RAF Squadron Manning

In an effort to provide more fact based information on which to discuss, a contributor has sent me this.

A fictional and relatively small RAF fast jet Sqn is equipped and manned as below.

I have tried to keep everything as simple as possible in order to keep this as short and clear for non-military readers.  My aim is to show how vital proper manning is to the RAF as without it we simply can not operate.


Aircraft, Total Sqn Aircraft = 12 x Windy Weather F6s – A single seat swing role jet

However, 2 aircraft will always be in a Major Service (every 1000 hours) and 2 aircraft will always be in a Minor Service (every 500 hours).  This means there should always be 8 aircraft on “the line” available to fly at any one point.

Crew, The squadron has 20 crew who require 15 hours flying a month to remain current (trained/licensed to fly)

Flying hours allocated

Currency; 3,600 hours

Combat ready; 400 hours (training for new pilots on the sqn to get to the required standard for combat ops)

Exercises; 2,000 hours

Contingency/Ops,; 2,000 hours

Total, 8,000 hours

Therefore, on average the Sqn should fly 24 aircraft hrs per day based on 5 day week which is 3 hrs per aircraft on the line per day.

The hours allocated are reliant on the engineering requirements.  The major services are carried out by the aircraft manufacturer based on a pre-set contract written during procurement.  The dates that these aircraft enter/exit major servicing are planned years in advance and can not be changed without paying huge penalties.

Engineer Manning

7 engineers per aircraft  covering the aircraft on the line and in minor servicing.

With 3 shifts to cover a flying day of 0700-2200 daily = 210

A JEngO plus FS per shift plus WO and SEngO =8

4 Armourer per shift = 12

2 Squipers per shift = 6

2 Suppliers per shift = 6

Total Engineer Manning = 242

Other Manpower

Ops, Admin etc = 10


Total Sqn manpower = 272

Life as Normal

Using the manning figures above lets look at a normal situation and see how things work out.  Everything is going to plan with no major problems or crisis affecting the hours flown, aircraft serviceability or manpower.

Weather, This is the UK and we get bad weather.  A sqn can loose hours, days, weeks or even months to bad weather each year.  Each hour lost needs to be gained back somewhere else increasing the amount of hours flown on the good weather days.  The more hours flown per ac per day the more servicing is needed so the more man hours you need to do it but you do not get any more manpower so people just work harder.  Some flying needs to be done during the day which is easy in summer and hard in winter.  Other flying hours needs to be done at night which is easy in winter and hard in summer.

Real Life, People get sick, go on courses, take leave, get pregnant, get posted in and get posted out etc.  So every section will be running light continuously.  If a pilot misses 3 weeks due to a course and sickness he then has to fly his 15 hours in 1 week to avoid going out of currency monopolising the flying meaning other people can not fly as much.  If engineers are away other may have to work a different shift to cover or certain jobs are put to one side or delayed.  Just because you are a member of a flying sqaudron it does not mean you can be sent on operations to support another unit so squadrons will always be running light due to this as well.

Aircraft never go unserviceable when you want them to or to suite your manning.  For example the engineers have various specialisations engines, airframes, avionics etc so you have a number of each specialisation on each shift.  This is fine if the aircraft all go unserviceable for different reasons as you can spread the manpower out and work concurrently as best as possible.  It rarely works out that was so if 3 aircraft have engine problems you probably can not fix all 3 at once yet you have engineers sat doing nothing as they are not trained/licensed to work on engines and so on.

Aircraft Upgrades or Modifications; Military aircraft are constantly being upgraded and modified so you will inevitably lose aircraft while this done.  So again you have to fly the remaining aircraft harder and the more hours flown the more servicing is needed so the more man hours you need to do it but you do not get any more manpower so people just work harder.

Aircraft Spares; Clearly if the spare part you need to fix your aircraft is not on the shelf you have order it and wait for it to be supplied.  The RAF uses some clever software to analyse wear and tear on aircraft which then dictates what, and how many spares you have on the shelf on station, those spares that are available off the shelf from suppliers and so on.  This reduces costs considerably but aircraft simply do not break as and when they are supposed to so spares delays are common.  Often the part you need is “robbed” (removed) off another aircraft that is broken for anther reason.  This presents various issues outside the scope of this article (if it ain’t broken, don’t fix (touch) it!!) but the important factor is robbing a part takes more time than taking the same part off the shelf (removing it then possible cleaning/prepping, function testing etc) hitting your manpower further.

There is more but I think you get the idea that normal day to day life constantly affects your manpower and your ability to complete your tasks.  Sadly, life is never as simple as above another other issues are common and frequent…….

Short Term Operational Tasking

So everything was going OK as per the above, there were issue but the Sqn was able to manage them with no real risk of ever getting stretched to breaking point.  The phone rings and the Sqn boss is told that he needs to send 4 aircraft out to Italy as part of a NATO force to police a no-fly zone over a North African country.  He has to provide 2 aircraft per day flying 6 hours each and every day for 30 days with the possibility this will extend.

Initial thoughts and assumptions are that this represents:

50% of the squadron’s aircraft, 2 aircraft plus 2 spares.

2 sorties per aircraft per day of 3 hours

4 crews flying each day, 2 crew resting and a planning crew = 7 crew

4 aircraft =  2 shifts of 28 engineers + armourers, squippers etc.

Ops and Admin staff, drivers and a Detachment Commander

Total predicted hours = 360 plus transit times (3 hours to Italy, 3 hours back x 4)

Total manpower = 80

So this does not look too bad, the only immediate concern is that you are losing 50% of you aircraft as flying still needs to continue back at base. But………..

Aircraft, Which ones shall we use?

Well first you need each aircraft to have over 90 hrs left before it’s next Minor or Major Service.  So straight away that is a limitation and sods law says at least one of the aircraft you need will be broken so you have to rob parts off a serviceable jet to get it working.  So you identify your 4 aircraft and start prepping them to ensure they are as serviceable as possible (most aircraft will normally carry minor, non-critical faults and unserviceablilies but you try not deploy aircraft like that).  You all start prepping what spares you need to take plus you need to coordinate bombs and bullets, tools, paperwork, IT etc.

Everyone is very busy.

Crew; So you need 7 crew so who do you take?  Well you need crews that are in currency and you will need to ensure some of those are your experienced crews.  You identify the seven and they are told to go and fly whatever sorties, currencies etc they need and be ready to go.  The rest of the crews support them but wont be getting their normal amount of hours.

Admin; Flights will be booked to get all the ground support equipment and personnel and the crews not transiting the jets to Italy.  The rest of the stn supports the sqn and a C17 comes in to take out all the support equipment and most of the staff, a Tristar takes the rest.

7 days later the deployment is in full swing in Italy, it was hard work but you made it.  Job done?

Meanwhile Back at Base

Crew; The requirement for the remaining crews to fly 15 hours a month remains but now there is only 4 aircraft to do it.  Yet you now need to ensure that you have crews ready to augment the detachment in Italy and have to consider what happens if the operation extends beyond 30 days.  In short you need to fly more with less aircraft.  You may be able to cancel some exercise, but not all and some of the exercise may offer excellent training for what you will be doing in Italy so you still do them.  The Sqn routinely deploys on operations 3 months a year and that wont be cancelled so you continue to prepare for that meaning more flying hours.

Engineers; The aircraft will still break but the spares shelf is nearly empty as most of it is all in Italy as those aircraft are the priority.  You order more spares but it always takes time.  You have lost a quarter of your engineering manning so you can no longer sustain the same shift pattern resulting in less hours available to fix and service the aircraft.  The yearly 3 month det accounts for 1800 of the contingency/operational hours so with the new detachment you are going to be 160 hours over your allocation.  There is no extra money for this and you can not send aircraft into Major Servicing early as its not in the contract.  So you have to save the 160 hours from the Exercise allocation and this may work out as you have just cancelled one exercise.  You sent the 4 jets with the most hours remaining until their next minor/major service to Italy so now you have to manage the hours left on the jets at base.

The Minor Services are done in house so if the aircraft use the hours quicker than planned due to the extra flying you can perhaps cope, a bit.  But, you are short on engineers so it may take longer than normal to complete the Minor Services

At this point SEngO decides that one aircraft that is due a minor service in 15 hours and is currently unserviceable with a quite manpower intensive problem will just be left broken for now.

There is no point using valuable manpower to fix it so it can fly for 15 hours.

So the 4 aircraft become 3.

So what does all this mean?

