Fixed and Rotary Aircraft in Service Numbers and their Pilots

Typhoon and Storm Shadow

Between Parliamentary Questions and Answers and the always interesting Freedom of Information response it is possible to determine just how few aircraft the UK has in service. Although this answer given in response to a question from the MP Angus Robertson is comprehensive it does not reveal the full picture. The Typhoon, for example, is treated as a single homogeneous fleet, not the fleets within fleets we all know the reality to be.

That said, it is still interesting.

Figures taken between 31 Jan 2015 – 24 March 2015

The three columns show forward, depth and storage and it is important to understand the difference.

Forward Fleet; This is not the number of aircraft that are operational at short notice but also includes aircraft that are undergoing short term maintenance, awaiting spares etc.

The official definition is;

The Forward Fleet comprises aircraft which are serviceable and those which are short-term unserviceable. Short-term unserviceable aircraft are undergoing minor works, forward maintenance or any other unforeseen rectification or technical inspection work that can arise on a day-to-day basis.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is the number of aircraft that pilots can jump in and go, right now. It isn’t.

Sustainment (Depth Fleet); The official designation for depth fleet is;

The Depth Fleet comprises aircraft which are undergoing planned depth maintenance, upgrade programmes and fleet management temporary storage, but excludes those which are redundant, declared as surplus or awaiting disposal.

Depth maintenance facilities could be MoD owned or provided by manufacturers/contractors, the Merlin facility at Culdrose for example

Storage; The definition is;

The numbers recorded as being in “Storage” are airworthy aircraft that are currently in temporary storage

It does not state whether airworthy means ready to fly right now, expect it is a mix as some aircraft will be in storage pending delivery to units such as the Wildcat helicopters.

Fixed Wing Platforms

Platform Forward Fleet Sustainment (Depth Fleet) Storage Note Ref
A330 FSTA (Voyager) 8 0 0
A400M 2 0 0
BAE 146 CCMk2 4 0 0
BAE HS125 CCMK3 4 1 0
C-17 Globemaster 7 1 0
Defender 4K AL2 1
Defender T3 1
E-3D Sentry AEW1 3 3 0
F-35B 0 0 2
Hawk T1/T1A 66 7 52 3
Hawk T2 24 4 0
Hercules C-130J 20 4 0
Islander AL1 1
Islander CC2/CC2A 1
King Air B200/200 GT 5 2 0
RC-135W Rivet Joint 1 0 0
Reaper 1
Sentinel R1 3 2 0
Shadow R.1 1
T67M-2 Firefly 0 0 0 4
Tornado GR4/4A 59 28 11
Tucano T1 28 11 43
Typhoon 89 38 0
Vigilant T1 5
Viking T1 5
Watchkeeper 450 8 0 21


  1. Information on the number of aircraft in the Islander AL1, Islander CC2/CC2B, Defender 4K AL2, Defender T3, Shadow R.1 and Reaper Forward and Sustainment Fleets and those in Storage, has been withheld as its disclosure would, or would be likely to prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of the armed forces. In Service aircraft numbers are as follows:
    • Islander AL1 – 4
    • Islander CC2/CC2B – 3
    • Defender 4S AL2 – 8
    • Defender T3 – 1
    • Shadow R.1 – 5
    • Reaper – 10 (Note – The MOD does not use the designation MQ-9 Predator B)
  2. F-35B – Three test and evaluation aircraft have been delivered.
  3. Hawk T1 – Total Forward Fleet includes the Royal Naval fleet and RAF Centre for Aviation Medicine aircraft. This does not include the 3 Qinetiq aircraft as these are contractor owned.
  4. The T67M-2 Firefly is Out of Service.
  5. The RAF does not differentiate between the Forward and Sustainment fleets of the Viking and Vigilant aircraft fleets. There are 81 aircraft in the Viking fleet and 65 aircraft in the Vigilant T1 fleet.

 Takeouts from this include;

  • Only 3 E3’s now in the forward fleet
  • The largest fleet is the Hawk
  • 8 Watchkeeper Air Vehicles in service, the rest are storage. This is much fewer than the order quantity so we should assume the balance is still being delivered.
  • How fast the Tornado fleet has diminished with only 59 now in the forward fleet
  • Still only 1 Rivet Joint in the fleet
  • For everyevery two Typhoon or Tornado in the Forward Fleet there is nearly one in Depth, is this low availability standard for fast jets or a product of resource scarcity?
  • The Typhoon fleet will include the two seat training variant. Typhoon has cost the UK about £17 billion.
  • The MoD gives the ‘national security’ defence as a reason for withholding information on forward fleet for Reaper and other aircraft covered by Note 1. Perhaps they should refrain from publishing them as part of their statistical outputs then!. Click here  for the 2014 Formations Vessels and Aircraft Statistics Report.
  • When did the training fleet start outnumbering the combat aircraft fleet?

