RAF 2019 – Mind the Gap

January 9th 2015 is an historic day for the Royal Air Force as it marks the first increase in the number of frontline combat squadrons since the mid-1980’s. In a dangerous world where putting ‘boots on the ground’ is increasingly politically difficult the RAF is inevitably thrust to the front row of the UK’s force projection.

A guest post from AndyC that I should have posted on the 9th (Sorry about that!)

January 9th 2015 is an historic day for the Royal Air Force as it marks the first increase in the number of frontline combat squadrons since the mid-1980’s.

In a dangerous world where putting ‘boots on the ground’ is increasingly politically difficult the RAF is inevitably thrust to the front row of the UK’s force projection.

The increased assertiveness of Russia has led to the return of their aircraft to probing our air space as well as the need for a higher presence in Eastern Europe, especially in the Baltic States.

The success of IS in Iraq and Syria has led to the deployment of Tornados to Cyprus while the Afghanistan mission has finally drawn to a close.

All of these commitments have put strain on the RAF when it has fewer fast jet squadrons than at any time in its history. No amount of training or having the latest equipment can always make up for the stretch caused by multiple commitments occurring at the same time.

The question we face is: does the RAF have enough aircraft to do all the things the government and the international situation require of it?

To answer this logically we need to examine what are the minimum levels of equipment needed in each area of operations.

  1. The defence of the UK’s air space. In many respects the most important conventional defence priority. Quick Reaction Alert aircraft are maintained at RAF Lossiemouth for the north and RAF Coningsby for the south. As this is a 24/7 operation it takes its toll on aircrew and equipment. To be done effectively the minimum requirement is for two squadrons to share this role between them at each base.
  2. In 2014 a flight of Typhoons was sent to the Baltic States to provide support for an air policing operation. This support, or even more, could be required again at virtually any time with little notice.
  3. Currently eight Tornados are operating from Cyprus against IS targets. This operation could go on for many years.
  4. Three more Tornados have also been operating in Nigeria.
  5. Although the regular rotation of a squadron of Tornado aircraft to Afghanistan has come to an end we may need to be prepared to intervene again if the government comes under threat from extremist groups.

So, the RAF needs a minimum of four squadrons to meet its QRA commitments. Experience last year shows that it also needs a minimum of one squadron to be available at short notice to go to areas of the world which are unstable. Some of these deployments have the potential to be quite lengthy. Using the established rules for rotating personnel would suggest the need for a minimum of three squadrons to be available for these global operations.

Altogether this suggests that the RAF could manage with seven frontline combat squadrons and that is what they had for most of 2014.

However, this doesn’t allow for any unexpected contingencies or the need for flexibility over the size of the forces to be deployed. For example:

  • if the government felt there was a need to increase its commitment to an existing operation or
  • a new area effecting British interests required intervention (such as the Falklands or somewhere else in the Middle East or Africa) or
  • there were faults to an aircraft that could reduce the numbers of that type available for active operations or
  • aircraft are out of service while they receive upgrades (as a lot of the Typhoon Force will be over the next four years when they receive new E-scan radar and integrate Storm Shadow, Meteor and Brimstone 2 missiles) and
  • allowance has to be made for the time (often at least twelve months) for new squadrons to get fully up to strength during which they can’t easily be committed to active operations.

Realistically when you take into account the possible level of commitments and the likely availability of combat aircraft the inescapable conclusion is that the RAF needs an absolute minimum of eight frontline combat squadrons.

This seems to have been recognised by the decision to re-establish 12(B) Squadron but a major challenge is developing from 2019 onwards.

A capability gap is being created by three past policy announcements:

  1. the Tornado Out of Service Date of March 2019
  2. the proposal to withdraw all tranche 1 Typhoons by “the end of the decade” as confirmed in an interview with Air Commodore (as he was then) Gary Waterfall in 2013 and
  3. the recent MoD statement of November 24th confirming an “investment in Lightning II over the next 5 years to procure an initial 14 of these multi-role fifth generation aircraft”.

Taken together by mid-2019 this leaves an RAF of 107 tranche 2 and 3 Typhoons equipping four frontline squadrons and 18 Lightning IIs equipping at most one frontline squadron.

This is nowhere near sufficient to meet the likely demands that could be placed on the RAF from QRA, Baltic air policing and possible missions in the Middle East and Africa.

There are also plenty of reasons to be concerned about how long this capability gap might go on for. Below are two scenarios based on an ultimate order of 102 Lightning IIs forming three RAF frontline squadrons, two Naval Air Squadrons and one OCU plus six aircraft assigned to the Test & Evaluation Squadron.

The first scenario assumes a conservative case that the UK buys 12 Lightning IIs per year after 2019 which would effectively continue the rate at which we’ve been buying new Typhoons. The second scenario examines buying 20 aircraft per annum which is likely to be the maximum rate which the equipment budget could support.

12 Lightning IIs per annum:

Year Squadrons Number of Lightning IIs Stand Up Date Full Strength Date
2019 17(R) Squadron617 Squadron 108 20142018
2020 617 Squadron809 NAS 84 September 2020 August 2020
2021 809 NAS 12 December 2021
2022 17(R) Squadron41(R) Squadron 66 July 2022 June 2022December 2022
2023 IX(B) Squadron 12 January 2023
2024 IX(B) Squadron801 NAS 48 April 2024 March 2024
2025 801 NAS12(B) Squadron 84 September 2025 August 2025
2026 12(B) Squadron 12 December 2026


20 Lightning IIs per annum:

Year Squadrons Number of Lightning IIs Stand Up Date Full Strength Date
2019 17(R) Squadron617 Squadron 108 20142018
2020 617 Squadron809 NAS 812 June 2020 May 2020
2021 809 NAS17(R) Squadron

41(R) Squadron

IX(B) Squadron





July 2021

October 2021

March 2021June 2021

October 2021

2022 IX(B) Squadron801 NAS 128 August 2022 August 2022
2023 801 NAS12(B) Squadron 812 May 2023 May 2023
2024 12(B) Squadron 4 March 2024


Under the first scenario the RAF only returns to having eight frontline squadrons in the autumn of 2025 and even in the more optimistic second scenario only achieves this in the middle of 2023.

If the RAF is to avoid a major capability gap lasting between four to six years something significant has to be changed.

Whatever this is needs to be able to last until at least 2025 just in case the equipment budget can’t support a higher rate of new orders for the Lightning II.

One possibility might be to maintain the remaining Tornado force but its age and heavy service use in Iraq and Afghanistan must argue against this. However, with many spare parts a small number might be kept in service until Lightning II numbers can be increased. This would also allow additional time to find a replacement for the excellent RAPTOR reconnaissance pod.

The only realistic alternative is to invest in the tranche 1 Typhoon. It’s still only a little over a decade old and even the earlier version is very capable in its main role. Now that we have newer swing-role Typhoons available tranche 1 aircraft could return to being dedicated air superiority fighters. They could be upgraded to carry six Meteor BVRAAMs – four conformal and two on the inner wing weapons stations – as well as four ASRAAMs. This is a formidable payload by any standards.

In addition their radar could be upgraded as well. There are cost, computing and power usage issues with tranche 1 Typhoons operating Selex’s Captor E-scan radar but it might be worth exploring other alternatives such as Selex’s similar but smaller Raven ES-05 AESA radar that has been developed for the Gripen. If this is still too difficult and expensive other even simpler alternatives such as Northrop’s SABR or Raytheon’s RACR could be explored as they are designed to work even with legacy aircraft.

This would enable the RAF to operate six frontline Typhoon Squadrons – four swing-role and two air defence. It would leave the air defence squadrons concentrating on QRA and missions like Baltic air policing while later aircraft concentrated on using their full swing-role capability.

The Lightning II force would then build up as the existing Tornado squadrons are retired:

  • 12(B) Squadron could switch to operating Typhoons in 2016-17 and then become the final Lightning II Squadron sometime between 2023-25
  • 31 Squadron could stand down in 2017-18 to be replaced by 617 Squadron
  • XV(R) Squadron could stand down in 2019-20 at the same time as a Maritime Patrol Squadron (208 possibly) is stood up and
  • IX(B) Squadron would be the last Tornado unit (as it was the first) carrying on alone to 2021-22 and specialising in the use of RAPTOR.
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78 Responses

  1. “No amount of training or having the latest equipment can always make up for the stretch caused by multiple commitments occurring at the same time.” A statement that could cover all three services at one time or another. From your figures it looks like we will end up with more Hawks than Typhoons. Keeping the Trance 1 Typhoons in service with an upgrade would fill a gap for a while but as the Tranche 2 and 3 take up Tornado missions they too will start to wear and need to be replaced too but what with, the known cost of Typhoon 3 (4?) or the still unknown cost of full production F35B and all its promised abilities?

  2. I’d look at keeping the Tranche 1 aircraft without any upgrades in service purely for the QRA role . Escorting Russian Bears and chasing down un-communicative airliners doesn’t require an AESA radar or Meteor.

    If this isn’t practical for logistics or training reasons, I’d rather see an increase of new Typhoons to take up some of the shortfall.

  3. Do I understand correctly that the RAF is saying it needs 2 squadrons at each UK QRA base to generate a readiness profile of 2 cabs at high readiness and whatever the lower readiness profile is?

    Essentially four squadrons (48-64 cabs) to generate 4 cabs in the QRA HAS? Plus some more (I’ll guess at eight) that can be brought to alert status over several hours if required?

    I understand that QRA is one of the very few real 24/7/365 commitments we have, but that’s staggering.

  4. @NaB – that’s not exactly correct. Essentially you need 2 squadrons per QRA “orbit” in order to allow 1 Squadron time to go training and meet overseas commitments (remember the Typhoon Sqns do (albeit limited at the moment) provide part of our strike capability.

    As I understand it, The Sqn on QRA duty needs to have 1 pair either in the air or ready to launch, plus another pair ready to replace them or ready to go and meet another threat if the pair in air were busy. Add in day to day Maintaince and the fact that this happening 24/7 and you can see how it requires a whole Sqn.

  5. My understanding (and happy to be corrected by Topman or similar) is that the pair on QRA don’t launch unless tasked, so you’re not cycling through airframes. Crews are on a similar shift system. The number of cabs at varying readiness to backfill QRA is not going to be discussed on a public forum ( I was guessing), but (for example) would allow aircraft and crews programmed for training to be brought forward if required.

    If indeed the “other” squadron at each base is on a training / deployment cycle, that’s all well and good, but that ought to be reflected in the OPs explanation of the number of squadrons required. Specifically – four to share UK QRA and three to be available for global deployments.

    Don’t get me wrong – I think the UK FJ force has fallen well below where it should be, but “ring-fencing” four plates for QRA and then suggesting you need three more for contingencies strikes me as a little bit of double counting.

  6. Remember that these are multi-role squadrons. In the UK that requires squadrons to juggle the needs of training, exercise, and individual leave. The FI doesn’t quite have the same pressures.

    Also QRA doesn’t just take away airframes.and pilots, it has a relatively high liney requirement.

  7. Nice post Andy.

    We can all make a case for any number of fast-jet squadrons and hypothetical scenarios in which they would be of use but i agree that their has to be a minimum, a bottom line, and the recent tempo of operations does suggest that with a bit of careful planning the RAF can just about do what’s asked of it with 8 front-line units.

    We actually have 5 Typhoon squadrons already in service and even with the retirement of the Tranche 1’s that won’t be going down.

    Of course everything costs money but i really think that the best way of keeping a minimum level of capability would be to keep the Tranche 1’s as you say but stand up another 2 squadrons to keep the Typhoon force at 7 for the foreseeable future.

    Then Tornado can retire in 2019 as planned, by which point unless something goes horribly wrong we should have 1 Lightning squadron stood up.

    That would give us an overlap that maintains a minimum of 8 squadrons. The Tranche 1 Typhoons could then bow out in the mid-late 2020’s providing another 5+ years to trickle buy enough additional Lightnings for at least 1, hopefully 2 more squadrons.

    That’s the most cost effective and safest from an operational point of view plan i can foresee.

  8. Is there a case for the RAF acquiring The F-35A as a replacement for Tornados? Would it be cheaper / more effective than the Typhoon?

  9. I find the capability gap extremely worrying. We will be going from a strong well used air force to something barley credible, and as you correctly point put, now is not the right time for this.

    I absolutely agree we need to keep tranche 1, they are still very capable and scrapping a 10 year old £100million aircraft is criminal!!!! The only way it could be justified is if they where sold to them to Indonesia to fund more tranche 3 aircraft.

    The real problem is the tornado put of service date where I see there being 3 options. Strip a large percentage for parts to patch up old ones.

    Or a 2 tier force operating tomething like the Textron , or my personal favourite an attack hawk!

    To me it makes perfect sense, it seems ,like you pointed out, campaigns like against ISIS will be more common, so a cheap , robust aircraft with brimstone would be perfect for the role, rather then spending hundreds of thousands of ponds per hour on a typhoon or F35

    The UK has a lot of hawks to play with, and it could have great export potential putting the brilliant brimstone on a low cost platform. I bet there would be interest from growing and cash strapped militaries all over

  10. shark bait – the ‘barely credible’ tag could apply to all three services; more so if SDSR15 cuts yet more out of the armed forces. While its clear the Spend Spend Spend mentality of our previous government had to be paid for, the balance of budget cuts has been a disaster for Defence. But as we have oft commented, there’s more votes in benefits, NHS and education so they were never going to take a fair share of the pain.

    That being said, MOD is hardly helping its own cause by maintaining the insistence on gold plate for everything, but in ever smaller numbers. Maybe its a ploy; maybe the idea is that the embarrassment of tiny numbers of stuff will force the Treasury to send more pound notes to buy a few more?

  11. Hmm ignoring the “can we find the budget to pay for any the above at all ” question, there is a good logic to maintaining Tornado past 2019 given potential demand on Typhoon and the lack of F35 numbers.

    WRT F35, ignoring the big questions (cost and operational capability), surely the 3 planes currently used in the US aren’t going to head back to the UK in this timeframe (if at all). This means we might have 14 available by 2020. Won’t the Navy want at least part of this deployed at Sea for part of the time. RAF availability will be closer to half that number surely ?

  12. It should be remembered tha one of the main drivers for keeping the three Tornado squadrons at the moment is they are the only aircraft in inventory integrated with the full range of UK A2G munitions. It is not necessarily a question of total numbers but of numbers of aircraft integrated with Brimstone and Paveway IV.

    That said, no there is not enough FJ capability in the plan but the only way to fund more is to cut other stuff; my preference would be the Army but the ISTAR fleet looks big and juicy too.

  13. I note the casual way in which 809NAS is included in the “RAF” Realistically ‘UK Air’ has been a single entity for a while but we should give due recognition to the maritime part of the requirment by using the corrrect terminology: “RAF and FAA”

    Specifically there has been a policy announcement that RN Carriers depolying outside home waters will routinely carry 12 F35B – ie one sqadron. This needs to be made explicit in the arithmatic of the number of squadrons required – which I agree needs to be 8 or more.

  14. Chris, Im not sure I would agree with you there. I think the army is fine given its current roll and the sigma surrounding ‘boots on the ground’ at them moment. I would also argue that should the T26 program go ahead in full, then the navy will be at its most credible since WW2. But the RAF is going to take a massive hit and I cant understand why. The MOD has underspent in recent years, and budgets project billions in surplus, so why scrap the tranche 1?

    Maybe it is a ploy to get in the daily mail headlines….

  15. If the Tranche 1 Typhoons were going to fall out of the sky, I could see the rationale behind retiring them. Since the QRA mission doesn’t require A2G capability, using them for that mission makes sense and would relieve the more capable later models to handle the multi-mission jobs.

  16. So is the reason that, if the four squadrons assigned to QRA are in fact doing mostly training, they actually need fully configured Tranche 3s to do it on? Ie: we don’t want many Tranche 1s even in those squadrons?
    Surely there is enough training to be done on Tranche 1s?

  17. “Taken together by mid-2019 this leaves an RAF of 107 tranche 2 and 3 Typhoons equipping four frontline squadrons and 18 Lightning IIs equipping at most one frontline squadron.”

    The 107 will equip 5 typhoon sqns with 2 sqn standing up on typhoon the same day as 12 sqn reformed. Typhoon assumed responsibility for all 3 UK qra mission in 2011 and deployed for a short time 10 a/c to op ellamy. This was with only 3 full formed sqns the 4th only in the process of standing up.

    Standard UK air defence fit is 4 amraam and 4 asraam with 2 tanks can’t see that changing. The likely hood of buying 12 or indeed 20 f35 a year is cloud coco land short of Russia moving west. If your lucky you may get 2 years of 8 being delivered 3s, and 4s the rest of the time up to 2023.

  18. @ Ant

    The training is best done on the kit we are going to go on ops with, the problem with keeping tr1 is the cost. There is no money to fly all the aircraft, unless more money is found to reform extra Sqns then the Tr1 will be retired.

  19. Peter

    There was recent parliamentary question session TD put up that subtle changed that line of there will always be 12 f35s deployed. To the qe will be configured with a airgroup to meet the required tasks. Also the man that made that statement is no longer there.

  20. Obviously there’s too many types which makes the arithmetic difficult for the RAF so I suggest giving all the F-35’s and the bulk of the expeditionary work to the Navy.

    At the very least that would mean a minimum of 24 F-35’s in a UK carrier wing. 12 is just silly on a 65k ton carrier, might as well just have built another Invincible. Or is the plan to have opponents die laughing?

  21. I suppose the big question to ask is what is the RAF going to cut after 2015. Currently they have projected 7 Squadrons but that’s assuming a budget increase after 2015. The reality will be at least another 8% real terms cut if not more.

    The axe will be pretty well spread around all three services and no doubt the RAF will also have to find funds for a new fleet of P8’s.

    After what happened in Afghanistan with lack of Helos for Heros I can’t see them being allowed to cut the JHF and given that almost all the transport aircraft are new A400M and C17 I can’t see any cuts there. Tankers are covered by a PFI that can’t be cut. No doubt sentinel and reaper will go to pay for the 4 P8’s we will get.

    Fast Jets are about the only thing the RAF will be able to offer up. Expect to see us drop to 4 Typhoon Squadrons after 2015 with Tornado retired in 2016 and we will be able to enjoy yet more capability holidays this time in A2G.