The guys in Italy are flying more hours than are normal, the aircraft are well supported and like the warm weather so serviceability is good.

Everything is going well.

Back home crews are struggling to remain current let alone have extra hours to train for a possible deployment to Italy or for the standard 3 month squadron detachment.

The engineers are working all hours in an attempt to keep the 3 remaining aircraft serviceable.  Winter is closing in so vital hours are lost each week to the weather which is fine for the engineers (more time to fix aircraft) but not for the crews.  You lose 2 pilots who are posted but get 3 new pilots straight from the Operational Conversion Unit.  On the face of it the seems like a result but the 3 new pilots require a lot of flying to get them Combat Ready and you need the hours for the other pilots so the new pilots get no hours for the first few weeks.  The squadron boss has already started cancelling leave and courses in attempt to preserve manpower but can not cancel people being sick or pregnant.  With grit, guts, strong leadership and capturing the true RAF Ethos the Sqn manages to do just about everything it needs to and not fall apart.

But then…

The squadron boss gets another call from Air Command; the operation has been extended to a total of 60 days.  It is not all bad news though the sqn will be able to borrow 2 aircraft from another sqn and a further 2 aircraft will come out of major servicing and 2 will go in.  The 3 aircraft have become 6.

Re-Plan Time And Initial Thoughts And Assumptions

The 7 crew in Italy need to be replaced by 7 fresh crews.

Some or all of the engineering manning will also need to be replaced.

Any manpower replacement need to be staggered for better continuity.  The manpower returning form Italy will all get 7 days leave.

6 aircraft back at base is good and any hours used on the 2 borrowed aircraft will come from the lending sqns hours allocation.

Crew; So you need 7 crew so who do you send?  Well you need crews that are in currency and you will need to ensure some of those are your experienced crews.  But, you have already sent your most experienced people out so who is next?  You identify the 7 and they are told to go and fly whatever sorties, currencies etc they need and be ready to go.  This 7 need more hour than the previous 7 to do get current/competent so the flying programme crams in as much flying as possible.

Engineer; You now have 6 aircraft which initially seems good but you have no additional manpower to fix them so you hope and pray nothing serious goes wrong with any of them.  2 of the aircraft in Italy are getting short on hours so you need to prep 2 new ones and send them out to Italy.  This works out well as you can swap 2 crew at the same time.  Manpower is diverted to fully prepare these aircraft.  As you start to send new people to Italy you have to run even lighter while you wait for the returning people to take a weeks leave.  More spares need to be sent out to Italy so again your shelf starts to look a bit bare.  So the 6 aircraft will become 4 for a week (preparing for the swap) but due to spares and manpower shortages the most aircraft they are able to get serviceable is 2 at anyone time.  The crew want to fly them 8 hours a day resulting in more servicing requirements.

A week or so later the personnel and aircraft swaps have been completed and everyone has returned from leave.  Do things start to return to normal?

Crew; The 7 crew that have returned have flown lots of hours but due to the nature of the flying from Italy they need to do some night flying to remain current.  The few remaining crews who have not been to Italy are trying to get current and train to go to Italy just in case and need to day fly.  Everyone still needs to continue preparing for the normal Sqn deployment which is proving nearly impossible.

Engineers; Things have picked up a bit but they are still struggling to keep more than 3 aircraft serviceable a day and morale is dropping.  The crews want to fly day and night but the manning can’t cover both so the Sqn boss decides that the night flying will have to wait, prepping crew for Italy is the priority.

The 60 days are up and French have agreed to take over the sqn commitments to the no-fly zone so everyone returns home for tea and medals.  The last 70ish days have been hard on everyone but it’s over now everything will be fine, won’t it?

The Sqn is back to full manning, leave has been taken and everyone is rightly proud of what they have done.

So what happens now?

Crew; Flying continues and the 3 new crew are starting to get the hours they need.  However, due to the Op only 2 crews are current for night flying so the Sqn needs to fit in a night flying week somehow.  Extra hours are needed to get everyone fully current again before the sqn deploys people on standing 3 month detachment in 6 weeks time.  The lost exercise means they will not get to complete certain types of training before they deploy next time.  This means some crew on the sqn have not flown certain missions since the last operational deployment 12 months ago.  Skill fade is a real issue but there is nothing that can be done so the risk is noted but this will not stop the next deployment.

Engineers; The 2 borrowed jets have been returned so we are back, in theory, to 8 on the line forward line. The sqn is now 400 hrs over its Contingency/Operational hours so more needs to come from the Exercise allocation.  However, it is now late in the financial year so most of the exercise hours have already be spent so you can gain back 250 hrs but are still 150 hours short which now have to come from the Combat Ready Allocation meaning the 3 new pilots will not get all the hours they need this financial year (to become Combat Ready).  Due to the extra flying some of the aircraft are closing in on their minor servicing early so you try to fly them less as there is still a back log of minor servicing from the detachment period.  The 8 has effectively become 4 but there is nothing you can do.  There is a lot of catch up work to get all the jobs done that were pushed to one side during the op so it is still non-stop for the engineers.

6 Weeks later

6 crew and 20 engineers and support staff depart for the Middle East.  It is mid winter and the sqn is loosing 2-3 hours flying each day due to weather and the lack of daylight as most of the flying needs to be done during the day.  The sqn again enters the cycle of preparing crew and engineers to rotate through the detachment and all the associated issues as seen above.

The Sqn boss comes back from a meeting with the Stn Cdr and he is not happy.  The Stn normally closes for 10 days over Christmas and despite the Sqn boss pleading that the stn remains open for a few extra days to allow more crews to get current the Stn Cdr refuses.

To be fair to the Stn Cdr his hands are tied, many of the Stns staff are civilians who can not be forced to work over Christmas even if he had the budget for overtime.  Air Traffic Control, Stn Operations, the Fire Section and Medics are all short staffed due to their own operational commitments, courses, illness, maternity etc and both need and deserve time off.  The Stn Cdr has also been under pressure by the council as the locals don’t like all the noise from the airfield so he has promised no noise of Christmas.

It never ends.


So there you have it, the story of one fictional sqn and how it transitions from normal flying to short notice operational detachment and then to routine operational detachment.  The simple fact is a flying Sqn is a constant state of recovery and repair but it never fully recovers and just gets worn down.

Aircrew and Engineer competency is a real issue as they never get chance to completely train for what the do and consolidate experience and knowledge.

This sums up the last 10+ years of the RAF.

Yet the story above is much simplified and captures a fraction of the issues.

I only just touched at the issues for the support staff (ops, ATC etc)  at the end but this is another huge issue that never goes away.  You should have noticed lots of problems that needed to be solved that would require a fair amount of staff work and deliberation.  If you take nothing else away from this article then take away the fact that no modern day RAF unit is ever actually fully manned and that contracts will civilian companies are a real life limitation.

There is no flex in the system at all any more and everything we do has a negative knock on affect further down the line.

In short, an RAF unit is not even manned for basic exercises and normal flying let alone operations, even small ones.

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March 30, 2011 8:55 pm

Excellent – very well written, thank you to the Anon Crab who submitted it, much appreciated.

Of course this problem is endemic to all the services, whether it’s battalions robbing a Company group from an non-deployed brother, or ships deploying as “lean manned”.

It’s even spread beyond the armed forces to the Prison Service, Fire Services etc.

The whole thought process behind running military, para-military, or public service organisations like “lean and mean” commercial operations is deeply, deeply flawed.

As a programme manager in charge of platoon levels of staffing and millions of pounds worth of budget, I have been heard to say “it does not matter, nobody has died” ! This is the exact opposite, when the proverbial hits the fan, people will die, either because there are not enough hot bodies to do the job, or the ones available are already exhausted and suffering from low morale…..

Still, I bet the FAA would have less people to do …. no I am not going to go there… :-)

March 30, 2011 9:19 pm

After reading that if I were the squadron boss I would be doing my best blackadder impression of underpants on the head and two pencils up my nose saying baldric I have a cunning plan.

March 30, 2011 9:27 pm

Nice piece, it illustrates the practical ‘hidden costs’ of running an actual squadron.

Not wanting to complicate this otherwise simplified – but by no means ‘dumbed down’ overview – there are of course the ‘operational spares’: aircraft and aircrew (from perhaps OCUs and/or TWCUs) which may be temporary assigned to boost squadron operational numbers.

Don’t know how it’s done in the RAF, but it’s common in most NATO air forces to have a pool of spare aircraft (usually drawn from the training units) to temporary replace the ‘Major Service’ maintenance airframes to avoid the creation of ‘Hangar Queens’.

March 30, 2011 10:36 pm

Problemis many types are pooled now, with one large engineering unit catering for several squadrons. This article pretty much summed up my previous trade pretty well, a constant mox of juggling aircraft, people and hope… it works, just.

Thing is, now the author has identified it, how do we go about solving it? – IF there is any way of doing that? The Idea ofpooling all the aircraft was hoped to help alliviate the situation, it did but now as airframe life starts to wane and fewer service personel, the issue is just as bad as it was, and as the author states, it’ll slowly get worse.

But pooling the resources is very common now

March 31, 2011 4:05 am

Agreed, really good stuff. And Marcase’s description of it as illustrating the hidden costs is the key.


As someone who’s been in the business, what’s your if-I-ruled-the-water-cooler response? Beyond of course bringing back support numbers to saner levels. (I’d listen to that too, the whole “well there’s no way to make that happen” approach has to change or there’s no long-term hope besides tumult.) Getting down in the details of the post, what might help? Not to put you on the spot or anything — really. Just an interested question to get a debate up.

Jan Guest
Jan Guest
March 31, 2011 4:24 am

So basically the armed forces are not funded, equipped or manned for the kind of things the politicians demand them to be. Its a very enlightening piece as to how that works on the ground but the problem is really the same. We are close to the limit of the practical, military solutions, and urgently in need of some genuine ‘tough choices’ and actual leadership.

March 31, 2011 4:40 am

I’m beginning to think the MoD are just purely unable to negotiate a deal that is in their favour, regardless of what it entails. Useless bloody clowns.

Fair play to the RAF boys, sounds like you lot put in some real hard work for little reward.

March 31, 2011 4:46 am

“I’m beginning to think the MoD are just purely unable to negotiate a deal that is in their favour, regardless of what it entails. Useless bloody clowns.”

Yup. Since the Cold War and Op Banner wound down there’s no real pressure on them to actually defend the realm properly. So they can get on with their true everyday job: keeping up a pretence of defending the realm so they can provide customer satisfaction for contractors and their shareholding owners. A deal in the MoD’s favour implies nasty, tradesmen-like things like competition and efficiency, and possibly principles like “national defence is important.”

March 31, 2011 5:28 am

I just cant understand why governments keep pinning themselves to the wall (not just on defence) with these stupid contract incentives and penalties.

Look at the PFI deals on behalf of the NHS (by the last government). The British Medical Association has made the point that in hard times they would normally shut buildings and services that hardly get used in order to protect staff numbers. They can’t do that with these PFI’s, so they’re left with staff reductions while empty wards are kept fully maintained. Just ridiculous.

Rich tysoe
Rich tysoe
March 31, 2011 8:57 am

From the point of view of an unqualified layman, the core issue seems to be not enough serviceable airframes for the number of aircrew on the squadron. 20 aircrews for a maximum of 8 flying jets at any one time seems to be asking a lot of the ground crew keep them all current.

So the main challenge would seem to he reducing airframe hours while still keeping crews current. I imagine there’s a good reason that more isn’t done on simulators.

The other thing that our fictional squadron commander does that maybe I’d have done differently was send all his best crews out to Italy at the start. Leaving at least a couple of senior crew at home would help with training the crews left behind, and give a couple of mid-level crew some rapid advancement. Though on the other hand this is a decision that could end l with s

Rich tysoe
Rich tysoe
March 31, 2011 8:59 am

…someone getting killed or injured in action so it just has to always be the most experienced crews.

Bloody iPhone posted the message before I’d finished it.

March 31, 2011 3:10 pm

Two obvious bits stick out.

Dont break up Squadrons.
How many of those problems would have been solved if the entire squadron went?
Not all of them, but a good chunk.

Actual Airframes if not spares.
16 Aircraft would allow 8 on the line, 4 on service, 4 on standby.

Thats 10 Squadrons, even with the minimum Typhoon order.
Our full order is enough for 16.
And really, theres no additional cost for more aircraft “on the line”, its only flight hours that matter.

Excellent piece thank you.
Suddenly, the reason all units arent swing role makes sense, more skills, more drills.

March 31, 2011 3:50 pm

My crazy thinking for Typhoon is 160 airframes all to the same standard, yes in know probably not realistic but bear with me. Two operating bases each with 4 Squadrons of 14 aircraft alongside a single large squadron of 24 aircraft acting as a training/reserve squadron, so actually 112-116 in frontline squadrons.

Anyhow really good article as it shows where the people are and what they are needed for in simple terms and why we could really do with more engineering folk. Thankfully I already knew quite a bit of it as a member of the family is an engineering crab albeit a rather stressed and annoyed crab atm with all that’s going on. However it really simplifies it down for my grey matter to process rather than trying to remember someone telling you.

March 31, 2011 4:00 pm

Thoroughly excellent piece, a joy to read if only for the insight it provides. My thanks.

Quick question re harmony guidelines for enduring expeditionary operations:

If we accept that the enduring operational requirement is the same as the OP above, i.e. 4 jets from 8 active in a squadron of 12, how many squadrons do you need to sustain that indefinitely?

Where the question is leading is this: how big does the typhoon fleet need to be, in both front-line units and airframes, in order to sustain a deployment of 4 jets somewhere faraway?

I understand that QRA notionally requires four squadrons of twelve jets to properly conduct north and south.

I understand that a fifth squadron of typhoon is intended, and that we also sustain four jets in the Falklands.

Can five front-line squadrons of twelve typhoons manage both QRA, and two enduring deployments of 4 aircraft (one in FI, one somewhere dusty)?

All this predicated on the notion that there will be F35c and carriers which are likely to be responsible for much of the interventions, if not the sustained deployments.

Many thanks

March 31, 2011 5:31 pm

I am the author of the original article and would like to thank you for the positive feedback. I want to re-iterate that this is a fictional sqn and not a fictional (wink) sqn. All numbers and figures for crew, engineers etc are made up but I believe they are representative enough to validate the rest of the article.

To respond to some of the points:

The Sqn has 12 aircraft not 8 in the eyes of the MOD and 12 is enough for 20 crew.

The argument of whether or not to send all your experiences crews out first will rage on. For short term ops like this then I think most Sqns would go for experience. However, you can not sustain this so for enduring ops you have to mix it up.

There simply are no spare aircraft or crews anymore. The pooled aircraft system helps but you are still robbing one group of people to supply another.

You can not send an entire Sqn for several reasons. First you need to maintain currency and you can not fly training trips (practice emergencies etc) in theatre. If you send entire sqns you then need some sort of roster so 1 Sqn on ops/standby, 1 on exercises, 1 on training, 1 on rest/reset. So what happens if something kicks of 1 week before the sqns are due to swap roles? Who do you send? What if there are no exercises planned while your Sqn is on Exercise Duty? Unless you have 5 sqns and rotate a “spare” in each Sqn will always cover the same period which will go down well for the Sqn who always miss xmas etc.

Additionally, the manning figures are all tightly woven together. If you increase crew you need to increase hours which mean you need to increase engineers and so on. Therefore, if you decrease hours you also need to reduce crew because you simply can not keep crews current and/or competent.

The answer to all this? Well this is even more complicated. For flexibility, and as above you have to have a multi-purpose Sqn (one doing ops, exercises, training etc simultaneously) hence why we have Jerico/Fight by Flight in the helicopter world. Therefore, you need a big Sqn with enough manpower to do it all. This is not an efficient use of manpower in the civilian sense of the world but the RAF is a military organisation not civilian. You need lots of aircraft, lots of spares and lots of engineers so that you are fully manned even when people are sick, pregnant, posted, on courses and so on. The RAF also needs to go back to the days when Operational Conversion Units (OCU) delivered fully combat ready pilots to the Sqns.

There is approx 17 operational flying Sqns in the RAF at the moment so with the big Sqn idea of lets say 500 people per Sqn that is 13500 people required just for the flying Sqns which represents just under half of the RAF manning target. By the time you add in OCUs, support staff (admin, supply, ops, atc, fire, movers etc) then add in HQs, IPTs, training bases and so on we will be over the figures set by the recent defence review.

March 31, 2011 8:25 pm


Its 4 squadrons worth of personnel to allow 24/7 standing of QRA not 48 jets. I believe with the use of simulators and the better availabilities of modern jet they HOPE to be able to increase the number of pilots assigned to each squadron. As for deployed force for example the last Iraq operation the US insisted that there must be 2 crews deployed with each fast jet.