Rotary Wing Platforms

Platform Forward Fleet Sustainment (Depth Fleet) Storage Note Ref
Apache AH1 32 18 0
Chinook HC4 23 14 0 1
Chinook HC5 0 0 0 1
Chinook HC6 5 1 0 1
Dauphin N3 6 0 0
Gazelle AH1 19 7 8
Lynx AH7 11 0 0 2
Lynx AH9A 12 9 0
Lynx HAS3 0 0 0
Lynx HMA8 19 6 0
Merlin HC3 15 6 0
Merlin HC3A 5 1 0
Merlin HM1 0 0 0
Merlin HM2 18 12 0
Puma HC2 10 13 0 3
Sea King ASaC7 8 1 0
Sea King HAR3/A 20 0 0
Sea King HAS6 0 0 0
Sea King HC4 9 1 0 4
Sea King HC6CR 0 0 0
Sea King HU5 10 1 0 5
Wildcat AH 16 1 10 6
Wildcat HMA 11 2 0


  1. Chinook
    • Chinook HC4 were previously the Chinook HC2/2a, prior to modification of the aircraft with new cockpit avionics under project JULIUS. One remaining Chinook HC2/2a aircraft will be inducted into the project in April 2015 to become Chinook HC4; it is currently in the Forward Fleet.
    • Chinook HC5 will be the name given to the current Chinook HC3 aircraft once they have been modified with new cockpit avionics (Project JULIUS) and a new digital automatic flight control system. No aircraft have yet been modified. The figures for the existing Chinook HC3 fleet are – Forward Fleet: 6, Sustainment: 2 and Storage:
    • Chinook HC6 have 5 aircraft with the front line, with an additional aircraft in country in an embodiment programme.
  2. Lynx Mk7 – Fleet currently stands at 11. Five aircraft will be retired at March 15 leaving 6 to fly until 31 Jul when the remaining Mk7 will be retired from service.
  3. Puma HC2 – Sustainment Figures include 3 aircraft undertaking trials. The last aircraft will be delivered in April 15 to take the fleet size to 24.
  4. Sea King HC4 – One aircraft, not included in table, is on loan to the Empire Test Pilot School, QinetiQ, Boscombe Down.
  5. Sea King HU5 – One aircraft, not included in table, is on loan to the Empire Test Pilot School, QinetiQ, Boscombe Down.
  6. Wildcat AH – 10 Wildcat AH are classified as being in storage following their early delivery and prior delivery to the user.

Takeouts from this include;

  • Apache AH1 total fleet down to 50 aircraft, widely reported recently
  • Still quite a few Gazelle’s in service
  • 27 Merlin HC3/3a’s in service
  • No Merlin HM1’s in storage, that ship has sailed!


A couple of FOI requests have revealed pilot numbers.

Request 1 was about the total number of pilots;

Using information from the Joint Personnel Administration system, Defence Statistics can identify that as at 1 December 2014 there were 1,790 trained regular pilots in the RAF and as at 1 December 2013 there were 1,830 pilots in the RAF.

Using information supplied by the Army Air Corps, there was estimated to be approximately 540 trained pilots on strength in the Army at September 2014, and 550 trained pilots on strength in the Army at February 2015.

Using information from the Joint Personnel Administration system, Defence Statistics can identify that as at 1 December 2014 there were 530 pilots in the Royal Navy I Royal Marines and as at 1 December 2013 there were 550 pilots in the Royal Navy / Royal Marines.

Please note that figures have been rounded to the nearest 10, numbers ending in “5” have been rounded to the nearest multiple of 20 to prevent systematic bias.

The number of pilots and number of aircrew will travel on loosely synchronised conveyor belts moving at different speeds whilst trying match fleet movement and maintaining the optimum numbers is a task of fiendish complexity.

Request 2 was about flying pay;

For the purposes of this request we have assumed you are seeking information about Recruitment and Retention Payment (Flying) (RRP(F)), formerly Specialist Pay(Flying), which is colloquially known as Flying Pay.

Flying Pay

Request 3 was also about flying pay, focussing on the split between commissioned and non commissioned personnel;

For the purposes of this request we have assumed you are seeking information about Recruitment and Retention Payment (Flying) (RRP(F)), formerly Specialist Pay(Flying), which is colloquially known as Flying Pay.

Flying Pay 2

If one was cynical fleet size v pilot ratios might be interesting, although for a million reasons, the results would be almost impossible to take any meaningful value from.

180 personnel in non flying posts receiving flying pay, wonder what that number is for the Army and Naval Service and whether that is a long term or transitional situation?

Request 4, was about the ladies

We are able to identify the total number of female personnel who are designated to be a pilot in each of the Services but unable to make any additional distinction between those who are currently acting as a pilot and those who are designated but not currently acting as a pilot.

Using information from the Joint Personnel Administration system, Defence Statistics can identify that as at 1 December 2014 there were 60 female pilots in the RAF and as at 1 December 2013 there were 50 female pilots in the RAF.

Using information supplied by the Army Air Corps, there were 20 female pilots in the Army as at 1 February 2015 and 20 female pilots as at the 1 May 2014.

Using information from the Joint Personnel Administration system, Defence Statistics can identify that as at 1 December 2014 there were 10 female pilots in the Royal Navy / Royal Marines and as at 1 December 2013 there were 10 female pilots in the Royal Navy / Royal Marines.

All interesting stuff, if rather depressing.

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58 Responses

  1. @TD

    Cheers for that, and I appreciate your “Takeouts”!

    Though in fairness, the following isn’t true for Typhoon:

    “For every Typhoon or Tornado in the Forward Fleet there is nearly one in Depth, is this low availability standard for fast jets or a product of resource scarcity?”

    There are 89 in the Froward Fleet and 38 in the Depth Fleet, which is rather better than I expected.

    As for Tornado, it is understandable it has a higher proportion in the Depth Fleet considering it will be gone in 3 years or so. Though I still feel like we should be hanging on to the three squadrons we have left until replaced by three, yes three F-35B squadrons!

    Thanks for the FOIs on pilots. Interesting stuff indeed.

  2. TD,

    For every Typhoon or Tornado in the Forward Fleet there is nearly one in Depth, is this low availability standard for fast jets or a product of resource scarcity?

    That is pretty unfair and untrue. Are you sure you haven’t read the Tucano numbers?

    89 Typhoon with 38 in sustainment (better than the standard 2:1 ratio)
    59 Tornado with 29 in sustainment (almost the standard 2:1 ratio)

    The fact that we’ve shoved some Tornado and Hawk into storage simply means we don’t think we need that many at the mo. I’d also suggest that they may well be “problem” aircraft and the definition of “storage” is not remotely accurate!

    Watchkeeper however is certainly a little odd.

  3. Well a 2:1 ratio has been pretty normal for a while – certainly since my own FOI request for Typhoon numbers and locations.

    I guess it all boils down to the rate of use and relative age of the airframes?

    Last point is where are the other 8 Merlin HM if not in storage? Are they with LM?

  4. I know people will immediately bring up the training pipeline but i agree that seen as we have gone to the cost and trouble of upgrading 59 Tornado’s and currently have no more than 5 Typhoon and just 1 F35B squadrons on the horizon (with a 2nd who know’s when) every effort should be made to keep the 3 Tornado squadrons beyond 2019.

    In fact in a sensible and logical world we would be keeping both them and some Tranche 1 Typhoons into the mid 2020’s with the former being gradually replaced by the F35B and the latter a trickle buy of extra T3’s to play it safe, have no capability gaps and maintain a 9-10 squadron force.

    Sadly the 2010 prediction of having just 6 squadrons by 2020 looks set to become a reality.

    I’m also wondering where those 8 HM1 Merlin’s have disappeared to.

    And just 3 Sentry’s in the forward fleet? With commitments over Iraq how can such a small force also provide UK coverage and allow for maintenance and/or the unexpected.

  5. P.S

    ‘When did the training fleet start outnumbering the combat aircraft fleet?’

    Ages ago, didn’t you get the memo!

  6. 1) Not many people want to sign up as pilots-RAF especially?

    2) Even if they dont want to be pilots, not many army personnel around to “fly” the Watchkeeper? or RAF officers (not RAF regiment) around to fly the Reaper?

    3) Definitely not not many E-3s indeed, but enough to fancy throwing to Op Shader

  7. @Challenger: Rather than keeping the Tornados longer, wouldn’t it make more sense to keep the T1 Typhoons longer and put more money in closing the air-to-ground gap?

    Just a side point, 617 Sqn is planned to have 9 F35Bs around 2018-19 – I’m wondering if the MoD will look to follow the Harrier model and have 9 a/c Sqns? Would boost squadron numbers…

  8. Further to my previous post – IMO money should be found to operate AGM-88 HARM and AGM-84 Harpoon off the Typhoon which is already done by countries like Spain.

  9. There are a few items that need to be shifted elsewhere before Tornado can be retired.

    Paveway IV penetrator spiral development as Typhoon will not be carrying Tornado’s 2,000lb bomb and would otherwise reduce our reinforced target engagement capability. The glide-kit is slated to arrive at the same time.

    Equipment such as LITENING, RAPTOR or RECCELITE fitting to Typhoon to provide a high speed armed reconnaissance asset alongside the likes of Shadow, Reaper and Sentinel. There’s arguments that the latter assets are sufficient and that Tornado fills a duplicate role, but think complementary rather than competitive.

    Confirmation that Successor and Trident D5 are safe. Unless we fit nuclear warheads to the likes of Storm Shadow, then Typhoon – although potentially capable – was not designed to deliver nuclear weapons up close and personal. F-35 has been, but nuclear stores are currently only being looked at for the the NATO export version of the A model (internal bay) and not expected until the newly designated Block 4.3/4.4 (formerly known as Block 4B).

    I’d like to call for T1 to be retained regardless, and Tornado service extended until F-35 is ready.

    EDIT: Regarding HARM and Harpoon, the former is largely obsolete with SAR, ESM, multi-spectral and hyper-spectral sensors enabling us to engage in DEAD rather than SEAD. Regarding Harpoon, it’s worth waiting for SPEAR 3 or looking at the air-launched NSM (different to JSM). They’re far less indiscriminate and fit in more with our precision effects doctrine.

  10. I’ll take a punt that after sdsr 2015 the fastjet fleet may be configured as 6 typhoon sqns and 1 f35 Sqn. Typhoon ocu may move to Lossiemouth after the tornado ocu disbands.

    Hawk t1 osd is about 2017 currently used for the aggressor sqn, red arrows, aero med flight, rn, and to train foreign pilots. Tucano also being replaced within the next 5 years with the training pfi.

  11. @ToC: Agree with many of your comments, but as gapping capabilities go, these would be more acceptable IMO than most. Also, I get your comments on HARM and Harpoon getting old – I just don’t see replacements coming any time soon (here in the UK or elsewhere – given the limited funds).

  12. And how many of that lot are of the so-called “diamond standard?”

    On a brighter note, it does show the breadth of UK capabilities.

    “Typhoon has cost the UK about £17 billion.” – Yes, but much of that money has at least been spent in the UK. What could we have got in the same timeframe and of matching capability that would not simply have swelled the coffers of Messrs Boeing et al? Would we have retained the skills necessary to develop Taranis? I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking.

  13. Given the Gazelle numbers, one would ponder that – somewhere – things are be undertaken of-which-we-do-not-know. A lot of the numbers do not add-up: We may be asleep at the moment but we appear to be cognizant.

  14. @Wiseape,

    The A400M programme has cost the taxpayers billions of pounds and created just 900, yes just 900 jobs as even the firms admit that….

    So looking at a £17bn project – might it be fair to say that the programme might have created around 4,300 jobs (using the A400M model).

    To put that in context, if the taxpayer spent £2.8bn on the Tata Steel Long products business it would secure the future of about 8,500 jobs (and guess which firm supplies BAES with just about all it’s steel requirements).

  15. @Mark

    Last i heard (can’t remember where) the Hawk T1 OSD had been pushed back to 2020, presumably because there is no money to buy anything and little idea of what we’d want even if there was.

    The rest of the training fleet should be replaced soon, although probably not on a 1-1 basis seen as a lot of it is already in storage.


    Yes, ideally we would be retaining both some T1’s and Tornado’s to keep the combat fleet healthy until the F35B arrives in numbers and matures, but if it was a choice between the two then directing some cash into keeping a larger Typhoon fleet would obviously make more sense.

    Deleting an ageing fleet would save more money and keeping the T1 Typhoon would presumably be easier in terms of the training pipe-line, maintenance, spares etc.

    Now we just need the money to make it happen!

  16. Allan

    Well actual both your statements are incorrect. The 900 jobs refered to in the article refers specifically to Bristol. A400m has been designed and manufactured all across the UK, Bristol assembles the wings.

