A RAF Tornado GR4 breaking right over RAF Fairford (Image © Marcel Burger)

Analysis: “RAF to cope with only 60 combat jets”

The Royal Air Force is quietly planning to keep its aging Tornado fighter jets even longer than already envisaged. By 2019 the RAF is set to take its last of 87 operational Panavia variable sweep-wing aircraft out of service, as well as the first version (read: less-capable) of 53 Eurofighter Typhoons. Counting in all other factors the United Kingdom will end up very short-handed with at times only 60 combat jets ready.

Same ocassion, different Tornado. This one is carrying a recce pod. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
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With an increasing military threat from Russia as well as other international commitments like fighting the so-called Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria (Operation Inherent Resolve), the United Kingdom is in need for a capable combat force more than a decade ago.

Yet the country’s military leadership – as well as military analists – worry how the RAF is able to defend the country and perform its international duties with in theory roughly more than 112 fighter jets by 2020. Since it takes a decade to build up a military force, various RAF planners are trying to find a way to cope with the future, because even that number of 112 does not reflect the coming real-life situation.

In less than five years from now the United Kingdom will have the least number of fighter jets to fly into combat ever, while the need of them has not been as high as since the 1982 Falklands War. With its usual detachment of four Typhoons at RAF Mount Pleasant there and likely a number of aircraft permanently based in the US for pilot training, the RAF will by 2020 in theory have about 100 aircraft “free to use” left. Take out 30 to 50 percent due to maintenance and lack of spare parts and Britain’s hope in dark days is down to about 50 to 60 Eurofighter Typhoons of Trance 2 and 3, which hopefully by then are upgraded enough to fulfill all that is asked from them.

A Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 being refueled by a Royal Canadian Air Force CC-150 Polaris during Operation Inherent Resolve on 2 February 2015. (Image © Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND)
A Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 being refueled by a Royal Canadian Air Force CC-150 Polaris during Operation Inherent Resolve on 2 February 2015. (Image © Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND)
RAF Typhoon ZJ803 during an earlier training (Image © Marcel Burger)
RAF Typhoon ZJ803 during an earlier training (Image © Marcel Burger)

Those tasks – for a fighter jet designed to patrol the skies and engage enemy aircraft, not ground targets – will include giving air defence to the nation, supporting British ground forces at home and abroad, give future British fighter jocks the necessary training, providing air strike capability to combat ISIS, support fighterless fellow NATO nations as Iceland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with deterrence power and fly air coverage for the Royal Navy ships and vessels.

That maritime coverage will include the US Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, unless Britain can get the US Marine Corps to help them out with some fighter coverage. The RAF/Royal Navy’s own 14 Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II stealthy combat jets to operate from the HMS Queen Elizabeth are not expected to have any limited operational capability until 2021. Airheadsfly.com already reported on this issue in November last year.

Also last year the UK government decided to keep the RAF’s No. 2 Tornado squadron longer on strength, since the country simply lacked the capabilities to bomb ISIS. London might have to do that for more squadrons in the future if it wants to stay feeling safe.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): A RAF Tornado GR4 breaking right over RAF Fairford (Image © Marcel Burger)

The first Tranche 3 Typhoon for the RAF airborne. Image released on 11 December 2013 (Image © BAE Systems)
The first Tranche 3 Typhoon for the RAF airborne. Image released on 11 December 2013 (Image © BAE Systems)