March 31, 2011 9:21 pm

In all honesty, articles like yours are why I come here, and direct everyone I konow with even the teeniest bit of power here.
Because you just dont get that level of detail anywhere else.

Just guessing, please shoot down everything thats daft with as much detail as possible.

160 Typhoons would allow for 10×16 strong squadrons.

Say 2 are training Squadrons
That leaves 8

1 mounts QRA North
1 mounts QRA South
1 mounts QRA Falklands (trust me, we’ll need a proper presence in the SA)

That leaves 5 full squadrons for expeditionary stuff and gap filling.
Manning and tasking levels are at current levels, despite the 1/3rd increase in assets.

So, we need three air bases, North, South, Falklands.
Squadrons 1-5 are at North, 6-10 are at South, They alternate the Step up for Falklands

1 and 6 are training units, so dont exist for our purpose, that leave 2, 3, 4 and 5 at RAF South and 7, 8, 9 and 10 at RAF North.
Sqn 2 is deployed for 4 months to Falklands for QRA, 3 and 7 also mount QRA

Sqn 7 is deployed to Falklands, 4 and 9 do QRA

Sqn 3 is deployed to Falklands, 5 and 10 do QRA

Hmm, that is gonna throw up problems.
Are trainers the most nails pilots or the ones who dont really make the grade?

I’m thinking could we have a Training unit in the UK, and use the second (advanced) to Garrison the Falklands?

I’ve kinda gone off track here, there was a question somewhere but damned if I can find it.

March 31, 2011 9:43 pm


You will never get all the aircraft assigned to the Sqns. Don’t forget these aircraft will have to last 30 odd years and in the time we will lose some through accidents, war etc so some will be held in reserve. Plus they will be going through upgrades throughout.

You will never assign a full Sqn to one task like QRA as they will suffer skill fade for the other skills plus it is boring!! QRA North will be covered by the Sqns in the North, QRA South will be covered by the Sqns in the South and all the Sqns will cover the Falklands with crew spending a max of about 6 weeks in MPA in order to maintain currency. The system will be no different to what the F3 did for it’s life.

I have no real knowledge of Typhoon operations but I image the real issue is the Air Defence/Ground Attack split. Will Sqns concentrate on one or the other or will it be flights in the Sqn the specialise in one or the other? Will some be true swing role and receive enough hours to be good at both? What will be the overall split? 70% AD and the rest Ground Attack as we still have GR4 and should be getting the F35? I dont know the answers to this but it is going to be tough with all the cuts.

March 31, 2011 9:46 pm

If its one were is it to be based? In the North to cover north atlanitic traffic and our nuclear sites for example or south for London area?.
For the Raptor squadrons in america there is now a shadow squadron of air national guard using the same a/c as the regulars specifically for this type of mission. Granted they operate more standard squadrons of 18 a/c but surely there must be a case for using reservists in the UK for the QRA tasking I think only about 4 jets are ever available to QRA at each location 2 primary and 2 spare/back-up just in case. I read also that the Falklands flight requires a total of 45 ground personnel and 5 pilots(significantly less than the tornados or so the piece says) one of which is the flight boss may give some idea of requirements.

March 31, 2011 9:58 pm


I can not give you locations, numbers and stuff like that but you can probably google and find validated data from PMQs etc.

As for using reservist then it goes back to skill fade. You can’t train pilots just to sit and wait for an incident. They need to be competent operators of the aircraft and multiskilled so even if you use reservists they would still need all the flying hours etc of the regulars so you might as well use regulars.

March 31, 2011 10:08 pm


I understand that I was more asking TD were his single QRA station would be.

As for reservists. An air national guards man is cheaper than a regular i would have thought. If the reservists are only trained in air defence and the regulars all fully multi roles. It would make the QRA tasking less of an issue for the regulars. Yes they still need hours but the personnel cost must be cheaper. If it wasn’t would the Americans not just scrap the guard and employ only regulars.

March 31, 2011 10:20 pm

The USAF employ reserves to get votes, not because they are good.

A single QRA stn is not a good ideas as you could easily loose the runway due to weather, an accident etc.

March 31, 2011 10:36 pm

Mark with one QRA station although to me it makes less sense militarily it would probably be based in the South where the majority of the population is for things like possible 9/11 style events. Also with the attitude the SNP has toward defence as a whole unless it hits their votes directly then f*ck ‘em keep it down south where it’s moderately easier to support.

March 31, 2011 11:17 pm


“Welcome aboard” just sounds trite after something this good. If we get the opportunity, and you the time, for one more post of this kind of quality then we here are very lucky. Thanks also for the follow-on comments.


The Scots Nats do have a habit of being a disgrace to Scottish nationalism, don’t they?

March 31, 2011 11:40 pm

Dominic and Wibble I remember someone wrote that the Germans thought we would need 180 Eurofighter and they were in my opinion pretty darn close to the mark with that estimate. Either going with my plan on Dominic’s that would leave 20 aircraft as spares which might be enough given reserve or training squadrons included as spares.

Jackstaff the single biggest reason I don’t vote for or support the SNP is simply their stance that they think an independent Scotland should be a full member of the EU. Although in general I could give a whole list of reasons why I would not support them so best not to get me started :) Although I think you have to admit Wee Eck is a rather smart politician although compared to the rest of them that’s no great stretch.

March 31, 2011 11:59 pm


Wee Eck is shrewd but, as you say, there’s not much to judge by in the current generation. And as a part-Scot (with a half-Glaswegian wife) I could live with a properly thought-out confederation (with things like common currency and common defence) and the moves to federalism don’t trouble me a jot because I like the Square Mile reminded that there are about sixty million other Britons outside the higher end of the financial sector. Having spent time (including now :) in a couple of other federalised English-speaking countries it can be done. I just think the SNP do a mostly rotten job of advocating things that would benefit the country (Scotland) effectively as opposed to sounding nice in a press release (like what you highlighted, EU membership.)

Very much agreed on 180 Typhoons, it’s a solid figure (as you illustrated) and a very easy slogan for MoD lobbying. That plus effective strategic transport and effective ISTAR/EW is still a very strong service. Shame they’ve been seduced by the Low-Observable Fat Bastard …

April 1, 2011 12:01 am


But as you say (between the lines anyway), being a shifty bunch of bar stewards doesn’t help them either :)

April 1, 2011 12:54 am

Jackstaff that’s the way I would like to see things go to a certain extent although it would all be in the detail for instance what would be devolved and what would be a central government issue. One thing that worries me atm is the push by the Scottish Government to try and get the power to borrow money. Your also spot on reading between the lines compared to the other parties they are a bit harder to pin down :)

When it comes to the F-35 I’m rather on the fence about it to be honest but Lockheed Martin and the fan boys are hyping it up quite a bit which does rather annoy me at times when trying to find information. I think for the UK the F-35 is important as a strike aircraft but probably more importantly as an ISTAR platform if all its electronics work as promised it should be a real leap in capability. Although I think we should also get something like the X-47B to complement F-35 both in the strike and ISTAR roles on and off carriers. The program however is a clusterfuck and it would have been better to develop them individually IMHO with possibly the A and C version sharing commonality and developed as a joint program. With my comparatively limited knowledge of the design evolution of the aircraft compared to some folk who might come along and bash me the thing I do notice is the compromises made for the B version to work. For a kick off I doubt and we more or less know the F-35B will be nothing like as rugged as the harrier for example being able operate from a short dirt strip in a forest somewhere in Germany.

As for a “Low-Observable Fat Bastard” well the low observable bit I have questions about but I don’t know enough apart from if you give it a decent jamming capability it should be rather good. The Fat bit I don’t think is a problem for us and the reason it’s fat is because it carries tons of fuel internally as well as rather large weapons bays for 2000lb class weapons (I wish I had an excuse like that). For other folk the fat thing might be a problem if they need to use it as air superiority which is covered by Eurofighter in UK service although flown off of carriers in RN service it could be a problem. For some of the European partners I would suggest that Gripen NG would be a better low cost solution for their particular needs although I really am a Gripen fan boy to the extent of the typical F-35 fan boy. That’s the other thing, the cost which looks to be going completely and utterly out of the window and into orbit along with schedule although i do accept we can’t really know true production or operating costs yet.

Anyhow I’ve rambled on enough and away from the general direction of the thread so sorry if i’ve annoyed anyone :)

April 1, 2011 6:12 am


The Falklands is smaller area backed up by AD radar and a threat of limited capability and no 9/11 senario. Plus the foot print is small due to costs.