    Second the expense of both a400m and typhoon as a result of UK manufacture is the design and development portion of the budget for a400 I think that was about 800m pounds and typhoon about 5b pounds. The nao reports on both usually break it down the cost of acquiring aircraft be they built in the UK or overseas will not change, infact the nao has said specifically of typhoon it’s purchase costs are similar to similar aircraft else where as was the case with there report on type 45.

  17. The Watchkeeper numbers aren’t too weird, it’s just a different concept of rotation that I think we need to get used to.

    There’s practically no difference between “depth” and “storage” given that in reality the airframes are packed into their neat storage containers when they’re listed under either of those columns.

    May as well pack them away, list them as “stored” and then skip “depth” when you want to deploy. RPA equivalent of sublimation :)

  18. Figure of eight would suggest the four for training operated from Larkhill and the four that ended operations in Afghanistan last October.

    Have they been seen on the recent NATO exercises or hunting for Russian periscopes with their ISAR?

  19. The retirement of Tornado may be on the hours flown. We have worked them harder than the other users. retaining the Typhoon mark 1 till the stand up of the F 35 b, in strength would be the best of the present assist’s it would remove the support for the Tornado. But in the present political mind set the Royal Air Force will be lucky to have 6 Squadrons.
    Given the protection to the army(I don’t believe it will be done } and the cost of Trident replacement. That should not be in the defence budget.(back door cut) The treasury policy of managed decline for defence the 6 will the best we can hope for. as the budget will reduced to pay for the political keep me in a job spending funding.

  20. We should maximise investment in Typhoon at least until F35 is really up and running but if T1 go we are in my view short on numbers. 48 F35 will only give us the 2 squadrons plus OCU and depth fleet.

    If we are serious about operating both CVFs we really need 3 squadrons of F35 – but no more. Can probably just about manage with 2 squadrons / 48 airframes, but 64-70 is probably what we ultimately need.

    I think we need 7 typhoon squadrons, 4 QRA, 3 to provide an expeditionary capability at squadron level. Not sure how many airframes that equates to but probably more than 107. So I’m with Challenger on stretching T1s / trickle buy a few T3s to keep fleet size and relevance. If we did get 3 squadrons of F35, we could then let Typhoon drop to 6 squadrons. Earlier than expected phase out of the Tornados might help fund the modest expansion of Typhoon.

    I’m looking therefore at an overall 9 fast jet squadron structure

  21. @mickp

    Completely agree that having a crossover between older T1’s kept until 2025 and a few more newer ones to keep the overall force slightly larger and healthier in the long-run is a sensible approach.

    I’d say the minimum amount of F35B needed in addition to Typhoon and to enable carrier ops is 3 squadrons and something like 60-70 aircraft.

    However when it eventually comes to replacing Typhoon (probably not until 2040 instead of 2030) i’d say there is a good argument for saying we should transition to an all F35B fleet which could be slightly smaller but still as effective and crucially both cheaper to operate and fully maritime capable. Although of course how well matured, reasonably priced and effective it will be in 20+ years time are all important questions, as is the likely prevalence of UCAV’s by that time and how they will fit into our future ambitions.

  22. P.S

    Actually i think there is also another dimension to the idea of buying say an extra 30 T3 Typhoon’s beyond purely the wish to keep the RAF’s combat fleet at a healthier level and allow the F35B to mature.

    An additional order would keep the production line going for a couple more years beyond it’s close-down point (is it 2017 or 2018?) and thus allow more time to try and secure additional export orders, by that time with things like Brimstone and Meteor actually integrated and in service instead of just options on paper.

  23. Tornado is only clinging on the way it is because it still has key capabilities Typhoon doesn’t; Brimstone, Raptor, Storm Shadow. Pave way IV first drop from an inservice aircraft only happened in November last year. In short, Typhoon A2G integration has been painfully slow.

    In terms of squadron numbers. With the stated squadrons disbandments, stand-ups, Tornado OSD and F-35 order schedule it is currently inconceivable that the RAF will have more than six active Fast Jet squadrons in 2020- unless one of those things changes which currently looks unlikely.

    However, whilst there may have been twelve squadrons in 2010 they were all single role- by 2020 they will all be multirole. So things aren’t that terrible but it does make the international comparisons look even more dire.

    I would love to know what has happened to the stored Merlin HM.1s and those discarded Apaches….?

    E-3 numbers are a sorry state considering 7 airframes were procured originally- combined with the lack of upgrades they seem rather neglected.

