Britain’s fighter aircraft fleet is set to shrink to its smallest in the RAF’s history as ageing jets retire by the end of the decade, a new analysis warns. Numbers will be squeezed to only around 127 front line combat jets at best under current plans to retire Britain’s Tornado GR4s and early model Typhoons in 2019, before new F-35 stealth fighters arrive.
Defence chiefs have already warned that the RAF’s fast jet fleet is stretched to the limit and the new analysis from IHS Jane’s warns it is “perverse” to cut numbers further. The RAF’s 87 remaining Tornados and 53 tranche 1 Typhoons are scheduled to retire in 2019. By then, only 15 to 20 of the new F-35B jump jets will have arrived according to the analysis. The resulting fleet will be “the lowest number that the RAF will have fielded since its creation in 1918”.
The RAF’s reduced fighter fleet will be made up of technically advanced planes but “no aircraft, no matter how capable, can be in more than one place at any time”, said Gareth Jennings, aviation desk editor at Jane’s. RAF chiefs have already told David Cameron they are struggling to provide enough fast jets to protect UK airspace, patrol the Falklands, bolster Nato flights in Eastern Europe and fly strike missions over Iraq.The analysis says that with those threats unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, “the further loss of UK air power at such a precarious time as this seems somewhat perverse”.
You can say that again. But the current European and American consensus seems to be that the maintenance and expansion of the Welfare State is far more important than the preservation of the State itself. And in any case, what good are RAF fighter jets against an enemy that arrives every day at Heathrow, having flown commercial?