Mark Collins – The Incredible Shrinking RAF, Fighter Few Section, Part 2

Further to this post, the number of F-35Bs (STOVL–Royal Navy webpage here, RAF’s here) to be acquired remains rather, er, up in the air:

1) ANALYSIS: UK combat air future hinges on SDSR decisions

But one of the most eagerly-awaited elements of the planning document will be its contents about the F-35B [more on the current review here].

Three of the type are already being used by the UK to support initial operational test and evaluation activities in the USA, with a fourth to be accepted during 2016. The MoD has already announced funding to acquire its first 14 operational examples, which should also be handed over from next year.

Initial operational capability with the RAF’s 617 Sqn is planned for the following year at Marham, and the UK’s second unit to be equipped with the STOVL design has already been identified as the Fleet Air Arm’s revived 809 NAS.

With the UK having previously committed to buying at least 48 F-35s but with the US programme of record still listing its interest at 138 of the type, this review could deliver a long-needed answer about how many of the fifth-generation type it needs, and more importantly, how many it can afford. Only once the MoD reveals this answer will the future strength of the UK’s combat air capability take shape.

2) UK Commits To 2 Carriers, Fully Crewed; F-35B Numbers TBD

…aircraft carriers aren’t much use without aircraft, either. Each QE-class ship can accommodate 40 aircraft of various types, but not all of those are going to be fighters. (Indeed, the British are planning to operate Queen Elizabeth with nothing but helicopters until its first F-35s are delivered). The maximum capacity for F-35s is reportedly 36 aircraft, but during routine operations, each carrier might have only a dozen F-35Bs on board [more on the carriers here and here].

Will each carrier eventually get a full complement of F-35s? “Any sort of further commitments on details… whether it’s numbers of aircraft or numbers of frigates or what have you, that will be coming out of the SDSR process,” Mordaunt said. “But what I would say [is that in the SDSR] there will also be a lot of radical thinking about the kinds of things we will be operating… .from the carriers,” not just F-35s but “other air assets, whether they’re manned or unmanned..”…

More broadly, note “Comments”:

The Incredible Shrinking British Military, US Oversight Section

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


5 thoughts on “Mark Collins – The Incredible Shrinking RAF, Fighter Few Section, Part 2”

  1. Way ahead?

    “OPINION: What to expect from UK defence review

    Today, the RAF has eight squadrons equipped with manned strike aircraft, and the looming transition from its offensive platform of choice – the Panavia Tornado GR4 – to a swing-role Eurofighter Typhoon and combat-capable F-35 appears fraught with schedule risk.

    Will this be the SDSR where a fanciful-looking plan to buy 138 Lightning IIs finally gets trimmed? Funds could be diverted to a new maritime patrol aircraft; most likely the Boeing P-8A Poseidon, and to order AH-64E attack helicopters, rather than splash out a possible $3 billion on a complex remanufacturing for its Apaches.

    Given the surprise outcome of the 2010 review, it’s anyone’s guess.”

    Mark Collins

  2. With F-35Bs not replacing Tornados one-for-one…

    Firm JSF commitment now only 42 (scroll down):

    “UK Strategic Defence and Security Review: Trying to Stop the Incredible Shrinking”

    Mark Collins

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