  24. This disclosure does not make great reading but how do other nations compare on a similar basis? Eg France, Russia, US etc? Are we really that out of line in terms of on call strength? Do others give such transparent disclosure?

  25. Interesting to think that back in the 1970s, Britain was so broke we had to call in the IMF, yet the RAF had 400 combat jets, including 74 long range Vulcans. We bought 175 Hawks, 385 Tornados, 24 Sea Harriers, 36 Puma, 158 Gazelles (source Flight 2 July 1977).
    F-35B is needed on QE/PoW, for the FAA (say 60), but is too short ranged for anything else. The money would be better spent on LRS-B or the proposed F-35E for the RAF.

  26. @John Hartley, is the F35E anything more tangible than a myth yet?

    I agree BTW, c120-140 Typhoon, c50 to 65 F35B for FAA and anything between 12 to 40 of a longer range strike option

  27. So am i the only one who finds a ratio of approx. 2:1 to be abysmal ?

    Built In Test Equipment, computerized test bench, systems built from Line Replaceable units, jets designed for quick engine changes, etc etc

    I would hope we could manage 4 to 1 – as you note being on the “4” side of the equation does not mean you might not be down for routine 1st line maintenance, or emergency 2nd line defect rectification but 1 jet in “deep” maintenance / refit / upgrade for every 2 forward deployed (on a squadron) just seems wrong to me !

  28. I do not expect the F-35E to get an official launch before F-35A/B/C are in full service, so not before 2019-21. It may not happen at all, if LRS-B truly turns out to be affordable & the USAF just orders more of them instead. If LRS-B turns out to be more expensive, then F-35E might be launched to replace all those F-15E.

  29. The clue about the forward fleet to sustainment / depth ratios is in the phrase “Fleet management” – a lot of those Typhoon frames are probably being used to even out hours, the Tonkas are probably in various forms of undress donating boxes to the forward fleet. The other thing is that there’s no use having cabs on squadron strength if there’s no additional aircrew and more importantly, no funding to keep the additional aircrew combat qualified (ie training sorties, fuel and maintenance manhour costs etc etc). There are lots of pilots, but many are in “staff” jobs not requiring flying duties I suspect.

    I’m sure Topman will correct me if I’m wrong, but in essence the forward fleet is basically on squadron (or typed air station) strength and reflects those cabs ready to use. The sustainment / depth fleet is a mix of frames being Christmas-treed, frames under depth maintenance (ie several weeks), frames under upgrade (hence both Merlin HM2 and HC3 varieties as part of MCSP) and fleet (flight-hour) management.

    The storage category is a funny one. To take the HM1 Merlins as an example – 44 were built. Two were written off and another four have been in storage in Shawbury for between two and four years. That’s essentially leaving 38, less the 30 for MCSP, to leave the “orphan” eight. To the best of my knowledge, the eight (or at least a few of them) have been sent to QuinetiQ Boscombe Down, where some of their foldy bits are to go to the interim HC4 for CHF. Why they don’t appear as “in storage” (unless they’ve been removed from the MAR) can only be because they’re rated as “non-airworthy”. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

  30. Aren’t the Gazelle numbers being maintained due to the AAC deployment to support the PSNI (and others) in Northern Ireland not being ended yet?

    Even with the biggest helicopter numbers of any force (now the Met have joined NPAS) the PSNI doesn’t have enough helicopters or the funding to maintain more.

  31. Following on from NAB’s comments about the ‘fleet management’ of aircraft:

    MINISTRY OF DEFENCE: Assessing and Reporting Military Readiness

    The Department has a system for defining, measuring and reporting the readiness of the Armed Forces

    1.2 In recent years the Department has improved considerably its readiness reporting system, broadly in parallel with the shift towards expeditionary operations. Since it is both impractical and unaffordable to have everything ready for all types of operations, the Department has developed a reliable system of ‘graduated readiness’ for the routine management of forces and has identified in the Strategic Defence Review of 1998 and the Defence White Paper of 2003 a range of ‘scales of effort’ that it should be able to achieve within readiness times. This is underpinned by a mix of planning scenarios in order to anticipate likely future commitments, and thereby influence the overall size and shape of the Armed Forces.

    Readiness is a complex subject

    1.3 Readiness is the term used to describe the way in which the Department holds its military forces at varying levels of preparedness to respond to emerging operations. The Department measures the readiness of Force Elements; this might be, for example, an armoured brigade in the Army, an individual ship in the Royal Navy or an individual aircraft or squadron of aircraft in the Royal Air Force…

  32. These numbers recall Winston Churchill’s “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” speech. Right now the “…so few…” Is literal.