    The defence cuts in 2015 are likely to be way worse than what we seen in 2010. No amount of Russian hoping around in Ukraine or Jihadis taking over the ME will make a blind bit of difference to the British public’s obsession with the NHS nor our ever growing army of old folks who’s sense of entitlement grows larger every day irrespective of younger generations ability to pay for it.

  22. @ Martin

    Just a point on JHF, the army hold the budget on that. About the NHS and the public’s obsession with it, people are entitled to want what they want, although I do agree we are looking at more cuts. Extra sqns are wishful thinking to my mind.

  23. @Martin
    “our ever growing army of old folks who’s sense of entitlement grows larger every day irrespective of younger generations ability to pay for it.”
    The majority have being paying National Insurance since 16 or less in my mother and fathers case . That Insurance was to cover for illness i.e. the NHS , unemployment and their state pension as it was them that took the money off them compulsory,like it or lump it. Company pension funds invest this part for the next50 years to provide a lump sum to place in an annuity for your old age, the state however spends it now and then relies on future contributions and then some to make up the shortfall. I believe a large part of the defence budget goes on ex-service pensions and not from the common central pot.

  24. Monkey –
    There is nothing wrong with a pay as you go scheme as such. For a government, it is almost identical economically to a funded scheme invested in gilts.
    But the balance between funding sources and expenditure must be appropriately balanced – and that is one thing governments have not done. Even if the money had been put into investments, there is no way it would be able to fund retirement on the scale of the state pension (primarily because of longevity).

    Bismark chose 65 as the retirement age because that was average life expectancy for a worker. The key problem is that the retirement age has not increased in line with life expectancy. I am in my mid-30s, and expect to continue working well into my 70s, and while I am working at the moment my taxes are paying for people to retire and enjoy far more years post-work than I will get the chance to.

    The other major welfare expenditure is housing benefit (something like 4* as much as unemployment benefit). This government has made some efforts of bringing it down, but it is still vastly too high. The only way it is going to come down significantly is with massive house building to increase supply – but that has the signficant political downside of reducing house prices. I can’t see any government doing that.

  25. I am so fed up of the “but I paid into the system all my life” whining from self-entitled babyboomers and their apologists. You may have paid NI and tax for your entire working lives (FYI NI is just a tax) but you also consistently elected governments that spent every penny, and more, of it. You have had and eaten your cake and now you are eating mine, its about time someone told you to where to stick your various handouts that are currently being funded not just with my taxes but due to the amount of borrowing my future taxes too.

    As for the RAF. I admire martin’s realism.

  26. Well said.

    The welfare budget (which includes pensions, so ain’t going to fall that much) is over £200Bn. The NHS budget is £140Bn. There also another £30Bn for social care in there somewhere. IIRC correctly NI fetches a grand total income of £110Bn pa or similar, so one third of its potential liabilities.

    It’s not all down to immigrants, it’s not all down to inefficiencies. It’s primarily due to a combination of people living longer, having higher expectations of the NHS and welfare and more treatments being available.

    It is unsistainable in present form..

  27. @ToC,

    The key difference to a Ponzi scheme is the government’s ability to force participation (ie tax).

    Of course, this ability reduces as freedom of movement increases. This is something we’re already seeing in Spain, Portgual and Greece – the youth are leaving the country to persue opportunities abroad and are therefore not available for taxation to pay for the spending on the old.

  28. It appears that we can no longer be the force we once used to be without spending more money than we want or can do. Perhaps yet another review is needed, working from realistic budgets and realistic expectations, where we have to look at what size of armed forces we can afford, maintain and upgrade.

  29. Just read the very good article and the comment. Can I just ask a couple of questions ;
    1. The list of responsibilities that gets you to the need for 8 Squadrons makes no mention of the need to effectively have 1 squadron of planes on board either the Pow or QE depending which ship is deployed every year. Allowing for training needs etc that surely means the 2 F35B Squadrons are going to occupied by that requirement and cannot count towards your 8 number or should your 8 really be 10 ?
    2. How bad or good are the Tranche 1 Typhoons. As an amateur I am always amazed at how quickly Aircraft seem to need updating. That a 10yrs old plane if you read some of the comments and articles which it seems to be suggested will be falling out of the sky and un-flyable next year?
    3. What can the Tranche 1’s do unmodified? Since Russian attack planes like the Bear and Airliners are unlikely to be more stealthy, or faster than those in service now, if we used the Typhoon Tranche 1’s unmodified for the next 10yrs would they be operationally any good, seems to me any update of this plane is more gold plating, if it works now and if it can communicate with ground stations and Awacs planes etc why do we need to update it ? We would all like the latest heads up display and infrared headlights ala the Mercedes S class, but good old technology on most cars works just fine. Why spend anything on them as long as they have no cracks or other problems to do with flying hours etc just use them as is ?
    4. Can a Hawk in a permissive environment such as Iraq/Syria carrying Guided bombs/missiles be equipped cheaply to deliver munitions on target? What is the cost of operating a Hawk in that role say compared to a Tornado, does a Hawk have the legs to fly from Cyprus and loiter over Iraq for 4hrs looking for targets etc ? If it can do the job at half the cost and we seem to have 50 odd going spare in various hangers why not use them? Or other cheap solutions such as converting second and airliners etc ?
    5. The same goes for Tornado, can we not use the parts from retiring German and Italian Tornados to keep ours flying the same as the US Marines did with our Harriers ?
    Sorry to sound a little slow, but purely from an amateur/member of the public’s view point we can all see the RAF has a numbers issue whilst throwing away kit that might be old and not the latest cutting edge, but it works. Even employing 2 crew in a Tornado is a lot cheaper than spending £150m for a new F35. As I’ve said before monies tight we might have to look at other solutions that in an absolute world you might not try ?

  30. @The Ginge

    Re: #4

    Iraq/Syria is not a permissive environment. There is a hostile, peer/near-peer Russian integrated air defence system present. Currently in the hands of Assad-lead forces which is under threat of capture/defection by ISIS. If not in whole, parts thereof. Think along the lines of an SA-17 or SA-22 mobile battery.

    It’s a highly complex situation which is also volatile.

    High end equipment is needed in-theatre to respond immediately if this system in employed against Coalition forces.

