extremely low cost (capital and running), there is not much wrong with the Seeker.

Diamond DA-42

In 2009 it was announced that the MoD would be operating a couple of Diamond DA42MPP aircraft in the UK and overseas.  The MoD had earlier contracted with DO Systems in 2008 for a surveillance capability in Iraq whilst other aircraft were bought into service. A pair of DA 42’s flew over 2,000 hours in support of UK operations whilst another was used for training. They were equipped with the FLIR Systems Star Safire III.

The DA42 is a lightweight twin turboprop designed for aerial sensing which has a long endurance and extremely low capital/operating costs. Operated by civilian contractors on a lease they reportedly performed well although their small size and lack of crew facilities made extended duration missions not particularly comfortable in the hot weather conditions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

For the British Army in Kenya, 3DSL have provided Diamond DA42’s in the role of surrogate unmanned air vehicles.

UAV Surrogate

Originally designed as a light utility and training aircraft its key features were low operating costs and its use of diesel engines.

A number of third party integrators have modified the DA42 to meet requirements as diverse as aerial cinematography, mapping and radar sensing. The basic model is the DA-42 NG, capable of operating with a payload of 470kg  at 5,500m altitude and range of 2,00 km. A couple of special mission variants use the basic NG as a base platform, the DA42 MPP Guardian and DA42 MPP Geostar. The Geostar is optimised for mapping and survey missions whilst the Guardian has a more general purpose role that can accept a variety of sensors in the nose pod and under fuselage belly pod.

Both special mission have similar performance to the NG, 12 hours endurance although typical missions are between 6 and 8 hours.

Niger operate a pair of DA-42 MPP’s in support of counter narcotics operations and border security that utilise the Zeiss Goshawk 350 mission system with a range of the usual suspect sensors and data links. Read the brochure here

In 2013 Thales and Diamond integrated the I Master Synthetic Aperture Radar with the DA-42. The 32Kg 620W Thales I-Master / Viper (Ku-band 12.5 to 18 GHz) synthetic aperture radar / ground moving target indicator (SAR/GMTI) was eventually selected for Watchkeeper. I-Master was developed from the Racal POD SAR and includes technology from the Searchwater radar. It can rotate trough 360 degrees operate up to 20km in strip mode and 15km in spot mode, able to detect slow moving targets such as vehicles or people out to 20km.

There are four GMTI operating modes (sector, 360 degree, tracking and spotlight) and two for SAR (strip and spotlight). GMTI is extremely useful for change detection, showing patterns of life and tracks for example, the same kind of capability as delivered by the RAF’s Reaper and Sentinel (and RN Crowsnest) systems. I Master also has a number of new maritime modes.

The Airborne Sensing website shows the range of payloads that have been proven on the DA-42, shamelessly lifted and shown below, just to demonstrate the wide variety of already integrated systems available.

Sensors Manufacturer Type
EO/IR Cameras Airbus DS Optronics LEO II
General Dynamics V-Series (e.g. V9 MS, V14 HD, V14 MSII)
FLIR Systems Star SAFIRE 380-HD
Star SAFIRE 380-HDi
UltraForce 350-HD
Corona 350 II
L3 Wescam MX-15
Controp DSP-1-AIR
Elbit Systems DCoMPASS
EXELIS (a HARRIS company) CorvusEye 1500
Broadcasting Cameras General Dynamics Cineflex V14
GSS Gyro-Stabilized Systems C516
Airborne Radars Thales I-Master
Telephonics RDR-1700B
Leonardo (a Finmecanica company) Picosar
COMINT Systems Ability Computer & Software Systems IBIS Airborne
Rohde & Schwarz Airborne COMINT
Airborne Laser Scanners RIEGL Laser Measurement Systems LMS-Q680
LEICA Geosystems ALS60
Photogrammetry Optimare VIS Line Scanner
SPECIM Spectral Imaging aisaFENIX
VEXCEL Imaging (a Microsoft company) UltraCam Series
IGI Quattro DigiCAM
LEICA Geosystems RCD30
PAV80 gyro-stabilized mount
(gyro-stabilization mounts)
GSM 4000
SSM 350
Air Monitoring MLU airpointer
SpectraSensors WVSS-II
Flight Inspection Systems Airfield Technology AT-940
Data Transmission LOS
(Line of Sight)
ViaSat EnerLinksIII
ArcLight Ku-Band
Wood & Douglas DVMO
BMS Heli-Coder 4
Cobham SOLO H.264
Silvus Technologies Stream Caster MIMO
Britannia2000 FM Datalink
Data Transmission BLOS
(Beyond Line of Sight)
Diamond Aircraft Industries Kopernikus “Internet in the Sky”
Scotty Group Scotty Aero System
Honeywell Aspire® 200
Gilat Satellite Networks BlackRay 71
Radio Communication Rohde & Schwarz R&S®M3AR Software Defined Radios
BendixKing by Honeywell KTR 909 UHF Communication
Barrett Communications 2050 HF SSB
Moving Map & Task Management Systems Euroavionics EuroNav 7
EuroNav 5
Honeywell Skyforce Observer
Skyforce Sentinel
CarteNav AIMS-HD
Churchill Navigation ARS Augmented Reality System
Network, Recording & HID Diamond Aircraft Industries ABACUS 2.0 Mission Computer
AVALEX Technologies Rugged displays and recorders
roda Computer Rugged networking and computers
Rosen Aviation High-definition airborne displays
Customized Equipment PIDSO Customized antennas