In the UK you easily have a few Bears out to the North and a airliner with lost coms over Kent so you need 2 areas.

Michael (Civ.)
Michael (Civ.)
April 1, 2011 7:04 am

What a brilliant article!

The main thing i take from it is that the SDSR is proven to be dead wrong. That it doesn’t come anywhere near to observable reality in it’s manning & equipment planning for the RAF, especially in the short term.

Some time ago i saw a program about the battle of britian which had a new (well new to myself), slant on some of the reasons as to why britian won. I think it’s relevant to this as after a lot of research they found that both britain & germany had made assumptions about both of their air forces that were incorrect. It gave britian an advantage that was not apparent at the time.

We had Squadrons of 20 aircraft each, Germany had Squadrons of 12 each.

Germany thought we also had Squadrons of 12 aircraft & we thought they had 20 aircraft per Squadron. We overestimated their strength & they underestimated our strength. Our plans were hugely robust compared to their plans, due to incorrect assumptions and information.

So, today, why do we have Squadrons of only 12 aircraft when effectively that means that roughly 8 aircraft are available?

Isn’t this simply a way of fudging numbers, saying we still have X many Squadrons, basicly a way to make the RAF seem stonger than it really is?

On paper, according to the RAF’s website they have what they call 8 Offensive Support Squadrons.

7 of GR4’s.
1 of Typhoon.

For AD there are 3, not including the E3D Squadron, although 111 Squadron are supposed to have F3’s it doesn’t give a location.

2 of Typhoon.
1 of F3.

Ok, not including the OCU Squadrons & if they all have 12 aircraft each thats only 132 aircraft that they have for current operations. I know that there are spare aircraft but how often does one of them get pulled from the reserve to cover for an aircraft that is down for major maintainance or cause it’s been smashed up or something?

I don’t know how to find that out!

11 Squadrons of 12 combat aircraft each is a damm small airforce, any way you look at it.

To me that looks way, way too small to cover Afghanistan & all normal operations & then suddenly we are involved in an open ended commitment in Libya too?

All i can understand from this is that very shortly, the RAF is going to consist of a few over worked Squadrons and many Squadrons who will be trying to fix lot’s of aircraft that are in need of some major TLC. All the while trying to do this with a lot less people & fewer spare parts etc etc. If that is the case, how are the pilots supposed to keep current?

So with the SDSR, everyone is thinking in terms of plans for the future when noone is paying that much attention to whats happening right now.

I hope someone will tell me that no, you’re wrong about that due to such & such. If that doesn’t happen, then there is no point talking about Sea Grippen, Seaphoon, F35’s or Rafales etc etc cause right now the RAF looks to have a real problem.

Have i got this completely wrong or is that about right?

(please excuse my ignorance)

April 1, 2011 7:59 am

Generaly speaking, and odly since its the service I was considering, I know a lot loss about the organisation of the RAF than the Army and the RN.

The Other Two seems to work on a training, deployment, rest, cycle, but the RAF seems to have a much harsher peace time tasking, three active “wars” to be fought, whereas the peace time army has bugger all to do, beyond maintain a Brigade ready to deploy.

Is currency a big issue?
Could an RAF Squadron rotate through QRA training, QRA, rest, Expeditionary Training, Expedition (or standby), rest, QRA Training, QRA, Rest?

Let me just run the numbers and I’ll update

April 1, 2011 8:05 am


Dont pick up too much on the 12 aircraft figure I used it is a nominal figure for the sake of the article.

111 Sqn disbanded in March.


Sqns have to rotate through all aspects of their role to maintain currency and competency. If you lose a capability then it is very hard and therefore expensive to get it back.

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
April 1, 2011 8:49 am

Excellent piece and a good counter to those who think the RAF simply works 9-5 Monday to Friday.

Spares have been a major issue over the past two decades. In the late nineties it was directed that depot stock levels sould be reduced to one months worth, companstated for by smaller but more frequent purchases. THis soon well to pot as funding restrictions led to moretoriums halting both the pruchase of new build and the repair of existing items.Lead times on new built vary from 12 to 24 months so it is easy to see that there is a sunstantial knock on effect.

It was realised that more stock was needed so this was increased to 2 months worht but that was still half of what it used ot be ie 4.

Total support Packages and Powere by the hour contracts are supposed to have reduced this issue with spares for everything except in the flight line being the responsibility of the Contractor but the Contractor wants to make a profit and so will keep his holdings as low as possible and is vulnerable to problems at his sub-contractors etc.

Sudden increases in operational tempo cause a whole host of problems with additional spares bought at inflated prices, and if the hourly flying rate exceeds that in the contract the price goes through the roof.

Things are going to get worse as the traditional reserve pool of serviceable aircraft is reduced in order to maintain Squadron numbers with reduced fleet sizes and robbing platforms far from improving as has been promised is also likely to increase to keep detachments on operations serviceable.

How the RAF is going to be able to keep up its tasking requirements post 2017 with only 6 Fast Jet Squadrons is beyond me and the Air Staff seem to now believe their own spin.

April 1, 2011 9:14 am

Here Goes
There are in effect 4 Squadron level RAF tasks
The home island QRAs and two expeditionary Squadrons

Each can be divided into three parts, each lasting three months.
A “Work Up” phase, an “Active” Phase and a “Rest” phase.

That gives us 12 postings.
A Sqn would rotate
QRA (N) Workup
Expedition Workup
Expedition Ready
QRA(N) Workup

Or QRA(S) Workup
Expedition Workup
Expedtion Ready

There seems little point to rotation between QRA (N) and QRA (S), if you have a home base, it makes stuff like having a home easier.

That would require 12 squadrons, each of 16 aircraft, and sounds like it would make all of your problems go away.

The Pilots sent to Libya would know they were on expecditionary duty, and so will have spent the previous 3 months ensuring their currency levels for things that cant be practiced when deployed are fully up top date. And after their three month tour, they have another three months to catch up on anything missed, and then another three months to ready for QRA work.

It does of course lack a dedicated training unit, and Falklands cover.
I was thinking about rolling that into one task, possibly even with the secondary Expeditionary force…

But we’re a long long way outside my knowledge base at this point.

April 1, 2011 9:19 am

20 pilots, at 15 hours a month, for 12 months a year, at £50,000 an hour is £250,000,000
So for 12 such squadrons, £3bn.
The RAF/FAA spent £3.8bn on combat jets in 2008.
So mine seems far better and considerable cheaper.

Although that £3.8bn did include Joint Force Harrier.
All the more reason we should have knocked some heads together in the early 80’s and said the RAF/FAA could have one aircraft and it better be STOBAR off a Medium Carrier.

April 1, 2011 9:34 am

That was £70,000 per hour not £50,000.

If you drop to 16 pilots, thats only £200mn per year per squadron.

April 1, 2011 11:00 am

@ TD – “Still not convinced we need two full time QRA/AD locations”

I am sympathetic to that, the typhoon is supposed to be able to trundle around at mach 1.2 without reheat.

April 1, 2011 2:37 pm

Makes interesting reading TD it will help with the manning requirements of the look time on task. Though I would ask do we still operate the predator. I would assume that transit thru civil or restricted airspace is still required to be done by a full trained pilot though.

As for the manning requirement the US have seven 18 aircraft operational squadrons from 180 F22s are the RAF being over cautious with only five 12 a/c squadrons from 160 aircraft.

April 1, 2011 2:52 pm

Although one base can cover both patrols, we cannot guarentee one base will always be active.

If a landing jet at QRA(N) suffers a catastrophic failure and rams the runway at 45′, with a full warload, that all detonates, QRA(S) can cover for it.

If theres not a QRA(S), we’re ****ed.
I dont really see how designating one a warm standby changes much?

April 1, 2011 3:06 pm


The same argument could be made against putting all our tanker transport assets in one airbase too yet were still going that way. As a tanker is usually on standby or scrambles to support QRA launch.

April 1, 2011 8:51 pm


There are not many dual runway stns left, if any. Plus if the wind is wrong you are screwed.

I would not get to tied up with the QRA issue, it is not really all that expensive or that big a deal for the crew/sqn.

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
April 4, 2011 2:28 pm

Massively interesting post, Wibble. The things I drew out of it are as follows (and are more policy/strategic than tactical/basing)

1/. Why do we contract out deep servicing of our a/c? Surely for flexibility, skill maintenance on the engineering side (rotating through the deep service depot) and maybe cost, this should be done in-house? After all, deep serviceing by the contractor would be added to the “fearsome” up front cost of the purchase, and the Contractor would want to make a profit on it? Finally, getting control over deep serviceing back to the RAF means that we have better control over the stock of spares.