  31. @The Ginge – Re: #4. Numbers on the cost of operating Hawks in combat roles might be available from those countries that use(d) them as such, e.g. Malaysia, including single seat versions (Hawk 200). I can see using Hawks in the CAS/Interdiction roles in Iraq, but not over Syria unless there is a full suite of higher end, more capable aircraft to protect them. The problem with that is if you need the high end aircraft to protect the Hawks, why not just use them for the mission?

  32. Now that the Typhoon force is at it’s planned long-term size/shape of just over 100 air-frames operating in 5 squadrons what kind of force generation will the fleet be able to manage.

    If 4 squadrons are needed for UK QRA (2 North, 2 South, 1 high alert, 1 resting right?) then surely that only leaves 1 squadron leftover for short-term overseas deployments?

    Or does it not work that way?

    To provide a squadron of 12 F35Bs for use on a carrier deck for a lengthy 3-4 month deployment plus work-up and a rest period per year then surely even with 2-3 squadrons (let alone 1) the F35B fleet is going to stretched?

    I guess not knowing much about these matters i’m asking those in the know what kind of sized/shaped deployments the current best case scenario fleet of 7 squadrons, 5 Typhoon, 2 F35B can achieve?

  33. Ginge

    What can a tranche 1 typhoon do. Well the typhoon force deployment to operation ellamy was conducting using only tranche 1 aircraft. There software need supporting and upgraded as they get older, the raf would like to keep the older aircraft they simply don’t have the money to operate any more than 5 units and if that’s the case you keep your newest ones.

    Your cheap hawk couldn’t even do the 4 hr loiter never mind get there, let alone carry the targeting pod, weapons and DAS systems required.

  34. @Mark – I’m not sure I’d put a Hawk in the FJ category, but similar systems have been tested and demonstrated on similar types of light jet aircraft. Just wondering why you don’t think an armed Hawk would be suitable for in Iraq use against Daesh? Combat radius with seven 500 lb bombs is 510 km or 1223 km with two 1000 lb bombs. Mix and match loads and drop tanks to get the coverage you want.

  35. @Kent

    Aforementioned hostile peer or near-peer IADS in the same theatre.

    Even just the existence of MANPADs rules UK Hawks out.

  36. Kent

    The uk flew jets in afghan with DAS systems fitted and it was a more benign environment than Iraq/ syria so it’s going to need a DAS system. We won’t be fitting a wescam to hawk it would a litening 3 targeting pod centre station. Two wing tanks if you want anything over about 2 hours flight time somewhere hot like Iraq. With that lot fitted provided you haven’t already overloaded the power requirement of the adour engine you need a mode5 IFF and upgraded secure communications system, link 16 would help as well so with all that lot fitted you may get to put a couple of brimstone on the thing before the curvature of the earth helps you get off. If I want to put assets over Iraq I’d go for reaper long long before a hawk jet. They’d be cheaper, expendable and provide excellent situational awareness, loiter and allow tornado to do what it does best.

  37. Hawk 200 has been used for ground attack and air to air before. With 11 hard points there is much space for weapon’s, counter measures and an external fuel tank.
    Indeed the RAF list is as still being available for war and equipped with sidewinders.

    I see little reason why it couldn’t be upgraded to be useful in the 2020’s

  38. Pictures paint a thousand words as they say. so picture 1 harrier in afghan


    Two of the three pods under the fuselage are non negotiable, like wise the two wing tanks.

    Picutre 2 the hawk 200


    The 11 hardpoints are actual only really 7 if you use wing fuel tanks which as above non negotiable unless you want to be perminatly attached to a tanker. Wing tip rails carry nothing but sidewinder so useless in Iraq. That leaves the centre fuse station and the two outer wing stations. Two of those three will require the non negotiable pods from photo 1 so that leaves you a grand total of 1 hard point for a weapon of your choice.provided you remain within the max take off weight for a hot and sunny place. There’s a reason they sold very few of the hawk 200.

  39. I’m not sure how valid they are though. What can a tornado do that a specially adapted hawk couldn’t do.

  40. Anybody here recall the incident were some protesters broke into British Aerospace ( a long time ago) and took a hammer to the cockpit control panels on a batch of Hawks due to be delivered to Indonesia who were using them on rebels in East Timor which at that time was a province of Indonesia. Interesting place despite being overwhelmingly Catholic East Timor’s population was falling :-( The protesters IIRC were caught in the act and prosecuted. The judge ruled they were innocent of all charges.

  41. @ Monkey – The issue is that around 85% of tax payers get back more than what they pay in. So very few people are really entitled to what they think they are based on their contributions. From this year NI won’t even cover the basic state let alone the rest.

    If the basic state had been increased by inflation since 1945 it would be worth £38 a week. It’s soon to be £150. If the retirement age had been increased with life expectancy it would be 82. The only time government sought to tackle the basic state pension was in the 1980’s when baby boomers were at the height of their earning. Once the began to retire in the 90’s suddenly the big agenda became the NHS and Basic state pension.

    The country is totally screwed now and unfortunately Defence is th only large budget that has neither political support like DFID or public support like the NHS so it’s going to get hammered in 2015. The results will be much much worse than 2010.

    Well 2010 gave a real term cut of 8% the real killer was transferring trident replacement to the core budget. This was in effect a cut of another 10% who’s effects have yet to be felt. I also really can’t imagine the MOD escaping with anything less than a further 8-10% cut.

  42. A good comment
    “results will be much much worse than 2010.
    Well 2010 gave a real term cut of 8% the real killer was transferring trident replacement to the core budget. This was in effect a cut of another 10% who’s effects have yet to be felt. I also really can’t imagine the MOD escaping with anything less than a further 8-10% cut”

    The intellectual dishonesty for keeping your traditional votes while hugging the political middle. And a fiddle to fulfill the NATO 2%.

  43. Forgot the free beer tomorrow: the 2015 blip upwards in defence spending, included in the previous review’s documents.

  44. @Martin
    Indeed to all and I will second ACC’s comment. Also I wonder if other nations add in their service people’s pensions as part of their 2% or are there NATO guidelines on what can contribute to the total ? I will do a bit of research on this.