In addition the the I Master and Elbit CoMPASS (as Watchkeeper) there is the Seaspray 500E for maritime patrol applications and the Rohde & Schwarz COMINT system.

The Rohde & Schwarz COMINT system;

The system is available in three different configurations – basic version, standard version and advanced version. It can be flexibly adapted to customer requirements and expanded as needed. Broadband signal interception and processing ensures that signals are reliably detected. It is even possible to monitor multiple radio channels per frequency band

DO Systems have recently integrated the Satlink Hawkeye Beyond Line of Sight Datalink with the Thrane and Thrane (now Cobham) Aviator 300 satelite antenna which is claimed to transmit video transmission at speeds as low as 6Kbs

It is this flexibility and low cost that has seen the DA42 achieve such widespread adoption, even in niche areas like RPAS and fast jet training surrogate for land forces.

Tecnam P2006

The Tecnam P2006 might be on the small side with a modest payload of just less than 150kg but capital and operating costs are very low, it is claimed they have the lowest operating costs of any similar aircraft. Tecnam have developed two variants, the maritime patrol MRI and more general purpose SMP

Tecnam have partnered with Airborne Technologies to develop a number of role fits for the P2006.

The slightly larger Vulcanair Aviator. The National Police Aviation Service awarded a contract to deliver a Vulcanair P86R fixed surveillance aircraft to the Austrian company, Airborne Technologies. The standard airframe costs less than £750k. NPAS had previously trialled the Tecnam MMA aircraft, another of the new breed of advanced low-cost twins.

These do not have the short field and austere location performance of the Seeker or the single engined utility types but as a trade off, running costs are low and the sensor fits are much more sophisticated. Typical missions include maritime safety, fisheries protection, maritime oil fields protection, marine environmental protection, drugs interdiction, Illegal immigration interdiction and search and rescue.

Britten Norman Defender

The Army Air Corps and Royal Air Force operate a number of light turboprop aircraft, the oldest of these are the Britten Norman Islander and Defenders. Although they might not be considered the most modern of designs they have an excellent track record of service throughout the world and all conditions. Cheap, versatile, stable and easy to maintain, their defining characteristic is ruggedness.

Army Air Corps Defender

Britten-Norman BN-2T-4S Defender 4000 @ Manchester International Airport

Mach Loop Britten-Norman Defender low level through Cad

In September 2016, Janes reported that the Army Air Corps fleet of Islanders and Defenders would be transferred to the RAF as part of cost saving measures.

The Army Air Corps’ (AAC’s) fleet of Islander AL1 and Defender AL2 aircraft are used to provide surveillance support to special forces operations overseas and counter-terrorist operations within the United Kingdom. In a 13 September statement to IHS Jane’s an MoD spokesman confirmed the measures are being looked at, saying “a study is looking into aspects of Fixed Wing Manned Aerial Surveillance (FWMAS), the outcome of this study will be considered and announced in due course”. A senior MoD source commented that the proposals are gaining traction, although many details – such as basing, unit structure, and whether existing army air and ground crews will transfer to the RAF – are still to be worked out. “Discussions are ongoing,” said the source. “For efficiency, it is likely that the operation of FWMAS capability will be rationalised.”

In UK service, the BN Defenders have an out of service date of 2035.

This means they are supported until then and Britten Norman funded, improving their export opportunities can only mean good things for those aircraft in servuce with the MoD.

Beechcraft King Air 350

The Beechcraft King Air 350 hits the sweet spot for payload, speed, endurance, cost, ease of systems integration and deployability. It is widely used in the surveillance, communications/signals intelligence and reconnaissance roles by many nations. The latest customer is France, committing to a pair in the SIGINT and IMINT roles, replacing their C-160 Transall ‘Gabriel’ aircraft.

The RAF Shadow R.1 is based on King Air 350 platform, an aircraft that has seen widespread use since introduced a few years ago for service in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The basic aircraft has a massive user base (over 6,000 aircraft), is safe and reliable with proven performance and great adaptability. It has a high top speed, plenty of endurance and payload (for sensors, DAS and Comms) and pressurised cabin, perfectly suited to the role.

If a sensor is available, chances are there is a King Air flying with one.

The USAF first used King Air’s in the mid 70’s and designated them RC-12’s. Since then the aircraft has evolved and a number of integrators have taken the basic aircraft and stuffed them full of all manner of sensors, mission equipment and communications gear. This image below from Northrop Grumman shows the evolution of the US Army Guardrail aircraft from the RU-21E in 1971 to the RC-12 Super X (Multi Intel) in 2014.

King Air Guardrail evolution

There are thought to be over 25 different King Air ISTAR variants in service with the most recent version (in US service) called the EMARSS.

Although endurance at 8 hours is lower than many unmanned systems they can haul over a tonne of payload at high altitudes and higher speeds.

Some of the more exotic systems found on various King Air 350’s include WAAS equipment, Hyper Spectral Imaging Systems, Wide Area Motion Imaging (WAMI), LIDAR systems; FOLiage PENetrating (FOPEN) radar, GMTI/SAR, hyper-spectral sensors, ELINT/SIGINT systems, communications systems, and datalinks.

The Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (EMARSS-M) is from L-3 Mission Integration is a conversion of the MC-12W project Liberty configured aircraft and includes;

electro-optic/infra-red (EO/IR) sensor, communications intelligence collection system, an aerial precision geolocation system, line-of-site tactical and beyond line-of-site communications suites, two Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A) workstations and a self-protection suite.

Like Shadow R1, the EMARSS-M includes an extensive self-protection system that enables it to operate in much more dangerous airspace than the types described above. The M variant will join a further three types, each equipped with different combinations of sensors and signals exploitation equipment.

The sophistication of the mission systems combined with this self-protection capability pushes the price of these aircraft up significantly but they are still affordable for emerging nations.

Leonardo-Finmeccanica announced at FIA2016 it had been selected to supply a pair of King Air 350 based surveillance aircraft for an unnamed African customer.

The  aircraft  will  be  equipped  with  the  company’s  ATOS  (airborne  tactical  observation  and  surveillance) mission  system  and  a  suite  of  sensors  including  the  Leonardo  SEASPRAY  AESA  surveillance  radar, Identification  Friend  or  Foe  (IFF)  transponder  and  interrogator,  LINK  11  datalink  and  an  integrated mission management system

Click HERE to read more about the ATOS mission system.

L-3 also have a King Air platform called SPYDR-II

Typical SPYDR II sensor fits include wide-area motion imagery (WAMI), maritime radar, ground moving-target indicator (GMTI) and foliage-penetrating (FOPEN) synthetic aperture radar (SAR), signals intelligence (SIGINT), and light detection and ranging (LIDAR) payloads. The aircraft displayed at Farnborough featured an under-fuselage pod of a size that could accommodate a maritime radar, two Wescam MX-15 electro-optical/infrared imaging systems (one forward of the nosewheel and the other at the rear of the pod), a high-frequency (HF) direction-finding antenna under one wing and a representative munitions pod under the other. Inside the aircraft was a typical mission fit for the four-person crew (pilot, co-pilot, and two mission specialists), much of which can be reconfigured, with the necessary connections for the onboard equipment already wired into the airframe.

