Priorities and Options for SDSR 2015 – Appendix 3 – RAF 2025


More than either of the other services the strength and disposition of the RAF is determined by its support role.

The number of transport aircraft and helicopters is determined by the need to provide mobility for the British Army.  In addition, the number of A330 Voyager multi role tanker transports is partly determined by the needs of the transport fleet and only partly by the needs of the RAF’s combat aircraft.

The minimum number of Squadrons needed to provide QRA in peacetime and a minimum effective air defence of the UK is four and we should not go below this.  The Eurofighter Typhoon’s capabilities to operate at long-range, with high speed, agility and at up to ten of the most effective air-to-air missiles make it the logical choice for this role.  Much the same applies to the Falklands Flight.

Conversely the F-35B Lightning II has been designed to operate from aircraft carriers.  Each QE class aircraft carrier is capable of operating three Squadrons.  While all F-35Bs can operate in a swing-role, one Naval Air Squadron would concentrate on fleet air defence/anti-shipping and be mostly carrier based.  In times of conflict it could be joined by RAF Squadrons that would primarily focus on close air support/suppression of enemy air defence with a secondary anti-shipping role.

The F-35B Lightning II is one of the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world.

If budgets permitted a larger F-35 force than six Squadrons the additional aircraft should be F-35As as they can operate over a longer range with a greater and more varied payload.  However, it is unlikely that this would be affordable before 2025.

The Typhoon will inevitably be the mainstay of the RAF well into the mid-2020s and possibly longer, see for more.  In these circumstances it makes sense to upgrade the whole fleet with AESA radars although the ones operated by tranche 1 aircraft will need to be more basic due to the high cost of fixing power, cooling and computing issues.

Existing tranche 1 (T3/FGR4 standard) Typhoons would equip the OCU and concentrate on air defence.  Some tranche 2 aircraft (T5/FGR6) would also be primarily assigned to the air defence role but retain a secondary swing-role capability.  Both of these variants would be upgraded with the ability to carry six Meteor BVRAAMs and four ASRAAMs.

In contrast, tranche 3 Typhoons and a significant number of tranche 2 aircraft (FGR7) would be fully swing-role.  At least at the start of any conflict they would specialise in long-range strike with Storm Shadow.  They should also be equipped with conformal fuel tanks to maximise their effective combat range.

If any Typhoons are withdrawn from frontline service in the Options below the most serviceable twenty should be maintained in the Sustainment Fleet so that they can be brought back into service should there be a major crisis.  The personnel for this Shadow Squadron should be found from recently retired Typhoon pilots and groundcrew.

In the scenarios examined there is a clear need for a long-range anti-submarine patrol aircraft to cover the large areas of sea around the UK that the surface fleet cannot cover.  The most effective way to achieve this capability would be to buy a long range dedicated Maritime Patrol Aircraft such as either the Boeing P-8 Poseidon or Kawasaki P-1.  In due course modified versions of these aircraft could take over the land ISTAR role of the Sentinel R1.  In addition, the UK should evaluate the Triton UAV and a Sea Protector UCAV to see whether either can add to the capabilities and reach of whichever aircraft is selected in the MPA role.

A small number of fighter aircraft operating with aerial tankers are also needed to provide an anti-shipping capability in the areas that carrier based F-35Bs cannot reach and to provide fighter escort for the MPA.  With its longer range the Typhoon would be the most suitable aircraft for this role.

To improve land ISTAR and assist with future conflicts against insurgents the RAF will receive a long-range UCAV, to be known as Protector, armed with Brimstone 2 and Paveway IV laser guided bombs.

A number of new missiles are already on order and will enter service in the next five years including the Meteor Beyond Visual Range air-to-air missile (with a later B version designed to operate with the F-35), the upgraded Brimstone 2 anti-armour missile and Land Ceptor surface-to-air missile to replace the Rapier for short-range air defence.  The ASRAAM Within Visual Range air-to-air missile will also be upgraded to improve its manoeuvrability and enable it to shoot down incoming air-to-air missiles.

In addition, the SPEAR 3 missile is being developed to enable the destruction of enemy air defences and the targeting of mobile ground targets at distances of up to 60 miles.

There is no doubt that ground based air defences are becoming more effective.  One answer is the stealth of the F-35 but another is to extend the range of stealthy stand-off cruise missiles.  Improvements in engine technology and the use of lighter materials are enabling these missiles to be effective at much longer ranges.  The US has embarked on what it calls the ‘-Extended Range’ programme.  For example, the 200+ mile range JASSM is being upgraded to the 600+ mile JASSM-ER.  It should be a priority to improve the Storm Shadow missile to a similar extent.  In addition, its targeting software should be enhanced to give the missile a long-range anti-shipping capability.