  33. Frankly it’s astonishing that this level of detail is even available publically. Russia, China, India – none of them would dream of making this even remotely releasable. A sign of the times that the Defence Industrial Relationship is irrevocably skewed towards the shareholders.

  34. To be fair TAS, it’s more a case of the effects of the FoI Act. The interesting numbers are those pertaining to FE@R, which ain’t public domain….

  35. It has been available for decades TAS, defence stats (the old Defence Statistical Agency) has been publishing this (and more) for a long long time

  36. I couldn’t give two hoots what the legislation is, this makes it impossible to conceal your true capability and as I said, you would never see this come out of Russia. It also shows up the complete irrelevance of posturing over defence on the international circuit when your true capability is available to anyone who asks. DSA wasn’t shackled by the FoI Act and represented figures which the Government had control over. This is hardly Wikipedia-level data, this is a pretty revealing insight into FE@R for the sake of satisfying a few spotters.

    I’ve got a great image in my head of a Russian intelligence analyst filling out FoI requests. Maybe we should just publish this on the RAF Facebook page?

  37. TAS,

    With all due-respect: bullshit.

    Even in the case of Russia and China, the data may take more time to work through but open source reporting and image analysis make it relatively easy to identify “actual capability” down to a level pretty close to what the UK MoD achieves. I know of people using entirely open sources who keep running spreadsheets of Chinese air force aircraft inventory, squadron numbers and locations complete with airframe serial numbers.

    This is not the 1980s anymore, anyone who wants to can assess actual military force levels relatively easily.

  38. Marvellous. What’s the Russian capability in Eastern Ukraine then? Russia maintains an iron grip on any and all information and to think otherwise is a fallacy bordering on the idiotic. FFS even Russia Today is a state-owned propaganda machine of unrivalled capability. Nothing gets out that the Russians don’t want to get out.

  39. TAS,

    No, idiocy is what you are engaging in. Russian Forces in Eastern Ukraine:

    If nothing got out that Russian’s didn’t want to get out we wouldn’t know they had accidentally shot down an airliner or that they set fire to one of their submarines last week. There is a difference between propaganda and actually controlling information flow- the latter is all but impossible in a world of omnipresent multi-megapixel cameras, twitter and internet forums.

  40. National security is a funny old thing. I have in the past worked on projects where photocopies of published magazine articles have been stamped ‘secret’, because the association of the article with other documentation in the same office disclosed an intention the state did not want known. Equally I have seen data marked ‘secret’ that is unintelligible in itself, like tables of numbers (without units) against index numbers. When put together with a descriptive document with appropriate indexed references the information becomes worthy of protection, even though each document itself is benign. So when it comes to FOI responses, I veer towards TAS’s position – I doubt those compiling the responses spend much time assessing if the somewhat insensitive data, when put together with other apparently safe documents, creates a deeper much more sensitive picture of the state of things. When it comes to defence, its best to say as little as possible.

  41. TAS, if you look back through defence stats reports and Hansard this kind of reporting is pretty standard, certainly predates the FOI and us spotters!

  42. Chris,

    There are some things you can keep secret and some things you can’t.

    Numbers of large objects such as ships and planes are practically impossible to keep secret now- as both the Russian’s and the Chinese have discovered. Basically, anything that can be seen is increasingly hard if not impossible to keep out of the public domain. Consequently most people have given up. Many gave up decades ago if they ever even tried.

    Then there are things you can hide- how far does the missile hanging under the wing of the plane actually fly, how far does the radar really see, what can the EW system genuinely do….? Invariably these things are far more useful as secrets than just how many planes there are.

  43. TD,

    Correct. Hansard in the 80s and even well before has squadron numbers, ship numbers, operating costs etc. And why not, even then the Soviets could work it pretty easily with the most basic intel techniques.

  44. Thing to remember rather than worry about which ‘column’ each a/c is in, are we training enough pilots, to the correct standard, in the right timeframe at a reasonable cost. The a/c fleet management is a means to an end not an end in itself.

  45. @Mark,

    Mark, thanks for your detailed reply but I’ll still ask the same question: are we getting value for money for our spend? Is the taxpayer getting the most out that they should expect?

  46. Another great article.

    Another set of worrying statistics that demonstrates the massive mismanagement of our armed services by the senior military staff.