The foliage penetrating radar is especially useful for tracking personnel.


SPYDR L-3 Communications

Armed Aircraft

What characterises all the aircraft described above is they are unarmed. If an offensive capability is required, they can be used to cue other aircraft or land fires, but if an organic offensive capability is needed, an armed aircraft is needed, obviously.

Arming an aircraft does not necessarily mean the aircraft only becomes affordable for the most technologically advanced force but is does drive the price up.

Cessna Grand Caravan

In Iraq, the US and Iraqi forces made great use of the Cessna 208 Combat Caravan.

The Combat Caravan is a modified variant of the 1980’s vintage Cessna Grand Caravan, an aircraft in widespread use throughout the world.

Cessna 208 Caravan

The Combat Caravan was designed and built by ATK and includes an AAR-47/ALE-47 Defensive Aids System with composite armour panels for key areas. The ATK STAR mission system is integrated with a Wescam MX15D EO/IR sensor and a range of communication systems.

The icing on the cake is a pair of hardpoints used to mount Hellfire II missiles.

Iraq has 3 in service and Jordan, 2 with the UAE also purchasing a handful. Lebanon also has 3 in service

Costs are reportedly sub $15m per aircraft

Armed Turboprop Trainer and Converted Agricultural Aircraft

The two most widely know types of armed turboprop trainer are the Beechcraft/Textron AT-6 and Embraer Super Tucano.

In January 2016, the first of 20 A-29 Super Tucano aircraft arrived in Afghanistan for their Air Force. The competition against the AT-6 was widely reported and repeating it would be superfluous but both aircraft are broadly similar, although the Super Tucano is already in service with a number of nations.

Afghanistan A-29 Super Tucano

Afghan Air Force receives first four A-29 attack aircraft

Paris Air Show 2015 Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine Light Attack Aircraft

A lower cost approach has been pioneered by Air Tractor and Iomax, taking what are agricultural aircraft used for crop dusting and converting them for combat aviation roles.

Air Tractor offer the AT-802U and Iomax, the Archangel

The 802U has a payload of 3.6 tonnes and can operate from austere locations, much like the Archangel. With a variety of sensors and weapons, both are claimed to be able to cover a multitude of armed and unarmed missions.

Iomax Archangel

StratPost| IOMAX Archangel at #PAS15


These converted agricultural aircraft have only seen limited success in the defence role.

Advanced High-performance Reconnaissance Light Attack (AHRLAC) aircraft

In Africa, the Paramount Group and Aerosud have taken a different approach and created the Advanced High-performance Reconnaissance Light Attack (AHRLAC) aircraft to a new design. What sets the AHRLAC apart is the simple fact it has been designed in Africa for low-cost operations from austere locations, it should also be noted that Paramount is developing the aircraft with its own money.

It has a sophisticated sensor and mission system and is clearly aimed at the combat end of the combat ISTAR spectrum. The design is reminiscent of the OV-10 Bronco or Cessna 337, a pusher propeller configuration and tandem cockpit. It has 7 hours plus mission endurance with 800kg payload and full fuel. Take off distance is 550m with a full payload. The high wing and pusher propeller configuration help with operation from austere locations it can self-deploy with tools and equipment stored in the lower pod.

This lower pod takes up the majority of the lower half of the fuselage and can be configured for different payloads from SAR, EO to EW and Cargo. Each wing has 3 hardpoints, 1 of which is plumbed for fuel.




AHRLAC the Journey

AHRLAC - Advanced High-Performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft

It is still at a relatively early stage of development but it has many advantages over trainer derived light attack aircraft like the Super Tucano or re-purposed crop dusters like the Iomax Archangel, it has been purpose designed for the mission, whether that mission is anti-poaching or close air support. Another key point is the options list that can take the basic platform and add a range of sensors, weapons, engine upgrades, avionics and weapons.

Work continues on bringing AHRLAC to market and it has been reported that it has at least two launch customers. The second development aircraft is likely to take its first flight towards the end of 2016. This second development aircraft will have a number of enhancements; conformal fuel tanks on the tail booms, larger displays screens and a lighter fuselage.