UK air defence could be supplemented in emergencies by upgraded and armed training, aggressor and exercise support aircraft.  The Hawk T1 is due to be out of service by 2020.  In its aggressor and support roles with 100 Squadron and 736 NAS it could be replaced by secondhand F-16s or new Hawk 200s.

The Red Arrows would receive a variant of the Hawk 200 so that they can continue to promote British industry.  Together with the Hawk T2s currently being used for advanced jet training these aircraft and any F-16s would be upgraded with a basic AESA radar and armed with Meteor and ASRAAM air-to-air missiles to provide an important secondary air defence.

Storm Shadow 4

From western Poland the white represents the range of a Typhoon + Storm Shadow-ER, the orange is Typhoon + current Storm Shadow.  From RAF Coningsby the yellow is Typhoon + Storm Shadow-ER and the green is Typhoon + current Storm Shadow.

The RAF’s priority for training should be to work with the Polish Air Force together with German and French aircraft that could all potentially be deployed to Eastern Europe in a crisis and with the Norwegian Air Force and French naval air arm in the north and the French and Italian naval air arms in the Mediterranean.  Two permanent air bases should be developed in Poland to be used for forward operations and as a transport hub.

While both the F-35B Lightning II and the Eurofighter Typhoon are swing-role aircraft that can perform all combat missions the scenario analyses illustrate that there is a minimum number of aircraft required to fulfil each task and this has informed Option 1 below.

Unlike the other services even Option 1 will require additional funding and personnel compared to Future Force 2020.

This is a result of the requirements to fly aircraft from both QE carriers, the re-establishment of a maritime patrol capability and the expanded role of UCAVs.  Each additional Option offers enhanced capabilities but at extra cost and increased numbers of personnel.  These Air Force Options are designed to be consistent with the respective Naval and (where relevant) Army Options.

Air Force Option 1 – operate a minimum of 9.33 frontline and 12.66 fast jet combat Squadrons.

In peacetime this is the minimum number of frontline and fast jet combat Squadrons needed by Air Command.  Four Squadrons are required for QRA, three need to be available for swing-role operations (so that one can be deployed globally at any time) and two for carrier operations (so that one is always at sea) plus there’s the Flight in the Falklands.  Three reserve Squadrons are also required – one Operational Conversion Unit for the F-35B and Typhoon respectively and one Test & Evaluation Squadron.

The scenario analyses suggest that in a European potential conflict Air Command needs a minimum of four Squadrons to provide air defence of the UK, four swing-role Squadrons to deploy to Eastern Europe, two to support ground forces in Norway (they could be carrier based) and two to defend the aircraft carriers plus an independent Flight for anti-shipping.

In this Option Air Command would operate 156 Typhoons in 8.66 Squadrons and 64 F-35Bs in 4 Squadrons.  It is consistent with the second QE aircraft carrier operating in a principally ASW or amphibious role.

This Option would require ordering an additional 16 F-35Bs.

Air Force Option 2 – also operate 9.33 frontline and 12.66 fast jet combat Squadrons.

As Option 1, but with the ability to operate six Squadrons between both QE class aircraft carriers.  Air Command would then operate 114 Typhoons in 6.66 Squadrons and 102 F-35Bs in 6 Squadrons.

This Option would require ordering an additional 54 F-35Bs.

Air Force Option 3 – operate 10.33 frontline and 13.66 fast jet combat Squadrons.

In addition to Option 2 there would be an additional swing-role Typhoon Squadron.  Air Command would then operate 136 Typhoons in 7.66 Squadrons and 102 F-35Bs in 6 Squadrons.

This Option would require ordering an additional 54 F-35Bs.

Air Force Option 4 – operate 11.33 frontline and 14.66 fast jet combat Squadrons.

Air Command could increase its effectiveness further by providing five or six swing-role Squadrons to Eastern Europe and three to Norway.  In addition, two of these Squadrons could in the long term be equipped with F-35As.

In the medium-term this would mean operating 156 Typhoons in 8.66 Squadrons and 102 F-35Bs in 6 Squadrons but in the long-term this would change to 114 Typhoons in 6.66 Squadrons, 102 F-35Bs in 6 Squadrons and 36 F-35As in 2 Squadrons.

This Option would require ordering an additional 54 F-35Bs and eventually a further 36 F-35As.