2/. I constantly read that Gripen can be field serviced by an engineering crew of 6 draftees. I don’t know how much of this is SAAB PR hype, but it seems that out a/c are very much of the “hangar queen” variety. Since we have come to a plateau in performance capability for combat aircraft (until someone perfects wave-riding airframes, MHD turbines, or anti-gravity!) the MoD should be putting in more clauses in AST/ASR’s that reduce part-count and increase MTBF. Which brings me on to . . .

3/. 1000 flight hours between deep services? One way toreduce the engineering burden on an average sqn. and increase airframe availability would be to “value-engineer” furure a/c by increading durability of components and reducing parts count (less oppurtinity for parts failure, and less complexity in servicing). I fear that our combat a/c have become too fragile, because there is no incentive for the manufacturer to increase robustness. The ASR / Contract Specs. only quantify the performance required (if the whole package of bolts is working perfectly that day).

April 4, 2011 4:15 pm



TD did a write on the helicopter equivilant a while ago.

I just dont think we can bring that entirely in house.
Its closer to building a replacement than it is topping up fluids.
Its a trite fallacy to argue that the army could do it cheaper because the private sector charges a profit.
Private sector healthcare is considerably cheaper than the NHS for example.

Its also probable that the contracting out is there to provide work between building Tornado and building Typhoon.

2. Theres servicing and servicing
The Gripen might only need 6 engineers not 7, but it might take 7 hours per plane, not 6.
A “field service” might be a refuel and a quick look over and clearance for operations.

3. 500 hours and 1000 hours will be picked for convenience, not capability.
Anything but a serious increase, is likely to be ignored.
I’m sure there was a German fighter engine that needed to be senht back to the mfger and rebuilt after 10 hours.

My Car needs servicing every 10,000 miles, it doesnt explode at 10,050.

After ReReading the original article, I’m happier with my suggestion of more aircraft in Squadron and fewer pilots for them.
16 of each per squadon.
It allows for much more redundancy in the event that all your engines are knackered one week. You will have spare frames available for use, and spare frames sat in the hangar that need avionics work anyway.

Since the aircraft are far cheaper than the maintenance crew, it makes more sens to have redundant airframes sat around gathering dust than redundant ground crew air bumming.

I think the USAF is still of the opinion its getting more F22’s, and that the President, Congress, Senate and Pentagon are wrong when they say it wont.
To be fair, the Manufacturer has taken great pains to make sure it can restart production at the drop of a hat, so you can understand their viewpoint.
All the tools have been stored and extensive video guides were created as to their use.

Its very unlikely we’re going to be getting more Typhoons, unless we find a willing buyer for our early models or India can be convinced to partner on the Tempest.

April 4, 2011 7:36 pm


I dont think the RAF would be able to bring all the maintenance back in house for fast jets. They are now extremely complicated in fact the UK is general no longer has the full skill set to design one themselves. The cost for certain trades would be enormous.

Typhoon has reduced the number of maintenance personnel required to service it, has a higher availability than most jets and costs less to operate than tornado(ino it doesnt look that why but that’s because of the really weird way MOD calculate cost per hour).

As for 1000 hours for a major service. Well aircraft have a number of checks (a,b,c) that need carried out and a deep one would be a “c” check at around that number of hours maybe a bit higher. You got to remember this is not a airliner and 1000 hrs is probable 1/6 of the aircraft service life so its most like every 3-4 years it would have deep service depending on usage.

You can have 2 types of component a fail-safe or a safe life one. Both have advantages and dis-advantages and are judged on a engineering basing. Part count is being reduced but that has to be balanced against the requirements for battle damage repair and replace-ability which is unique to combat aircraft.
In the end a 9g super sonic aircraft operates in a pretty brutal environment which pushes know materials to the edge of their capability.

April 4, 2011 8:14 pm


1. It will be argued that it is cheaper and frees up servicemen for other tasks. The reality is it will provide jobs in marginal constituencies and allow servicemen to be cut. There is at least 1 aircraft type that is still “in house”.
2. As manpower is a huge part of any defence budget manufacturers will always claim stuff like that. As stated already, aircraft never break as and when you want them to. It is simple fact that the more complicated something is the more likely it is to break.
3. All the figures are nominal, not factual. All aircraft will at some point be serviced as a complete machine. However, different parts of the aircraft will be checked/serviced etc at all different intervals. Some intervals are based on hours some are based on calendar months. It is very complicated and varies from fleet to fleet hence why I went for very simple figures for the article.


I understand your theory but think you are wrong. The number of aircraft you need will be affected by the serviceability rate. If you have 90% serviceability with a fleet of 10 you get 9 aircraft on the line. If you have 75% serviceability with a fleet of 12 you also get 9 on the line. The serviceability will be based on aircraft design, spares availability and engineering numbers.
You need sensible pilot numbers so you can support 24 hours ops and crew through training, detachments, exercises and so on. There is a finite amount of hours a pilot can operate per day, per 30 days and per 90 days. You also need to allow for combat loses, injury etc. Finally, (despite their claims) pilots are only human, the get fatigued, miss their families and so on so you need cover.
The crew numbers will depend on aircraft type as well. The C17 etc need more crews, Fast jets less.

April 5, 2011 9:17 am

Fair enough, I am usualy wrong, its just when I’m right, I’m right in a big way.
Son sometimes can appear stubborn…

But increasing the number of airframes allows the serviceability rate to slip, with no ill effects.
Which in effect, is what happens already, except the lack of slack in airframes, causes masses of trouble.

16 Pilots would allow three hours flights every day for round the clock cover with a pair.
I personaly, would have little problem rotating pilots and ground crew out of Afghanistan/Italy on a very fast basis. The full manpower fits on a single transport jet, leave the fighters out there and rotate your six squadrons fortnightly if its a long haul deal. For more short term, two weeks, a month?

April 5, 2011 9:31 am


This subject so complicated there is no right answer, so therefore there is no wrong answer.

If you rotate everyone too quickly they will never fully get to grips with the demands on ops. You also increase the burden on an overstretched AT fleet. You cant win.

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
April 5, 2011 9:53 am

In house Deep Servicing has gone for good. The MoD in conjunction with the Treasury saw “Power by the Hour” of Total Support Packages as a way to both ruduce yearly costs and to have future costs easily mapped out. In all cases there was supposed to be a fall back option, ie put things back the way they were but only lip service was ever paid to this.

In future we are going to have a higher Aircrew to Airframe ration but substantially feww spare airframes to cover maintenance schedules. In the short term it will allow sortie rates to be maintained but at the cost of airframe serviceability and hours meaning fleets will require major work earlier to keep them in service or replacement much sooner than perviously planned. This is definitely going to be the fate of the Typhoon fleet which will struggle to reach 2030 and maybe even 2025

Rich Tysoe
Rich Tysoe
April 5, 2011 10:17 am

“I dont think the RAF would be able to bring all the maintenance back in house for fast jets. They are now extremely complicated in fact the UK is general no longer has the full skill set to design one themselves”

You know, I’m not really sure how true that is. I don’t think there’s any part of Typhoon that couldn’t have been done entirely in the UK, had the government (and by extension, we the taxpayers) been willing to pay for it.

The Typhoon subassembly breakdown doesn’t neccesarily mean (for example) that BAE don’t know how to build the back end of a jet any more.

Low observable technology is the main “gap” in the UK tech base, as far as we know, and even then Taranis shows that BAE are getting an understanding of it.

The point is, I guess, duplication. the manufacturer has the skills and tools to deep-service (ie take to bits, then put back together) the jets because they build them. Is it efficient for the RAF to duplicate that skill base?

There’ll come a point, though, when Warton is no longer building typhoons (or possibly anything else), but the RAF will still be flying them and needing them fixed.

April 5, 2011 11:47 am

Fair enough
Tahnks for your responses, and I’ll stop bothering you :p

Rich Tysoe
It would have been considerably cheaper for the UK to go it alone with Typhoon.

Sweden Managed it with the Grippen.
France managed it with the Rafel.

A considerable portion of the cost of the Typhoon project has been because of pointless delays whilst thread size is squabbled over in national parliaments and the constant changes made to suit national contractors production methods.

