A Guest Post by Martin
WARNING THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS LARGE AMOUNTS OF BACK OF THE FAG PACKET CALCULATIONS. DO NOT READ IT IF EASILY OFFENDED.
In my opinion the best area to spend any additional extra funds is on plugging capability gaps that hinder sovereign operating capability. The second area should be small increases in numbers of specific key capabilities to generate a strategic reserve and the third should be enhancement of key capabilities that can provide utility both to sovereign and allied operations.
My primary change in the defence assumptions is that we can no longer assume that a major peer on peer threat is a complete impossibility. As such we need to bolster numbers and capabilities in areas that could potentially be called upon in future in such an engagement. But we must also realise our limitations and realise our budget will not support a full spectrum capability in the numbers required. Instead we must look to maintain a broad spectrum of capabilities with some strategic depth in key areas.
Royal Air force
Maritime Patrol Aircraft
I am not going to delve into a long debate on this. We have debated this on numerous occasions. The UK needs a Maritime Patrol Aircraft. The main emphasis of the system must be on anti-submarine warfare but we can’t afford a large fleet of one trick pony’s. An off the shelf solutions is all we have time and money for.
In my mind this all suggests a small fleet of P8 Poseidon’s. We initially purchase four aircraft with an incremental increase up to a fleet of seven. If the threat environment deteriorates further then we can consider a larger fleet. Currently we have three crews training on P8 and we could probably scrounge up a fourth from the other seed corn members embedded with P3 Crews in other countries.
To save money and time we should rely on the US Navy for training, major maintenance and we should avoid any UK only modifications beyond the basics required for the aircraft to operate in British service. That also means relying on US weapons and sensors and not for instance trying to integrate Stingray onto it. Weapon integration on aircraft seems to run at the £150 million mark these days and that’s without having to build a wing kit as well. It’s just not money we can afford for a weapon that will likely never be deployed. So we simply buy the Mk54 Torpedo from the USA.
This way we can purchase our fleet for close to £ 1 billion and we can hope to keep the annual running costs around the £100 million mark. It’s not the fleet of 18 MRA4’s we originally envisaged but it would be a high end capability that we could afford in numbers at least able to meet our basic defence requirements.
To bolster the fleet I would also put some serious consideration into using Reaper with the Sea spray Radar and also continuing to use Sentinel R1 aircraft. This way the P8’s can concentrate on Anti-Submarine Warfare and we can gain further utility out of our reconnaissance systems when not required for overseas operations.
My selection of P8 is based on it being the quickest and least risky way to regenerate a high end fixed wing anti-submarine capability rather than it being the best aircraft or the cheapest.
Fast Jet Squadrons
The public will be highly sceptical of ever allowing large scale ground operations with British land forces. But as we have seen in the Middle East no matter how hard we try to avoid conflict sometimes as in Libya and Iraq we are left with little choice. In addition with the security threat posed by Russia we may be required to provide additional support for European sovereign air patrols. The future fast jet force of just six or seven front line squadrons is insufficient to meet possible future requirements and it has little if any strategic reserve should we ever face a pier threat.
My solution is to gradually move back up to a force of ten front line squadrons. To do this we will keep the current tranche 1 Typhoon fleet. We could do it by extending the out of service date on the Tornado fleet until the mid 2020’s but there are two issues with this. Firstly the Tornado is a two seat fighter and we would have to re-establish a training pipeline for navigators, which won’t be required after Tornado leaves service. Secondly keeping an entire additional fleet of aircraft with unique engines and systems represents a significant increase in costs that we can’t afford.
The draw back with retaining the Typhoon tranche 1 is the costs of upgrading them to tranche 3 standard. These costs have been estimated at some £24 million per aircraft. It’s also said that a great number of the tranche 1’s are in a fairly poor state, having been worked very hard over the past ten years.
My solution is to retain around 40 of the best tranche 1 airframes. Then instead of upgrading to Tranche 3 standard, simply put them through a normal mid-life upgrade to extend their service life.
This would mean keeping the current mechanically scanned radar and computer system. It would also remove the aircraft’s ability to use Meteor missiles. To counter this issue I would simply purchase additional stocks of AMRAAM. These aircraft would then form two squadrons to provide sovereign air patrol in the UK with one in the north and one in the south.
A tranche 1 Typhoon equipped with AMRAAM is easily capable of providing a credible capability for UK Sovereign Air Patrol and QRA well into the 2030’s. In essence these aircraft would be the replacement for the F3 Tornado.
The remaining 107 Tranche 2/3 airframes could then be upgraded to Tranche 3 B standards with AESA radar. Formed into five squadrons these aircraft would become the replacement for the Tornado GR4 and would form the RAF’s main expeditionary force.
As has been pointed out in the past by commentators such as Sir Humphrey, it’s not that easy to add additional squadrons to the RAF. Training pipelines take time to produce pilots and years to modify the flow of new pilots. To counter this I would give serious consideration to copying the USA and looking at using some reserve pilots to make up the numbers on QRA squadrons as well as maintenance personnel. In addition we may follow the French and use more staff officers as pilots and accept lower readiness levels or pilot to aircraft ratios.
Given the very large concentration of airline pilots, staff officers and aircraft engineers in the south of the country it may be that we use such a system to supplement the squadron providing cover in the south and leave the squadron in the north for full time regulars. I have no doubt a lot of retiring pilots that are moving into the civil aviation industry would love to continue flying an aircraft like the Typhoon on a reduced basis.
To avoid the additional cost of operating two fleets of aircraft we would halt any further development of the tranche 1 leaving it to perform basic air to air roles with its current weapons fit.
F35 Lightning II
Current defence plans are to purchase 48 F35B’s and form two front line squadrons. At any one time this force will be required to provide a squadron of 12 aircraft to the Navy’s aircraft carriers. I would like to see us add a further purchase of 18 aircraft to raise an additional front line squadron. This would allow us to maintain a squadron on a carrier while still having the flexibility to deploy a flight of four aircraft somewhere else. It could also allow us in the event of an emergency to surge up to 4 squadrons with two on each carrier. I would avoid looking at any purchase of the F35A as despite is similarity it would still be an additional aircraft in the fleet requiring its own training and development pipelines.
To counter some of the F35B’s limitations I would look at co developing external fuel tanks possibly with the Israelis and replacing the Paveway III bunker buster with the Paveway IV, although this seems to be the current plan anyway.
Adding three additional front line squadrons won’t be cheap. The annual running costs for a squadron of fast jets is put at around £200 million a year, including maintenance and upgrades. In addition we will have to buy an additional 18 or so F35B’s for around £1.5 billion.
Assuming a ten year purchase of equipment we should be able to deliver the enhancements of three additional fast jet squadrons and a Maritime Patrol Squadron for around £950 million a year.
While the RAF’s aircraft are extremely advanced and many of its weapons are state of the art it does have one key capability gap. Since the retirement of ALARM, the RAF lacks a specific weapon for the suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD). The SPEAR 3 missile may go some way to offset this and the new AESA radar’s on the Typhoon and F35B will also have enhanced electronic attack capability. However if additional funding is available it is worth considering stepping up of the SPEAR 4 program to provide additional capability to the Storm Shadow/ SCALP missile. A multi mode seeker and a longer range could greatly enhance the RAF’s capability to engage advanced air defence’s in support of sovereign or allied operations.
Making these changes to the RAF would close its main capability gap of fixed wing anti submarine warfare, provide an additional strategic reserve of fixed wing aircraft and enhance the capability of the RAF to operate against advanced air defence systems.