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The rest of the series

1 – Introduction

2 – Defence of the UK

3 – Other Sovereign Territories

4 – NATO

5 – A Southern or Middle Eastern Threat

6 – An Eastern and Northern Threat

7 – Global Intervention

8 – Land Command 2025; Appendix 1 – Army 2025

9 – Naval Command 2025; Appendix 2 – Royal Navy 2025

10 – Air Command 2025; Appendix 3 – RAF 2025

11 – Conclusion – The Options for Change; Appendix 4 – An Abundance of Riches: MoD Procurement 2015-25

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25 Responses

  1. The RAF should focus any medium term aspirations on the Typhoon and F35B; retire the Tornado by investing in enhancing the Tiffie capabilities as a priority. Forget any idea of F35A.

    I’d say 5 front line Tiffy sqds would be enough 4 in the UK and one permanently spread between the Falklands and Cyprus – all expeditionary air would be F35Bs and UAVs.

    For the F35B, go for 4 frontline sqds of 18 a/c, 2 of which are mixed FAA / RAF (ratio 2:1 RN to RAF or CAP to Ground strike respectively) and 2 purely RAF. Allowing for each carrier to have 18 a/c assigned at a time and ability to surge to 2 strike carriers at extreme.

    Forget also any idea of old F16s, cannot see the logic. Go for a joint BAE / SaaB Grippen designed and built in the UK to keep the industry base, and use it as a base for a future manned a/c (there will be one).

    The focus on Global MPA / ISTAR / Strike capability through a large manned a/c and a small number of UAV variants.

  2. Good summary Repulse – only wrinkle is I would expect us to increase Tiffy to 7 squadrons just in the short term to cover the gap between Tornado and F35B, dropping back to 5 squadrons once F35B comes on line and the Tranche 1 Tiffies get withdrawn circa 2025.

  3. Did the defence budget get doubled when nobody was looking.

    What is meteor A and B?

    Pretty sure typhoon has the option to go to 6 amraam already, the current air defence configuration is pretty standard. Also why put a rail launched weapon in brimstone 2 of f35 makes little sense to me. Also not a big fan of putting stormshadow on f35 either. Spear 3 or its equivalent much better idea but we’ve a decade yet before f35s available with any meaningful capability.

    With all those fast jets we’ll need to open leeming and Leuchers again, not likely. Best outcome most likely a 3rd f35 sqn and or a 6th typhoon unit. Protector uav numbers may rise but should certainly be employed over all domains with appropriate uk weapons and sensors integrated.

  4. As with all of these articles – this covers the minimum requirements when we should be looking at a sustainable force structure.

    From an organisational model I believe a 4 force structure is required therefore if we need 4 squadrons to be on active service – we will need 16 squadrons in total to cover the maintainance, training and force sustainment requirements.

    We should really have 12 squadrons of Typhoon (192) and 12 of F35B (192) and we should get 8 Sqdns (96) of Saab Gripens for our trainers and reserve force. When we look at our likely enemies I believe that an improved Typhoon with thrust vectoring etc, will be cost effective and provide the “air cover” the F35’s need.

    This allows for a balanced force of QRA (4 active sqdns), 4 Carrier(4 active sqdns), 16 joint strike sqdns consisting of 8 wings of 32 consisting of 16 Typhoon and 16 F35 each. This force would revolve round into the relevant QRA or Carrier rotations as the norm and is fully sustainable. This is obviously a 500 strong force and will require time to build up – 2 sqdn per annum should cost £3.2bn – so equates to 1/5 of the 10 year published equipment budget and once again we need to commit to a long term procurement plan where replacement to new is preferred to upgrading, albeit that the frames last 30 years the actual technology moves far faster. Taranis is also something we should commit to and ultimately the airforce will need circa £6b p.a capex to maintain capability and volumes.

  5. We should also take on Mildenhall as a base – as it is modern, well maintained and soon to be available

  6. For good or ill, we are stuck with F-35B for the QE/PoW carriers, but they make no sense in any other role. Once you have the helicopters on board, I cannot see QE or PoW operating more than 28 F-35B each. So a total force of 56 F-35B + a few spares. They are too expensive & short ranged for the RAF, so all F-35B should be FAA.
    RAF needs 100 Typhoon to protect the UK (inc flights in Falkands) + 50 to deploy to coalition operations abroad. Then 15 to 60 longer range strike aircraft, LRS-B or F-35E (currently Tornado GR4).
    Looks like we will have a fighter gap between 2019 when T1 Typhoon & Tornado retire, until reasonable numbers of F-35 arrive 2022 onwards, unless we extend the service life of one of the former.
    The UK really should develop the Perseus missile for the RN & the RAF, as a conventional land attack + anti ship versions, air & surface launched + a tactical nuke with a 10 kt warhead (Trident without the fusion booster).