It was government policy that European integration was more important than cost.
Hence the million pound missile that is storm shadow…

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
April 5, 2011 11:57 am

@DomJ, Mark & Wibble:

To take your replies for each of my points:

Point3/. OK I understand that the servicing intervals are nice round numbers for convenience. I had it in my head that they were nearer to reality than they were. My apologies. I assume they are of the same order of magnitude as the real figures? If so then my point that we should be emphasizing the maintainability of a/c in the specification phase of a project still stands. A/C with fewer parts that need replacing/rebuilding at longer intervals will reduce maintenance overhead and provide better a/c availability. Mark says that Typhoon has moved this in the right direction – but what efforts are being made to value engineer existing fleets? After all if the mftr. has to replace/rebuild parts during deep servicing why not replace them with better ones?

Which brings me to point 1/. If deep servicing is controlled by the mftr. or his servicing arm, then there is a strong temptation to produce a/c with components that last “just long enough” so that weight or cost are brought down. In fact, knowing some accountants there would be a strong temptation to use components that are deliberately “short lifed” to increase the deep servicing frequency (and thus cash flow into the company).

Lastly, point 2/. I think that the Gripen PR was that 6 conscripts could perform the equivalent of an RAF minor service in the field (i.e. the side of a motorway, since it is Swedish policy to disperse a/c in this manner). The point is, that if you build this requirement into the spec. then you get an a/c that can have this capability.

I’m sure that all the RAF and mftr. ground crew do sterling work on maintaining the RAF’s a/c. I’m also sure that they are dedicated and thorough individuals (all the RAF ex-servicemen I know are). What I am trying to get at is that we are making the wrong decisions at the procurement level, either to reduce manpower/running costs (deep servicing to the mftr. at the cost of an overly inlfexible contract) or capital costs (building less robust a/c because they cost less, due to being make with “weaker” components).

Sorry if this is teaching anyone to suck eggs, but it comes as a bit of a revelation to me as an interested civillian and these were my first thoughts on the subject.

April 5, 2011 1:45 pm

That companies deliberatly “short life” products is a convenient myth. It sounds like it makes sense, but in reality, it doesnt work like that.

Its possible the EF could have been more expensive up front (or less capable), but with lower through life costs, well, no, its not possible, it is the case, but the group chose this mix of of capital and operating costs.
At the end of the day, there are limits to our technological abilities, as the F35 is finding out. Sometimes, a bulkhead to resist a given force simply cant be made lighter, there just isnt a material that does the job at any price.

I quite fervently believe the Gripen is just the single engined Typhoon BAE offered us in the mid 90’s.
Funky as the Gripen is, its smaller than the Typhoon, lighter, carries fewer weapons and has only 1 engine.
Thats its servicing costs are less is hardly astounding.

Theres simply no way that BAE “did a number on us”, however, we could be making “bad” procurement decisions, its simply impossible to say unless you sat in the meetings.

1000 hours might not sound like a lot, but a Typhoon has a life of 6000 hours and operates under the most brutal stresses imaginable.
It will quite possibly be in service for 30 years. A full service every 5 years suddenly sounds a lot different doesnt it?
You could probably stretch that to 10 years, but I wouldnt want to fly a plane that does 9g turns at twice the speed of sound on a regular basis and that hasnt had a full inspection for a decade.

April 5, 2011 3:41 pm

I may have been smoking something but bear with me…..

If every so often a few aircraft hit their thousand hour mark in the squadron or whatever it is that should also be replicated across the squadrons of that particular type. Could we not then try and arrange it so that all the aircraft in a squadron hit the hour mark at the same time so all their aircraft go away to get work done. Then crews from that squadron would use the aircraft held in the reserve squadron either until their own aircraft are sorted or until those aircraft from the reserve squadron hit the limit. In other words either the aircraft or the crews would rotate between the active and reserve squadrons so that the active squadrons should always be up to full strength or near enough. This would also mean that the squadron with aircraft that have just been serviced would be first or second in line to deploy so that the aircraft could be kept away for longer?

Ooo!…. Sorry Sea King at about 600ft AGL

As for the Gripen from what I’ve read and heard the aircraft is simple, over engineered and well designed I have some sensible and some silly ideas why that might be. However I’ll keep quiet because I’ll probably bore you or come across as mad but simply put I’m as big of a Gripen fan boy as others are F-35 fan boys. Although I do have one thing I’m curious about, how well do the avionics and other systems handle the high 30’s and mid 40’s temperatures found somewhere like Afghanistan. Especially since the aircraft was designed to operate in the exact opposite with temperatures well below zero with blizzards and ice build-up possible in such cold conditions. I think I’ve read somewhere that aircraft have been having cooling problems in the intense heat of Afghanistan. I also wonder about how the F-35 will cope especially as the cooling of all the electronic wizardry has been giving them major headaches.

April 5, 2011 7:19 pm


Each a/c will come with a list of what parts are on the aircraft right down to nuts bolts and washers. Also someone will hold the air worthiness certificate for the aircraft (not sure if BAE or Qinetic or the RAF hold there them for military a.c). There is not a insignificant amount of work required to approve a new bit for an aircraft already in service lots of paperwork need changed and sums done. In the civil world(military heading this way too) all the major air framers have customer support departs that will monitor aircraft health management systems even when the a/c is in the air and indeed if something needs replaced the part will be waiting at the depot were its flying into. Most plane builders will also carry out customers mods and will have design team specifically for that. Every day or common repairs will be included in a structural repair manual supplied for the aircraft as sort of IKEA diagram manual more difficult ones usually are referred to the manufacturer.

Every military aircraft is over engineered compared to a civil one, by its operations its required to be that way its why they cost more. How does a country like Sweden build whole aircraft and we cant well they buy in major components from other countries and design a structure round them. We could do the same but we certainly dont have the skill to design and build every bit any more. We have nothing to compare to the facilities in Toulouse of Montreal or san paolo in this country.

BAE was asked on board JSF for more than just its knowledge of harrier or the rather small(but not insignificant) development money offered by the UK, replica had a lot to do with it I believe.

April 5, 2011 7:56 pm

Mark, last point first. Yup that was the whole point in Replica the US basically were not really sure if they should export us stealth technology so we built replica to show that we already knew about the technology. This was in the early days of the F-35 program IIRC before it became the huge international program it is now although it seems it could backfire if we are kept out of the software which is the key. It was probably also made clear to them that if we really wanted to we could build something ourselves and would then be free to sell it to whoever we wanted which might not have sat well with them. All a technological, economic and political game but that’s what the military is really for isn’t it….

Anyhow Gripen fanboy to Sweden’s defence, yes they buy in the engine which is partly manufactured and partly redesigned by Volvo Aero to better suit single engine aircraft. There are also other things imported but the bulk of it such as the radar and electronics is Swedish including that nifty data linking feature that they had before other folk.

As for bashing together our own aircraft yes we could do it we have the capability for sure in most areas although in electronics I’m a bit unsure what Selex and other folk make. We make the wings for Airbus and Bombardier as well as other composite components, Woodford and Warton have manufacturing facilities for aircraft. There is also Samlesbury Lancashire where the F-35 aft fuselage is manufactured by BAE and that is not a simple bit of fuselage to manufacture and put together we also we build the Hawk somewhere. On the engine front well not even going to say it then we have Martin Baker for Ejection seats, Cobham for fuel systems and other stuff.

Erm sorry waffling on, basically we sure do have the capability to knock out aircraft but we lack the political will and some would argue the need to build our own aircraft when there is a healthy market out there.

April 5, 2011 8:17 pm

I dont disagree with the political will but the requirements for final line and certification are very much more important in the skill set which we are almost out off. Hawk is built in Brough. BAE is the last final line in the UK and will most likely end with typhoon.
I have worked at a couple of the companies you mentioned above and the knowledge and capability required are disappearing quickly as gradually skills are being lost to else were. The UK government talks a gd game others but up the money.

April 5, 2011 9:45 pm

Indeed we are losing experience quickly to other countries that are offering good stable employment and actually doing something productive making a complete product which is what gets some people. At the moment the Chinese are trying very hard to get hold of Rolls Royce and GE engineers to try and solve the big problem they have of no high quality indigenous aircraft engine production that is competitive with the global market. There are also attempts to get into the composite business as well something that we do rather well at in the UK although for whatever reason I don’t know.

It’s sad but true once the Hawk line has died off and the Eurofighter as well we will no longer be in the business of manufacturing and assembling whole complex aircraft although that is not certain. It also depends if you count UAV’s and UCAV’s although chances are we will buy those off the shelf as I can’t see the point in building the tiny numbers likely to be ordered. As far as I know the major reason behind funding BAE’s UAV range is precisely to keep some skills alive like a tiny seed just in case. Well that and the politics of it all of course but that’s me being cynical hard not to be though.

