SIMON MICHELL Editor, RAF Air Power 2016
Increased tempo, enhanced capability
he past 12 months have seen the security and stability of Europe rocked by terrorist attacks, as Daesh-affiliated extremists target Western populations and our way of life. Russian airspace intrusions in the Baltics continue to impact on European regional stability, and Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan is yet another theatre in which UK armed forces, and the Royal Air Force (RAF) in particular, are participating. As always, the RAF is playing a leading role in addressing these multifaceted challenges across the varied operational theatres. The Typhoon force completed its second year of assisting with the Baltic Air Patrols, and is now in its third consecutive year of patrols. The force is also active over Syria. In Iraq, the Typhoons are joined by Tornados and Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS). In addition, RAF Pumas are busy transporting personnel in and around Kabul. There is also the permanent RAF presence in the South Atlantic at RAF Mount Pleasant in the Falklands. The operational drumbeat is currently very demanding.
THE INVENTORY The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review has seen an increase in defence investment, with two significant additions to the RAF inventory. Firstly, there is the selection of the P-8A maritime patrol aircraft to replace the Nimrod, and the undertaking to purchase more than 20 RPAS to replace the existing 10 Reaper (Predator B) platforms as part of the Protector programme.
The beginning of 2016 has seen another two significant announcements, this time relating to the UK Military Flying Training System programme. The February announcement of the £1.1 billion contract to deliver the fixed-wing element of the programme marked a significant milestone. This was followed by a later statement about the £1.1 billion rotary-wing element, which was made public in May. Taken together, the two contracts have set the entire programme on an excellent footing. They will now be able to begin delivering elementary flying training in 2017 and helicopter and multi-engine aircrew training in 2018, followed by basic training at the beginning of 2019. The most significant addition to the RAF fleet, however, remains the F-35B Lightning II. The RAF will take delivery of its eighth aircraft by the end of the year. With five of the British F-35B at United States Marine Corps (USMC) Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina and a further three at US Edwards Air Force Base in southern California, the programme continues to progress at speed. Training for RAF and Royal Navy pilots is taking place in both locations. The F-35B itself went into service in July 2015, when the USMC VMFA-121 declared the initial operational capability of the Block 2B configuration. The past year has seen the RAF continue to offer the UK Government diplomatic choice backed up by impressive military capability – a capability that remains the envy of many of our partners and allies.
INSPIRATION AND INNOVATION AIR POWER 2016
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