Jet Trainers

Although these would probably be at the top end of capability for this application they are an obvious choice for the more developed nations. The evergreen BAE Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer has orders out to 2018 and a recent story from AIN confirmed that BAE and HAL are working on a further developed version with a new wing that would improve performance, particularly in short field operations.

Also discussed were armament options including precision guided bombs and Brimstone missiles, additional sensors and digital cockpit improvements.

Perhaps the Hawk could go on beyond 2018?

There is also the Textron Scorpion to consider, although both are probably beyond the scope of this proposal.

That said;

QinetiQ, Thales and Textron AirLand, have announced a collaboration that will bid for the UK Ministry of Defence’s upcoming Air Support to Defence Operational Training (ASDOT) programme.

One to watch.

Larger Transport Aircraft

An essential element of air power is transport.

For a developing air force, air transportation is essential, and probably much more achievable in the early stages. Although the light utility types described above can provide light transport facilities, larger aircraft offer much more.

Viking Twin Otter

Viking of Canada recently resurrected production of the venerable DHC Twin Otter and have been getting some serious orders from customers as diverse as the Vietnamese Navy and Zimex Aviation in Switzerland. The Series 400 has many improvements over the old model and its versatility is obvious; wheels floats or skis and the environmental hardening to operate in these diverse environments mean its legendary toughness has been retained.

Viking also proposed the Guardian 400 specifically for the surveillance, security, sovereignty and search and rescue market that has an extended range fuel tank (10 hour operations) and an electro-optical and infrared imaging turret which can be displayed on either the flight deck Honeywell Primus Apex Multi Function Display, or on a separate cabin console. The Guardian 400  will be equipped with 4 crew observation stations, rescue equipment drop hatch, air operable cargo door, search light, and a galley with adjacent lavatory and not forgetting, 4 wing hard points for additional stores are also fitted.

Back to the basic model, it is as cheap as chips.

The Vietnamese Navy order works out at about $5 million Canadian each and that includes initial training and logistics. The target airframe cost is less than $4 million Canadian. Doing some rounding, that’s about £3.5 million pounds including training. The latest float version is called the 400S and is being marketed at US$6 million.

Viking Twin Otter 1

Twin Otter 400


Twin Otter Series 400 Overview: Landing Gear

DHC6 Desert Operation. 2009 (3)

The CC-138 Twin Otter Can Land Anywhere / Le CC138 Twin Otter peut atterrir n'importe où

Twin Otter landing frozen lake with wheel-skis

Loganair Twin Otter take off at Barra

In passenger configuration it has 19 seats and carrying only cargo, just under 2 tonnes payload with cargo rollers and a large door. Fuselage life is 66,000 hours and short field performance is legendary.

Airbus CASA C212

Like the Twin Otter, the CASA C212 has a long heritage and many hundreds in service. The Series 400 is now produced by Indonesian Aerospace as the NC212

With a payload of just under 3 tonnes, it has greater lift capacity than the Twin Otter and features a rear cargo ramp for ease of loading and unloading. Take off distance is 390m and landing, 270m.



CASA C-212 Aviocar - EA, 4

97th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne) Casa-212 Jump

CASA C-212-200 Aviocar AE-265 del Ejercito Argentino en SAAR 16-01-2016


Casa 212 Paratrooper Jump SANDF

Higher up the chain is the obvious C-235 and even C-27J, the Polish M28 might also be considered.

BAE 146

Although they are no longer produced, there are still plenty available on the second hand market and given they were designed for relatively austere locations (the mining industry in Australia is currently a large user), might be an interesting addition to the catalogue.


A 2012 press release from the MoD and BAE announced the Release to Service of the two former TNT BAE 146 regional transport aircraft to 32 (The Royal) Squadron, RAF, after being modified by Hawker Beechcraft Services in Broughton under contract from BAE Systems in Prestwick under a £15.5 million deal.

The 146 is actually an impressive aircraft and still in widespread service, including with the RAF. BAE has continually tried to interest buyers in more military oriented versions equipped with inflight refuelling probes and rear ramps with the latest effort called the 146M.

BAE 146M

The BAE 146-200QC aircraft is the QC variant, or Quick Change (or Quiet Conversion depending on who you talk to). This means they had a cargo door and cargo floor system in addition to windows which means they can be used in either the passenger or cargo role, providing exactly the kind of flexibility needed.