Richard W
Richard W
April 6, 2011 11:13 am

Interesting post. I can’t help at wonder though, at the number of people on the payroll. It looks as if there is a million pounds of personnel cost pa attaching to each aircraft at a squadron level. And this is before putting gas in the tank and flying, and adding parts and deep servicing and a whole bunch of other stuff. You can see why disbanding a squadron or two is so appealing to anyone wanting to save money.

I’ll admit no expertise in this area so feel free to shoot me down, but it looks like an area where you would want to look at your organisation, processes and manning levels to see if isn’t a cheaper way of doing things.

The overseas tasking is interesting because it brings in the implications of harmony guidelines and the whole cost basis for such deployments. If it was 1940 and you were fighting the Luftwaffe over London there wouldn’t be any consideration of harmony guidelines, hours worked, time off, pay or anything else. You would do what it takes to defend your homeland. On the other hand in recent times operations have been the result of politicians wanting to play on the world stage and the deal is sort of I’ll come and fly/service your aircraft in a conflict I don’t have any feeling for if you pay me well, keep me in a degree of comfort, give me time off and don’t ask me to be away from home too long. All of which requires the government to have a larger pool of personnel it can rotate through a relatively small operation.

This suggests there is quite a different level of resources required to maintain forces that only stay at home waiting the day when they may be need to defend Blighty, and resources required to deploy forces overseas. Or put another way perhaps if we didn’t aspire to regular enduring overseas operations we could afford to have more forces at home.

April 6, 2011 1:05 pm


We are already doing it on the cheap. The more complicated the aircraft the more manpower needed to fix it. Believe it or not some of the design features on modern aircraft just don’t make sense much like modern cars that need 8 hours and 2 mechanics to change a simple clutch etc. As i mention hours are wasted robbing parts because their are none on the shelves. As the manpower budget is different to the spares budget no one ever links the 2 together.

Harmony guidelines do not come into the example. Time off on detachments is limited with people working very long hours. The aircrew are limited to the amount of hours they can operate per day, per month and per 90 days. These rules are not excessive and fall in line with civilian regulations. There is no way a fatigued pilot could effectively operate a modern aircraft even if they are not in a war zone so of all the rules and regulations these need to stay.

Sadly, we are all (civilians too) in a society obsessed with rules, regulations, and accountability. This has increased the operate costs of all organisations and the RAF is not immune to this. Before you can do anything you have to have a meaningless certificate to say you have been trained etc. Therefore the days of multiskilled aircraft mechanics are gone increasing the manpower needed. The level of documentation required on aircraft also means more manpower to complete it all, log it onto computer systems and so on. The amount of pointless on-line course we have to complete these days is ridiculous just so if something goes wrong the MOD/RAF can “prove” we have been properly trained in court and is a simply a waste of manpower, money and time.

Across the entire government just think how much money is spent on all this administration? Could any of actually list the number of rules and regulation we are actually obliged to follow let alone understand them all? Yet we have seen more and more regulation in the last 10-15 years and most of it has no other purpose but to arse cover and while doing so waste billions of pounds in the process.

Believe me, the RAF would love to see and end to all the rubbish and just get on and fly aircraft but it is out of our hands.

April 6, 2011 7:40 pm


The RAF, and the military, is inefficient by it’s very nature. Even if there are no wars then most, if not all, countries maintain a military capability. That is not to say that the RAF should be inefficient in itself but there is a limit to the amount we can reduce people. As the entire point of the RAF is to fly aircraft then I will use flying as an example of something that is often misunderstood by civilians, and often the senior services. I am not a pilot so have no bias towards the 2 winged master raceJ and again I am keeping things relatively simple:

In order to be not just competent, but proficient the crew need to fly the aircraft regularly. That is probably not too difficult a concept for anyone to get. However, what do we mean by fly the aircraft? Surely flying is flying so a couple of hours a week should suffice and cheap to boot? Well terms of being able to take off, land and handle minor emergencies then a couple of hours a week is fine. Practicing major emergencies can be done safely and more effectively in the simulator. All sorted then, billions saved off the budget? Well a Tornado pilot/crew also needs to be able to fly low level and at high speed which is difficult so you need to add a few more hours a month for that (they may have to transit to a low flying area on top of that). They also need to be able to accurately drop/fire a variety of different weapons systems and in different scenarios (low level, high level etc) so there is another couple of hours. They need to able to refuel from a variety of NATO aircraft VC10, Tristar, KC135, DC10 etc so there is a few more hours. Then, they have to be able to do this all at night so you do it all again!! Of course, where possible they will combine several items into one trip but that is not always possible.

So if you have people deployed away they will of course be doing some of the flying as above but not all of it. You certainly wont have any simulators where you are and you wont be doing any practice circuits or emergency drills. Therefore, despite the fact you are flying regularly you are losing competence in other areas. This is why crews rotate through operational detachments at approx 6-8 week intervals. Clearly the longer you spend not doing something the harder (therefore more time consuming) it is to relearn it and additionally there are genuine safety concerns if crews are not regularly practicing emergency procedures.

All this means that as well as having all the support staff deployed you need support staff back at base to support the currency flying. Therefore, under normal conditions when everyone is at base you should, in theory, have an excess of staff and are therefore inefficient. However, if you refer to the original post you will know that the no RAF unit is ever fully manned with most, if not all running light continuously due to leave, course, postings, empty posts, sickness, maternity and so on.

April 6, 2011 8:53 pm


you hit on a key, point which I have mentioned before, this one of “efficiency”.

The armed forces and the emergency services CANNOT be run as “efficient businesses” because that is not their role. An efficient Navy is one that can complete it’s tasks with the least number of day sin dry dock perhaps, not the one with the least ships or sailors. An efficient Army might be the one that figures out how to provide a certain set of effects on the battle field in a certain way, not the one with the least soliders and tanks. Same for an efficient Air Force……..

Politicians are used to the MBA, or PhD in Economics view of “efficiency” and need to take a broader perspective. Even in civilian business it is widely accepted that efficient does not equal cheap!

April 6, 2011 9:25 pm

I have had similar thoughts about ammunition for practice. The infantry (and related units RM, RAF Reg) should have £100million budget just so they can practice shooting. Heck. Make it £150million. If an infantryman wants to spend a day once a month putting a couple hundred rounds down range let him.

April 6, 2011 9:38 pm

“Politicians are used to the MBA, or PhD in Economics view of “efficiency” and need to take a broader perspective”

Well, I dont actualy have a MBA or PHD, but a good chunk of my job is “efficiency”.
The Polis simply arent doing what an efficiency accountant would suggest, because the correct choice is increase the number of redundant airframes.

Unfortunatly, £150mn a year is half the cost of 1 RAF squadron for training.
Alrthough I must admit, I find penny pinching on infantry weapons bizare in the extreme.
Its “consultant efficiency”.

April 6, 2011 9:58 pm

@ DomJ

Just shooting the breeze. I know what a £150million will buy. I am not going to be drawn on which is better value riflemen learning to shoot or pilot training.

April 7, 2011 8:00 am

Wasnt trying to draw you.

I thought the point you were getting at was all members of the armed forces should be able to practice all day if they want.
I dont know the cost of bullets, so couldnt say if £150mn is enough for the army, but I do know its no where near enough for the airforce on even the lightest training.

April 7, 2011 8:59 am

Thanks Wibble.

Interesting that bureaucracy is to blame.

April 7, 2011 9:16 am

I know Dom you weren’t been confrontational. Text at times fails to convey conversational tone. I was actually being naughty with some tongue in cheek RAF bashing. Sorry TD…….. ;-)

July 10, 2011 5:14 pm

What an interesting article. Worth finding this site just for that. A fascinating insight into how things actually work rather than how they should seem to work when written out on paper. In other words, it shows how nice charts and unit delineations break down in the face of ongoing operations and shows that squadrons/battalions etc are convenient peacetime administrative entities and not often operational units in themselves.

November 18, 2011 1:10 pm

BZ Wibble. One area I believe the RAF should stop treating as a sacred cow is the skills fade argument. Keeping op tours short has become dogma. IMHO crews should spend longer in-theatre, and I’m a GR1/4 dinosaur…

November 18, 2011 1:34 pm

I’m in two minds about that.
I fully accept the arguement about skill fade, however, I think we need to realistic about the cost of maintaining a skill that isnt currently required, and relearning it.