  45. @ Monkey – Service Personnel Pensions are included in both our’s and other armed forces military budgets and it does count towards the 2% of GDP figure. Its considered remuneration for service personnel so its not really a fiddle in my mind.

  46. So the answers seem to be
    1. We need 8 RAF Squadrons & 2 Squadrons to put on the Aircraft Carriers. So in reality you could end up with 4 Typhoon Squadrons covering 8 Squadrons of work.
    2. Trance 1 more than capable, we own them, but we’re chucking them away because of the cost of running them and then spending £100m a pop to replace them.
    3. See 2 above more than able to do QRA job.
    4. Hawks a non starter,
    5. Nobody answered, but it would be nice to know if Tornado can be squeezed out for another 5 to 10yrs.
    Ultimately my view is you either need 5 Squadrons of Tranche 3 Typhoon (5 x 12 = 60 out of 107 must be possible ?), 3 Squadrons of Tranche 1 Typhoons (if you can squeeze them out of 57 planes to provide 12 x 3 = 36 ?) gets you 7Sqn to provide for the tasks noted above and 2 F35B’s to cover Aircraft Carrier and they might as well be FAA Squandron numbers returning 617Sq to Multirole Typhoons. Extending Tornados with second hand parts untill all Lightning and Typhoon numbers ready.
    But I’m with comments on future cuts so I see 4 Typhoon Tranche 3’s and 2 F35B’s the problem is the Prime Minister still will not want to hear from the RAF sorry we can’t do Iraq or Support Afghanistan Forces or be involved in any future coalition actions or to QRA over Poland because we have no planes. Like to be a fly on the wall when that conversation happens.

  47. @Ginge – I thought someone said earlier that the 107 Typhoons would give 5 full squadrons? One RAF and 2 FAA F35 squadrons gives us the magic 8 FJ squadrons although as you say, 2 at least will / should be carrier assigned. The RAF could then deploy 1 squadron perhaps on a short term op. I think this is where we are heading as a maximum rightly or wrongly, although 5 Typhoon RAF and 2 FAA badged F35 is possibly the SDSR worst case as you say

  48. An excellent post and a good range of posts, I wonder if there is any scope to trade the tranche 1 typhoons to another country to offset against more lightning or more typhoons. I cannot imagine Uk is alone on needing to expand capability. Alternatively maybe a lightning customer, e.g. Norway might want to delay?reduce its Lightening order so maybe a way here.
    Just thought to throw into the mix…

  49. Thanks for all the positive comments.

    While digging around the latest MoD Equipment Plan I came across an estimate of the cost of upgrading the tranche 1 fleet to tranche 3 standard of £1.355 billion or about £27 million per aircraft. No wonder the MoD baulked at doing this.

    I would hope that a more limited radar upgrade combined with Meteor integration could be achieved for something in the order of £10 million for each aircraft and I would think that would be worth doing.

    Some of you correctly noticed that I didn’t consider the carrier question as this would have complicated matters further. My own view is that we need 2 additional FAA badged Squadrons of F-35Bs (one to be ship based at any one time) in addition to 8 RAF frontline Squadrons.

  50. While spending £1,355 million seems a lot when you consider the RAF is spending over £300 million on upgrading Puma helicopters it doesn’t look so bad,

  51. I struggle to see (other than this text, it is so grey!) what other departments would get away with having their core capability funded outside its own DEL? It’s like the DWP not having to pay for Pensions, or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office not having to fund its embassy’s.

  52. Please tell me how it cost £1.3bn on upgrading some software ? Sorry have to say £1.3bn what !! Sorry again as an ameteur WTF ! If they work now just leave them why do we need to upgrade ? They fly, they have a radar and they can fire missiles save the money.

  53. Avionics are rather expensive (airframes are relatively cheap) the tranche 1 jet would need brought up to tranche 2 standard (bit like if you have a computer Microsoft at some point stop supporting xp so you need to upgrade) hence you get a big bill see merlin mk1 to mk2 upgrade.

  54. @The Ginge
    It’s not just software but an entire new computer, new cooling system and new wiring. In fact the tranche 2 Typhoon has over 200 improvements compared to the tranche 1 Typhoon.

  55. its also suppose to be a complete rebuild of the front of the aircraft to make room for the extra cooling systems.

    This type of thing is standard practice for the RAF its just in the past we did not notice aircraft being scrapped because we had a lot more of them and the cost was not so high.

  56. @Martin
    Thanks for the info on the common practice of including service pensions costs in the 2% figure across NATO. Without common baselines it is impossible to make like for like comparisons across the member nations. Effectively they factor themselves out.

  57. Martin

    Your points on government spending are well made, but they are based on an assumption that you don’t spell out. Namely, what is the right level of GDP that should be spent on Government provided services ?

    Right now we’re spending around 41 % of GDP plus borrowing c$100 billion pa to fund the government. To reduce the $100 billion, one can also increase the proportion of tax. Its not as though c$0 % is the only possible answer, or even the statistically proven right answer. The global range is probably between 35 % or so (USA) to 55%+ (Sweden, Finland Denmark). This is a political (ie voter) choice not something written in Economic stone.

    If you believe the Tory view, then you aim is c30% of GDP in Tax and a budget surplus by 202X. This is actually about $150 billion reduction pa based on current GDP, or c20 % reduction on today’s budget [ of course they assume GDP growth and inflation to make the cuts less palatable].

    This also assumes that running no budget deficit at all (eg Germany this year) is actually economically the right thing to do. Arguably, it isn’t. Many of us are happy to run our personal finances for much of lives with 3 to 5 x (or more) salary in Mortgage debt; Government debt is currently about 0.8 x GDP (or 2x annual spending).

    We have Political choices about what our end goal is (the level of government spending) and how quickly we get there and what exactly where would look like (ie what would we all need to pay for out of our own pocket in fees or insurance instead of tax). When will that debate happen ? Never of course.

  58. @ Nick

    I agree with you entirely, part of the issue in UK politics is expecting European style government service while paying US style taxes.

    The only real way out of the crisis is to pay more tax.

    However most voters are in favor of increasing taxes as long as it’s not there taxes. Most are happy for the government to cut services as long as it’s not the one they use because they pay into the system and they are “entitiled”.