The 3.33m x1.93m cargo door allows easy loading of pallets and containers. Pallets can be either for cargo or palletised seating which means the entire cargo floor can be used in a mixed configuration, either 94 seats with galley and toilets, 6 pallets or a mix of the two to a maximum cargo payload of just over 10 tonnes. The C3’s can use palletised luggage container from VRR in the Netherlands. These forklift-able palletised cargo containers will allow the 54 personnel seated on palletised seating to self-load their equipment and luggage, it being carried on the same deck.

In addition to a new paint job the aircraft have been modified to include appropriate military communications equipment (HF, UHF and SATCOM), Raytheon Successor Identification Friend or Foe (SIFF), an armoured flight deck, fuel tank inerting, upgrades to the air conditioning and significantly, a full Defensive Aids System or DAS to Theatre Entry Specification. The DAS fit comprises a Directional Infrared Countermeasures (DIRCM) turret under the nose and tail and countermeasure flare launchers similar, one would assume, to those found on the other pair of 146’s in service with the RAF, the CC2’s.


Two transport aircraft with all the trimmings (including DAS) for £15 million seems like excellent value for money.

The BAE 146 is a rugged and flexible aircraft, quiet with a good short field performance and low noise level designed for small regional airports and decent range for the class. As mentioned above, Cobham Aviation are making extensive use of BAE 146’s in unpaved operations, servicing the Australian mining industry. The aircraft have been modified with gravel protection kits and other modifications.

The use of jet aircraft to unpaved runways took a step forward in March when the European Aviation Safety Authority signed off on an increase in maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) for operators of the BAe 146-100/200 regional jet on unpaved runways, following the results of a two-year trial. This added about four tonnes of potential payload, which equated to about 40 more passengers, an extra 700nm of range, or a mix of the two. While the BAe 146 and Avro RJ had been previously certified for use on unpaved runways, the regulations required a reduction in maximum takeoff weight due to a “bump factor” being applied to maintain the same factored ground loads as for paved runway loads. However, the two-year trial, which involved collecting data from a Cobham BAe 146 flying between Perth and Kambalda, showed there was no significant difference in paved and unpaved runway operations, which supported the removal of the “bump factor”.

The aircraft is clearly versatile and still highly valued.


Very bumpy landing

An Air Libya BAe-146-300 aircraft takes off from Rhebat air strip, a stretch of mountain highway, near the Nafusa Mountains, western Libya
An Air Libya BAe-146-300 aircraft takes off from Rhebat air strip, a stretch of mountain highway, near the Nafusa Mountains, western Libya

In August 2016, it was reported that BAE were considering a possible launch of a Passenger to Freight conversion for civilian Avro RJ’s

Building on the experience gained and in-service success of the BAe 146QT (Quiet Trader) freighter of which around 30 aircraft were produced, the business has spent the past year assessing the suitability of the newer-build Avro RJ as a freighter. This work has created a full OEM-designed specification for the freighter which is now being offered to the market.

The principal variant for conversion would be the RJ100 aircraft which are now starting to come out of passenger service and will be available over the next few years. The business can help potential customers source suitable aircraft.

Typically such aircraft can be bought for between US $ 1-1.5 million and the freighter kit and conversion would cost between US$ 2.2 and 2.8 million. Availability would be from the end of 2017.

Most of these aircraft will have accumulated between 20,000 – 35,000 flight cycles (depending on aircraft age and history). BAE Systems offers an Avro RJ Life Extension Programme which commences at 40,000 flight cycles and clears the aircraft life limit up to 60,000 flight cycles, ensuring many years of operational service. BAE Systems Regional Aircraft can provide a total support package, planned to last for at least a 15-20 year period.

Other transport aircraft types are available, mostly ex-Russian types or newer Chinese models.

A Proposal

This is a proposal based on the following beliefs;

ONE; That the UK Government has a wholly sensible and integrated strategy for Building Stability Overseas that uses resources from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence.

TWO; That this strategy is backed with cash and a not inconsiderable amount of cash.

THREE; Air Power, in all its forms, can magnify activities conducted on the ground and offer unique advantages that exploit the key attributes of air power; height, speed and reach.

FOUR; For a number of reasons, the RAF currently focus on Defence Engagement on a non-enduring basis and with overseas nations that are generally more technologically advanced than those the British Army (and to extent the Royal Navy) work with.