    Apache’s and Merlin’s cost £25m each – we should have 300 of each by now.

    We can even afford 216 F35’s AND Typhoons (yes that is 432 aircraft) if we get a grip of our spending patterns. The problem we have is through years of mismanagement we have nothing left either in terms of money or kit. We should be purchasing 24 fighter bombers and a further 12 other fixed wing per annum and 48 helicopters (16 merlin, 16 Apache, 6Wildcat, 10 Chinook)

    Going forward our helicopter fleet should be 4 models only
    Our strike / fighter should be 2 model Typhoon and F35 (incidentally the US use 2 F22 and 2 F35 as a unit – we can do the same with Typhoon)

    My analysis shows that we really need far more of these “force multipliers” and that cost wise we can easily afford them.

    48 Helicopters at an average £25m each is £1.2b per annum
    40 Fixed Wing at an average cost of £100m each is £4b per annum

    This is clearly a lot of money – but and its a big but, without air supremacy the rest of our forces are toast.

    Our helicopter fleet is already on the required models – we just need scale, as for the fighter/ strike / carrier force – it needs serious money now.

    There is no excuse for letting the equipment get into this state in my opinion and those responsible should be stripped of rank and discharged.

    If we can get our ordering right – then we can have the latest kit all the time and just forget about these expensive awful upgrades.

  47. @Pacman27,

    I read your post this morning and totally agree. This afternoon I noticed the IMF put up its April 2015 WEO update and now I agree even more.

    It is now official, we have overtaken the Froggies and resumed our rightful place as the 2nd largest economic power in Europe and the 5th largest in the world! A nice Rule Britannia moment, for sue.

    We are also expected to significantly close the gap with Fritz, with a forecast that our economy will only be $400 Bn smaller than theirs by 2020! France will be left for dust… as our economy will be much closer in size to the Germans than the French.

    Italy goes nowhere. Russian economy takes a hefty tanking. Brazil -an apparently up and coming economic superstar- doesn’t impress, with a GDP only roughly 2/3rd of ours by 2020 (though still larger than Italy or Russia).

    China still doesn’t overtake the US, or get anywhere near it. Japan is still lost to stagnation, as per usual.

    India does very well, neck and neck with France in 2016 and overtaking France in 2017. By 2020 India will only be $100 Bn smaller than the UK. The downside, India is a nation with 1.3 billion people… with an economy 1/5th of China’s. So hardly a win.

    Of course these are only forecasts, but it is certainly a feel good one for Britain in general. Helped cure some of my depression over defence as of late.

  48. @whitestelephant

    By 2050 the Uk economy will be on a par with Germany and for me the 2% commitment is mandatory as I really believe Germany has been taking advantage of the fact that others have paid for its defence.

    I really believe that we should concentrate on light/medium land forces and have the best Air force and navy possible. This doesnt necessarily mean getting massively expensive pieces of kit as the Gripen, Visby, Absolon, Huitfeld, Mistrals etc etc show what can be achieved with some innovation. Even Brimstone is an awesme and relatively inexpensive weapon.

    Our military is sorely underfunded – even to the point where the SA80 is due for renewal – its just poor all round really.

    It is clear to me that the military top brass is to blame for this and not really the polticians who in fairness have provided a healthy budget. France and the USMC have similar budgets and have far more of everything and if you are in the forces the accomadation is still poor but not as bad as it used to be.

    Lastly and I think this is really important, the UK does not promote its armed forces as an employer of choice where people learn skills and discipline that is highly transferable, nor does it use the forces to build a moral values system that is now lacking due to the breakdown of communities and church etc.

    I have stated previously that we can lead the world in both how we promote, train and equip our military as a force for good (remember the olympics) and the same assets cna be diverted to war should they be required. Prime example is the outsourcing of the helicopter rescue service – which is madness as it provided excellent training for our forces and meant assets were available for other uses if really needed.

    This is not difficult really £16b on equipment each year is a lot of money that is not easily spent on equipment.

    £6b Air assets
    £2b submarines
    £2b surface fleet
    £4b land forces
    £1b cyber
    £0.5 medical
    £0.5 special forces

    This should be the capital expenditure budget for each force with a 50% (£8b) allocated to operational exependiture and £18b on staff – this means a budget of £42 is the minimum required to have it all working satisfactorily. Certainly not a rolls royce solution.

    I suspect the staff and operational budgets are heavily compromised in deference to the equipment budget that really is not delivering.

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