  59. Martin

    It’s certainly true that lobby groups, newspapers (a different sort of Lobby group), and politicians think that way. Just how much of the public does is a different.

    Clearly, when you or a close relative is dying of cancer and your told that the latest miracle drug isn’t available to you because it costs too much (and worse it is available just down the road) you’re going to get upset. That doesn’t mean that the public as a whole isn’t capable of understanding the issue that very expensive drugs, with (for most people) little or no incremental medical value cant be provided by the NHS.

    I think we need some transparency and honesty wrt public service provision. There needs to be clarity about what cant be provided and the creation of mechanisms to avoid the issue (for example insurance policies taken out by employers, unions, professional associations etc) that provide the additional cover but on a shared cost basis (ie pretty cheap) where you can chose to opt in.

    Pensions differ though in my opinion. Having worked your entire life and having made all the contributions the sate asked of you (via NI and tax) its not your fault that the State got those assumptions wrong. That said I think taking Pensions income out of the PAYE regime (once you have passed state retirement age) is probably a good idea and would boost at least some pensioners income.

    For those of us working, we need to contribute more today and this must be mandated amount (and not voluntary) to bring back some reasonableness into the pensions system; retirement ages after reflect life expectancy as well.

    Do we get the politicians we deserve ? I wonder. Our current lot aren’t capable of being honest about the choices we face and our options. Why – they prefer to be in office rather than be honest with us. Too many of us don’t seem to care we either way (or at least enough to vote). Hence UKIP, Greens etc. [not that they don’t have an important point of view; but neither could realistically run the country on their stated goals].

  60. @Martin: given that a) UK government spending as a proportion of GDP has been remorselessly increasing over the last 30 years while b) the effective tax take as a proportion of GDP has remained around 35%, even with all the ups and downs regarding tax rates, the answer is clearly not “raise taxes”.

    We clearly need to make some big decisions regarding what we need to pay for out of tax revenue. The two depts that have most to contribute to this debate are Health and Pensions/DSS: Defence is practically irrelevant.

  61. Pretty late to this party but anyway…

    If we accept that our jets have about one flight-year in them then 107 Typhoon represents 27 years of operation with four continually flying (160 gave us 6 continually flying).

    QRA is about readiness so labours the pilots rather than the jets as they are not hot and running all the time. If you break this requirement down you can see that although the RAF bods do “Q” once or twice a month it can be looked at similarly to a civvy doing 220 days at 8 hours a day (1760 hours a year work). This means five people are required to cover a single task – six if you allow for a small illness contingency… and that’s to cover a SINGLE cab on alert!

    This inherently means 12 jets on QRA at any one time to keep two available and/or up. With another 6 jets in “sustainment” – 33% in the sustainment pool is normal – we can see that the total airframes needed for a single squadron is 18. With 12 on station we can surge 4 into the air (if the other pilots can be woken up) and still cycle them for a week or so. Lastly 12 can put 72 x AMRAAM and 72 x ASRAAM into the air (although 4+4 per jet is more common) – nothing really stands a chance against that!

    107 Typhoon can therefore sustain five squadrons with 17 airframes spare for an OCU squadron – 29(R). There is obviously quite a bit of “flex” in the numbers, especially when the airframes get old and/or OCU becomes less important.

    So, really there are 6 Typhoon squadrons in an emergency!

    With two squadrons per QRA station we have the ability to scramble four jets (two less immediately). It also means that the 24 jets (and pilots) do “Q” 24/30 days a month, which is less of a burden as they actually do a 24-hour stint – I still can’t actually believe this and personally think it is very foolish! Topman – is this really true?

    If we plan for two F35B squadrons we’ll probably need 18 per squadron plus 8-12 OCU, which comes out to 44-48 aircraft.

    Tranch 1 Typhoon is being traded for F35B. However good T1 Typhoon actually are, they are not quite as good at working on a carrier as F35B, and not quite as good for strike as F35B. T1 Typhoon would give us an additional two squadrons which, to be honest, we simply don’t need. Hopefully they’ll get mothballed and called upon if we get into dire straights. I have a feeling however, that cannibalistic maintenance is a more likely end for them.

    So we could look at this as 4-3 squadrons on QRA and 3-4 squadrons on offensive support. The fourth in either case could be the reserve OCU squadron. Furthermore 48 F35B could realistically put 32 jets on CVF if required by fielding the reserve F35 OCU squadron aircraft… if they ever come back from the USA.

    What’s not to like?

  62. @ WF – it’s easy to talk of hard choices in government spending but the fact is that most government spending on education, sickness and old age is really not discretionary. No one including thatcher has ever successfully cut it. Tax rises see like the only way to balance the budget now as the deficit is structural in nature caused by the retirement of the majority of the baby boomers.

    Paying more tax is not the end of the world or the economy. Countries like Sweden manage to pay a lot more tax than we do with out the sky caving in.

  63. @Martin


    Actually dropping, and will continue to do so. There are limits to how much you can screw out of the tax payers, and it’s not the end of the world either when you say a) convert the state pension to private over time by supplementing the lowest paid private contributions, b) do the same for old age care c) have the NHS cover catastrophic care only, subsidizing out of pocket care for the poor only (see Singapore) d) remove tax credits over time.

    What’s more, it’s essential. The lack of focus on such essential government responsibilities as defence is the other side of a government trying to do too much :-(

  64. @Simon, your whole post was bang on, but as we only about a day ago were looking into the the upgrades for Tornados only to be finished in the course of 2016 (the upgrades, that is).

    “With another 6 jets in “sustainment” – 33% in the sustainment pool is normal – we can see that the total airframes needed for a single squadron is 18.”

    96 down to 59
    Two spare engines (complete, from a discontinued line, as opposed to making do with spare parts)
    Allowance for a total w/o of one unit from accidental damage, and simultaneous engine change needed on 2 a/c

  65. What makes people think costs go away if you call them “private”? I really don’t get this. If you have a lot of olds, your economy will just have to pay pensions or they will starve. Whether this goes through a state pension system or a private one is a very secondary question. The main difference is that if you’re a politician you’re not responsible for the private option, but this is just cynicism, and anyway experience is that if the private sector fucks up (see Equitable Life, etc, etc) it ends up being your problem.