So, this is a proposal for SDSR 2020

That proposal is to establish an enduring and air focussed defence engagement capability with the objective of building stability overseas and crucially, can work at the lower end of the capability spectrum on an enduring basis to build a SUSTAINABLE national capability.

It is this last sentence that lies at the core of this proposal, the ability to apply the undoubted advantageous of air power but at a lower cost on an enduring basis.

A central core would consist of regular personnel from the RAF, FAA and AAC but this would be relatively small. Grafted onto this would be personnel from NGO’s, other nations, DFiD, FCO and former service personnel on a contractor or sponsored reserve basis.

By having a flexible and creative approach to manning, the capability can be delivered on a sustainable and economical basis without placing more stress on organisations that are already under severe manning stress.

Once the core staff have been established, each country would have a dedicated team that in conjunction with the overseas government/ministries defines a long term plan to establish and/or improve their air power capability. This plan would be based on an assessment of current capabilities and aspirations. It does have to be realistic though, and this may well be a significant and delicate challenge but that is why we have diplomats!

Moving forward in partnership, underpinned by guaranteed funding through ODA, gifting and long-term loans, each nation plan would have a different start and end point.

The start point will probably begin on the ground in all the boring but essential subjects of logistics, operations planning, engineering, communications, airfield construction, instrumentation, documentation, intelligence and of course, training. Much of this training and development can be carried out in the UK.

Creating appropriate facilities and infrastructure is then the next step, again, we can carry this out in conjunction with local construction companies and resources, supplemented with selected equipment and expertise from the UK public and private sector.

One the building blocks are in place, aircraft and operations come next.

The diagrams above show a range of roles that exist on a spectrum; safety, security and combat. In lower threat environments, the safety and security areas encompass everything from search and rescue to mapping, counter poaching and illegal fishing interdiction, medical evacuation and light transport. As threats increase, more combat oriented roles emerge as being of importance.

I have specifically excluded unmanned and rotary from this proposal because of a combination of complexity and cost issues but both would have a role, even a role that makes more sense than fixed wing, perhaps a Part 2 post!

As I have shown above, there are many aircraft choices that reflect differing roles and capabilities, each having a different support burden. Some of these aircraft are very cheap, some less so, but look at the numbers involved with ODA projects from DFiD’s tracker, click here, £266m for Nigeria, £75m for Sierra Leone, £160m for DRC, £184m for Tanzania, £40m for Lebanon and £300m for Ethiopia.

My point is a simple one, we can use joint ODA and Security Assistance funding to establish and maintain air capabilities that contribute to safety, security and stability disproportionate to the costs involved, especially if we have a modest outlook and pick appropriate equipment.

Is that a Good ThingTM


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21 Comments on "Conflict Prevention from Above"

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How many pilots would be needed for this proposal?


I think you have discounted Scorpion too quickly (and no, I am not working for Textron or any of their associates). Speed matters at times, particularly when getting from A to B, and jets win over pops in the speed stakes.

What about planes like the F/A-50 Fighting Eagle, Yak-130, Aero L-159 Alca, Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master & the BAE hawk 200. You have Aircraft like that is perfect for small Air forces pocket planes for their work.

The Other Chris

Once you step into turbofan/jet territory, you’ve stepped up an order magnitude of complexity in operating the aircraft compared to a piston/Wankel/etc or even a turboprop.

Foreign Object Ingestion, fuel consumption, faster airframe, more complex avionics, more skilled maintainers, higher-end runways, more people needed to operate it, clear birds, etc.

Exactly where TD wants us to get to with this initiative I think, though the partner nations would need to start in a more sustainable fashion to begin with.


As a part of low-cost surveillance option, may I suggest Pipistrel Surveyor?

Great article TD and good proposal to re/start fledgling air forces attached to existing security services giving access to that extra dimension of space.Literally over flying ground based obstructions, be they terrain or human based, with a very much greater speed and flexibility than ground based assets.


Well argued proposal. Now. How do we garner the attention of Politicians who are wooed and wedded to the high tech, high cost end of the market? Equally, this idea lends itself to a containerised module that can be bolted on RFA, Type26/31 and QE Carriers to enhance expeditionary capabilities . Like it.