  7. @ Pacman27

    ‘We should really have 12 squadrons of Typhoon (192) and 12 of F35B (192) and we should get 8 Sqdns (96) of Saab Gripens for our trainers and reserve force. ‘

    I like it, not sure anyone is ever going to see so many Sqns to put it mildly, although I do note you’ve covered the expected increase in hotel bills ‘and ultimately the airforce will need circa £6b p.a’ which is nice to see.

  8. @topman

    I understand this won’t happen -although France does seem to have a modern fighter force of this size. My point is that this is the size of force required to manage the fleet and pilots in a sustainable manner and to have a force that can absorb some degree of loss in its early days against a reasonable enemy and still be in the fight.

    It is ridiculous that we can’t decide how many aircraft we will buy each and every year and go out there and buy them in a consistent manner – the only difficulty is bringing on next gen on time – but Typhoon is a great plane and with some key improvements could be the equal of a F22.

    For every 4 planes operating – we need 8 as a minimum and probably do need 16 for maintenance training and back up etc.

    I am also concerned that we are spreading our people too thinly and that this is part of the reason why recruitment and retention are proving so difficult.

    oh well…

  9. To be serious for a moment if there was some pot of gold floating about, I wouldn’t spend it on more aircraft first. I properly support the ones we have first, things like getting fleets to the same standard, make sure there’s enough equipment. A proper training pipeline for everything and everyone related to the aircraft fleet, enough spares, enough (more) people across the whole range of trades/branches required to support it, then look at buying more. Oh and then a properly funded hotel budget.

  10. Any talk of F35A, F16, Grippen or weaponised hawks is bonkers. We cannot invest in new platforms when our primary platforms aren’t fully funded. What the UK needs is full on commitment on typhoon and F35 capabilities. Those along with voyager, P8, atlas and C17 will be a powerful airforce.

    The problem is numbers during the translation from tornado to F35. All all available resources need to be used to keep tranche 1 and tornado going to smooth the transition. Utilize existing platform’s to the Max, not blowing precious resources on other platform’s.

  11. @Andy C

    Andy I have enjoyed reading your articles even though I have a few issues with your ideas. One thing stands out though regarding your ideas on the RAF. You keep referring to the Hawk 200, even stating this should replace the Hawk T1A in the Red Arrows. I am sure you actually mean the Hawk 100 series which includes the RAFs Hawk T2, not the single seat 200 series that has been out of productions for decades.

  12. @Mark

    I have attempted to explain how this could all be afforded in the Conclusion.

    Meteor A is the current BVRAAM in production for Typhoon, Rafale and Gripen.

    Meteor B is the version under joint development with Japan for the F-35. It needs to be slightly shorter to fit in the weapons bay and is allegedly going to have a Japanese AESA radar – see

    Under these Options all of the Typhoons can go on operating from Lossiemouth and Coningsby. If, however, we can afford 6 F-35B Squadrons then Marham alone won’t be enough. My guess is that Leeming would have to be upgraded or for an off the wall solution return Cawdor Barracks to the Fleet Air Arm and re-name it RNAS Brawdy.

  13. @Shark Bait and Topman

    About the most expensive thing you could do (£1.3 billion) would be to standardise the Typhoon fleet by upgrading the tranche 1s. There’s plenty of life left in them as specialist air defence fighters and there’s enough of them that they can be run as a fleet within a fleet and not break the budget.

  14. @ Lord Jim

    I don’t want to get bogged down by this issue as I think it’s actually quite minor compared to the main recommendations for SDSR 2015.

    I do actually mean the Hawk 200 single seat aircraft for the Red Arrows and as a second best option for 100 Sqdn and 736 NAS. If we solely went with them that’s 44 aircraft and although they’re different from the T2 there is a lot of commonality – wings , engine etc

  15. @AndyC – ok you are starting to convince me on the Hawk option – you are not talking about arming training aircraft but having in parallel the 200 (or an updated derivative) to act as aggressor training for FAA and RAF (2 squadrons) and Red Arrows. We are using an existing model (n a core sense) with all the benefits that entails and that would go side by side with any recapitalisation / refresh of the two seater Hawk training fleet. The 200 would be a better aggressor with radar and other kit and, in extremis only, provides a reserve QRA / maritime strike capability – UK (or FI) EEZ only, no pretence about being anything more. The marginal cost of 200 v updated T2s (or new ‘T3s’) should be doable within the overall budget context. I agree with others though on focus on Typhoon and F35 but I am less convinced that we should have an all ‘B’ fleet

  16. @Andy C
    But the 200 series has been out of production for decades as its sales were very disappointing for BAe, and there is no way that it would be put back in production after all this time for such a small quantity. If you want a trainer with radar etc, the only real option is the Korean T/A-50.

