A GUEST POST FROM ANDY C
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 https://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2015/01/raf-2019-mind-gap 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.
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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