Perhaps the OV-10 Bronco deserves a mention .The Vietnam era close air support aircraft is still being used including a recent deployment of two OV-10G+ against ISIS supporting USN Seals . They flew 120 missions over an 82 day period last summer.
These refurbished aircraft trialled in the Combat Dragon II programme (after Congress repeatedly canned it as it wasn’t using AT-6’s) can carry 3000kg of external stores, land on rough fields and roads and provide small team insertion or extraction .


How about a new UK design light ground attack a/c based on the Bronco that can be carrier based – would sell globally in my view. Could be the air equivalent of the Type 31.

Tornado’s retiring 2019. Lots of still relevant tech being stripped off the a/c. US companies have chopped about the 146 to make it fire bomber. This is Heath Robinson (isn’t that what the UK does best) but fit out some 146’s using Tornado kit. Simple bomb truck approach, Paveway, Brimstone, JDAM.

I hate doctrine

There are a few general assumptions that need to be dispelled.

Firstly, the RAF has been doing defence engagement since its conception and contributes quite widely to the BMATT programme from defence attaches to specialist fields e.g medical, engineering, SERE trg.

And secondly, you don’t need high end and/or an extensive air based solution to engage in defence diplomacy. Yes the adage of ‘height, reach, speed’ is relevant but only in the context of what you set out to achieve for said engagement vs what a host nation/partner needs. Most countries that can, already have air arms of some fashion of which either we, our partners (yanks) or our rivals (China, Russia) already have a stake in.

Equally, for those that do not have, there’s a reason and that’s usually a combination of cost vs utility vs complexity – it’s too expensive for what I need to do and I don’t have the resources to try and figure out how to run the damn things all the time.

There are other options for air defence engagement. A light weight off the shelf UAV with a go pro camera can achieve the same effect as a fixed wing ISTAR piloted asset in the context of ultra low budgets or zero formal air based capability.

In many ways, it can do better as the information acquisition, analysis, dissemination loop would be quicker from a tactical point of view, and with the addition of good digital comms allied to mass I.e. A lot of small teams with the same tech, can still provide that theatre wide coverage. Equally, a man pad with decent training on potential OPFOR tactics provides a cost air defence. A bunch of low cost drones in the flight path of an aircraft is an effective deterrent.

As these examples operate in the air environment, they are considered to be part of air power. Even the use of ruggedised ‘home made’ EW jammers can be considered to be air power. The best part? You don’t need aircrew however for presentational purposes it helps.


Not sure where to put this but, defensenews is reporting that the fifth RAF Sentinel will be kept this financial year, while long term plans are decided.


A proposal to transfer Islanders and Defenders (N-B,not JLR) from AAC to RAF – “rationalisation”. Manpower savings? I doubt it. Another click in the ratchet for RAF to tae over the AAC? Maybe. A possible quid pro quo: transfer Puma to the AAC?

Keith Campbell

Regarding the Super Tucano, it is necessary to clarify a common error. It is NOT derived from a training aircraft. It was designed as a combat aircraft that can be used for training. It has built-in armament (2 x 12.7 mm machine guns, one in each wing) and can be fitted internally with kevlar armour. It comes in both single-seat and two-seat versions. All exports have been two-seaters, because those customers wanted dual-use capability, but two-thirds of those delivered to the Brazilian Air Force are single-seaters. Both versions use the same canopy, so are difficult to tell apart from a distance. The name Super Tucano was adopted for marketing reasons.


I’ve always felt that the Services, particularly the technologically reliant ones have always gone or the ‘gucci’ option, instead of having a suite of options. Just as warfare has a spectrum, so should our equipment. We don’t need Tornadoes, Typhoons or Lightning II for COIN ops, we need durable, simple & robust weapon platforms. It took a while for us to catch on to the UAV concept, could we not benefit from a more expansive airpower approach? Such a capability could also lend itself to helping to develop allies, as we help friends to generate their own organic strength based on their needs, as was shown with Iraq.


defensenews says all 6 RAF E-3D Sentry are grounded with wiring issues. Is that true?

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same

@JH it is true an Uk AEW is currently being provided by our NATO Allies that many on here suggest we cannot rely on.


The joys of having old aircraft, long in need of a very expensive upgrade.