    As for an aggressor capability, it would be better to look at a NATO option rather than a national one. In fact there are a number of private companies offering this service now.

    Sorry for going hard ball but although I have enjoyed your posts, they are in fantasy land. If there was the political will some of your suggestions may come about, but todays Politicians are more about sound bites than actually doing what is best for the country be it defence or the NHS.

  17. AndyC

    Thanks for the reply but I don’t believe that will be the way meteor will work there will be one missile to suit all platforms it may go through upgrades as amraam has from a thru d, but if memory serves it was a clipped wing design that was required for f35 and it flew on typhoon last year. It’s not scheduled for integration on f35 until the middle of the next decade if the Americans allow it after all they may want to develop and sell there own long range missile not like they don’t have form in this area.

    You won’t be getting much change out of 50b to do what you want. Once you buy the planes you need the weapons stocks to go up you need more training aircraft from basic to lead in trainers you need more aar refuelling aircraft and transport aircraft to allow them to be deployed and supported they don’t live in isolation.

    I won’t go into again why Hawks with meteor ect is not practical or useful in anyway or why indeed fitting a basic asea will require the same level of mod work to a typhoon. You don’t have to fit an aesa at all indeed I don’t think the aesa was budgeted for in the tranche 1 upgrade costs quoted. In fact I will be surprised if the entire typhoon fleet is fitted with aesa, the French certainly aren’t with rafale.

  18. @ Andy C
    That was one of my options amongst many. But since we are spending a pot of gold why not. Yes quite aware of how much life is left on the tranche 1 aircraft and the sort of problems you get from having different standards.

  19. @ AndyC.

    Admittedly the tranche 1’s are a bit of a problem, as upgrading them seems infeasible and scrapping them is terribly waseful. I think they have to be kept to smooth over fast jet numbers until we have built up a large F35 fleet so the only option is specialist air defence & QRA, which is a nice role for them.

    In a perfect world we could sell them and buy more tranche 3’s!

    Do the tranche 1’s still retain the Paveway utility? and is that going to be useful since it was Paveway II?

  20. @Mark

    The Meteor’s currently being manufactured simply won’t fit into the F-35. A shorter clipped fin version has been trialled but we are working with Japan as they would also like Meteor but to buy it they want some Japanese tech on it thus the new guidance. I believe that part of the deal for both the UK and Japan buying the F-35 is that some local weapons will be fitted and we’ll get our first batch with both ASRAAM and Paveway IV capability so there shouldn’t be a problem with Meteor integration as well – eventually!

  21. Yes the tranche 1’s do still have Paveway II capability but nobody knows about the future because the original SDSR 2010 plans had them being withdrawn starting this year so it hasn’t been fully considered! My guess is that the tranche 1s will soldier on with M-scan radar and AMRAAMs and be around a lot longer than people have been forecasting but despite what I’m calling for they probably won’t get any upgrades.

  22. @ AndyC.

    I think that is the most reasonable and practical option for the tranche 1’s. At that standard it is still an advanced piece of kit and should help to sustain the RAF as a useful mass.

    One novel idea a commentator suggested was a podded electronic warfare fit for the tranche 1’s. Its interesting for sure, but I’m not sure its particularly realistic.

  23. Just out of curiosity were are you getting the information from that meteor won’t fit in the f35.

    Depending on when f35 will be delievered to the uk and at what software load will determine if the f35 will declare IOC with paveway 4 and asraam or if it will be amraam c and US air to ground weapons.

  24. @Mark

    Several sources affirm that the current production Meteor won’t fit internally and assert that this is why the UK is developing a modified version with Japan whose own AAM also won’t fit.

    Try to start and then a more up to date reference try

    As far as I am aware the UK’s F-35Bs will declare IOC with a configuration of ASRAAM externally on outer rails, Paveway IV on both internal and external and AMRAAM on internal. We’ll have to wait for Meteor, Brimstone 2 and Storm Shadow and even later SPEAR 3.

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