  66. @Simon, very helpfully set out post. A couple of queries. The OP suggests 16 aircraft per squadron – is that 12 with 25% sustainment element or 16 before sustainment? Also where does the FI flight come from, don’t they have 6 airframes down there to cover 4 active aircraft? Do we keep a few T1s to cover that?

    So, the bare bones SDSR approach will probably be geared towards 107 T3 Typhoons and a maximum buy of 48 F35Bs (as is the current plan?) giving us 4 T3 QRA squadrons, 1 swing role T3 squadron plus OCU and two F35B squadrons (plus OCU), one badged RAF and one FAA. We also squeeze an FI flight out of that. (or T1s used). T1 Typhoon and / or Tornado are retained to some extent until F35 is up and running although both are probably an easy target for immediate axing. Possibly also a proportionate reduction in the Hawk fleet and other infrastructure?

    So if we end up with a RAF / FAA FJ fleet of 155 airframes, it covers QRA (4 squadrons), ready squadron for active carrier and two swing role deployable squadrons – one of T3s and one of F35s (land or CVF). Do we need any more in the context of the cuts coming in SDSR 15 or DPAs? What’s the gap in that future force structure (notwithstanding any transitional gapping)?

    Well if we ever see the need for concurrent carrier ops, one extra FAA squadron of F35 – total buy no more than say 66 (That would allow 24 on one strike heavy CVF and 12 on one LPH heavy CVF – roughly a one off FI capability)

    If we decide on the need for more offensive air squadrons that could be filled in a number of different ways or combination thereof – sustain a couple of squadrons of Tornado, buy a new cheap swing role aircraft (e.g. Gripen to perhaps cover FI also), buy some more F35s – but A or C for land only ops or look ahead and gap additional offensive air until Taranis or a silver bullet fleet of the future US bomber come on line.

    None of the above are likely to be on the SDSR 15 shopping list though

  67. If 8 is the minimum then we should be at 12 sqdrns – as we need to take in a number of human factors.

    Personally I would like closer to 16 squadrons as air superiority is about numbers as much as anything else and clearly any competent enemy can destroy 100 aircraft in a relatively short period of time.

    T1 Typhoons are amazing aircraft in their own right – lets use them. not everything has to be new and shiny to be fit for purpose. It is wasteful and should not be allowed to happen.

    The US experience is that the F35b is not a match for typhoon and even the F22 doesnt have a clear advantage – so a mixed asset base of F35’s and Typhoons is probably optimal – certainly over the mid term.

    Good discussion though.

  68. @PC27

    Agree on the merits of Typhoon and i’m disappointed that the T1 is going to be binned so early as well.

    However i think where possible the capability should be tailored to the threat and i can’t really see any solid justification for a 16 squadron force, beyond the ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ factor.

    Current events strongly demonstrate the need for a minimum force of 8 squadrons. If we wanted to keep an ability to sustain the current tempo of operations AND provide for CVF then perhaps 10-11 squadrons (a minimum of 3 F35B in the mix) could be argued for.

    To be honest though i think we will be dam lucky to keep 8 going, with a slight extension on Tornado’s OSD and a trickle buy of F35’s to replace it and compliment the T2/3 Typhoon’s by 2021-2025 and an ability to keep squadron level expeditionary ops going EITHER from land or at sea, not both.

  69. @Challenger

    I agree with your outlook but 8 is desparately thin in the current climate.

    Would like to see, ultimately

    5 Typhoon
    3 strike, type to be determined (Extend Tornado OSD then a new type)
    3 F35B ( 2 FAA carrier dedicated and one RAF carrier or land)

  70. The recent anemnucnoent by the Ministry of Defence, that the Royal Air Force will only receive a small number of additional Typhoon aircraft from the amended Tranch 3a agreement signed last month, must cast doubt on the ability of the RAF to maintain a credible air defence and ground strike capability after the scheduled retirement of its long serving and hard pressed Tornado F3 and GR4 force. Cutting the procurement of Typhoon to 160 (155 operational) aircraft from the planned 283 will no doubt free-up more money for the Joint Strike Fighter programme aimed at providing the RAF and RN with a state of the art replacement for current Harrier aircraft. It is claimed this JSF/JCA (Joint Combat Aircraft) will place the RAF/RN at the forefront of fighter technology and give UK forces a true multi-role air defence system that will surpass the majority of other weapons systems in production today; but this and other claims on its envisaged capabilities are now being viewed with a mix of increased sceptism and caution by many, as is the rising cost of the entire programme. Coupled with Typhoon aircraft, the JCA if indeed its acquisition comes to fruition may well keep the RAF at the cutting edge of military aviation; but taking cognizance of the Typhoon’s trickle-down deliveries to date, the diversion of aircraft to meet overseas orders, planned modification and life-extension programmes, in actual numbers remaining, the UK’s air combat effectiveness will be reduced to its lowest state for several decades? With no in-service date yet decided for the JCA, the UK’s air defence will rest solely with five, operational, home based Squadrons, two Operational Conversion Units and in all likelihood, two overseas detachments, all drawn down from a vastly reduced Typhoon order book which in itself will not now be completed until 2016/7. This may be good news for the cynics who still consider the Typhoon to be born of an outdated, cold war philosophy; but in fact, nothing could be further from the truth: Those of us who were associated with the original European Fighter Aircraft programme will remember that even during the early design phases for the EAP (Experimental Aircraft Prototype), thoughts were being seriously directed towards the multi-role requirements this aircraft would eventually be called upon to perform. Fortunately, after some considerable foot dragging, this potential is finally being realized but at oh, such a slow pace!Plans for the Tornado aircraft’s inevitable retirement seem to be accelerating at a time when they are most needed. If allowed to go unchecked, within five years the RAF will find itself critically short of front line strike/fighter aircraft. Coupled with delays to other procurement programmes, its overall effectiveness will be seriously degraded for many years to come. If, as many suspect, the Royal Navy’s two supercarriers are cancelled, the orders for the Joint Combat Aircraft will also suffer, leaving the MOD with little option other than fulfill it’s original intention or buy off-shelf aircraft; or resign our overall capability to a much reduced state. To avoid this perilous prospect, we need a new political-will, able to send a serious wake-up call echoing through the corridors of power; but does such will still exist? Ian Dewar

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