Defence for 2015 and Beyond – Part 2 Defence of the United Kingdom

A series of guest posts from AndyC

The task of defending the UK itself falls largely to the RAF and Royal Navy.  They need to have sufficient forces to defend our airspace and territorial waters.

That means keeping hostile aircraft, ships and submarines out of range of being able to launch stand-off weapons at the UK or threatening our vital shipping and air transport routes.  This planning scenario is not based on addressing any one particular threat but an analysis of the defence needs of the UK from threats approaching from any geographical direction.

The RAF’s principal role is to provide long-range air defence (at least 1,000 miles) using advanced air superiority fighters, equipped with the most effective air-to-air missiles (Meteor and ASRAAM), supported by AWACS and aerial tankers.  Four Typhoon Squadrons, one Squadron of E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft and a handful of A330 Voyager aerial tankers should be able to fulfil this role against likely credible threats.  Dispersed between RAF Lossiemouth, RAF Coningsby and RNAS Culdrose the Typhoon would be effective into the Norwegian Sea and the edges of Greenland to the north, Poland to the east, Gibraltar to the south and the Mid-Atlantic to the west.

RAF Typhoon Aircraft Carrying Meteor Missiles
RAF Typhoon Aircraft Carrying Meteor Missiles

The Typhoon is most suited to this role because of its greater combat range, top speed, agility and ability to carry at least ten air-to-air missiles.  Two Squadrons at Lossiemouth would share peacetime northern QRA; one Squadron at Coningsby would provide southern QRA and they would be joined by the majority of the Operational Conversion Unit in times of major conflict.

Additional air defence could also be provided by a mixture of Hawk T2s and CAMM-L surface-to-air missiles.

With the Hawk T2 carrying a pair of Meteor and ASRAAM missiles each this provides a capable secondary medium-range air defence (up to 400 miles).  In times of heightened tensions Hawk T2s could be deployed to forward bases in the Shetlands and Suffolk to provide support for the RAF’s principal air defence fighters.  Remaining older Hawk T1s, currently in service with both the RAF and RN, would be replaced by 2020, as their air frames become unserviceable, by new Hawk T2s.

Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer
Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer

Further support would be provided by the new CAMM-L which replaces the Rapier for short-range air defence (up to 20 miles) around valuable potential targets.

UK Air Defence – the yellow areas are covered by Hawks operating from the Shetlands and Suffolk, the white areas by Typhoons from RAF Lossiemouth, RAF Coningsby and RNAS Culdrose and the blue by carrier based aircraft.


UK Air Defence
UK Air Defence

The Royal Navy’s role is to keep our territorial waters and shipping routes open and safe.  Two aircraft carrier groups with six escort destroyers/frigates, maritime/AEW helicopters plus six Squadrons of F-35Bs from the mixed RAF:FAA force; backed up by land based AWACS and aerial tankers would fulfil most of this requirement.  Positioned within reach of the RAF’s land based air defences to provide additional security one carrier group could cover the area from Greenland to Norway while the other group covers the Western Approaches.  All remaining destroyers, frigates and patrol ships, their helicopters and attack submarines would patrol the areas not covered by the carrier groups with the highest priority going to the approaches to Faslane.

Each QE carrier would operate one Naval Air Squadron of F-35Bs in the fleet air defence/anti-shipping role in both peacetime and in conflict situations.  These would be supplemented by two RAF Squadrons of F-35Bs allocated to each carrier in heightened situations which would specialise in operating against land targets with a secondary anti-shipping role.  They would be equipped with SPEAR missiles for CAS/SEAD operations and Joint Strike Missiles for land strike and anti-shipping roles.

An alternative might be to base the second carrier group (protecting the Western Approaches) around a smaller helicopter carrier such as HMS Ocean rather than a QE class aircraft carrier.  This would reduce the number of F-35B Squadrons required purely for carrier operations from six to three.

To be sure that there is always one QE aircraft carrier operational at all times requires the Royal Navy to cover all periods when the primary carrier is being refitted.  This is the major reason for having two QE carriers.  Going down to just one may be cheaper but would definitely provide less effective defence.

Even with two carriers there would still be a lot of the North Atlantic not being patrolled.

There is a clear requirement for a dedicated specialist long-range Maritime Patrol Aircraft to fill these gaps.  This could be met by equipping one Squadron with Boeing’s P-8 Poseidon or Kawasaki’s P-1 aircraft.  These would be equipped with multiple sonobuoys, torpedoes and Joint Strike Missiles enabling them to specialise in anti-submarine warfare but have secondary anti-shipping and ISTAR roles.

P1 with Maverick
P1 with Maverick
P8A Poseidon
P-8A Poseidon

In addition, the UK should evaluate the Triton UAV to see whether it can add to the capabilities and reach of whichever aircraft is selected in the MPA role.

Triton UAV
Triton UAV

There is also a requirement for an anti-shipping strike fighter to operate out of the range of the carriers.  This could be met by a small number of Typhoons (such as a Flight made up of aircraft from the Operational Conversion Unit) supported by aerial tankers.  These could be equipped with six Joint Strike Missiles.  Even with a full strike load the Typhoon is still capable of carrying a further six air-to-air missiles so this unit could also fulfil a secondary role of providing fighter escort for the MPA squadron.

To provide a minimum effective defence of the UK requires:

  • 5 Typhoon units – 4 air defence Squadrons plus 1 anti-shipping Flight
  • 1 E-3 Sentry AWACS Squadron
  • 1 A330 Voyager aerial tanker Squadron
  • remaining Hawk T1s to be replaced by Meteor capable Hawk T2s
  • Rapier surface-to-air missiles to be replaced by CAMM-L
  • 1 Maritime Patrol Squadron – possibly made up of a mixture of aircraft and UAVs
  • Joint Strike Missiles to equip the F-35B, Typhoon and Maritime Patrol Aircraft
  • 2 aircraft carriers – either two QE aircraft carriers or one QE and one helicopter carrier
  • 6 F-35B swing-role Squadrons or 3 if there’s only one QE carrier
  • 18 destroyers/frigates and 3 patrol ships
  • 3 Merlin HM/AEW Squadrons and
  • 2 Wildcat HMA Squadrons.


The rest of the series

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – Defence of the United Kingdom

Part 3 – Other Sovereign Territories

Part 4 – NATO

Part 5 – A Southern or Middle Eastern Threat

Part 6 – An Eastern and Northern Threat

Part 7 – Global Intervention

Part 8 – British Army 2025

Part 9 – Royal Navy 2025

Part 10 – Royal Air Force 2025

Part 11 – Conclusion



Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments