Future Force 2020 - RAF

Evolving the RAF for the new (budgetary) challenges

How RAF Squadrons Are Organized
The squadrons indicatively have 12 aircraft with 15 authorized pilots. This is not a firm rule, however, as Tornado GR4 squadrons have dropped below the 15 pilots figure after cuts in 2009 and should now return to 15 (or more) thanks mainly to the redistribution of personnel from the two Tornado squadrons that will be disbanded in June.

How Training Is Planned
Training progresses from initial flying training to basic and then advanced fighter training and then to an operational conversion unit (OCU). The training agency agrees with the RAF on the level of proficiency required of newly trained pilots across a range of flying and mission skills. The RAF is different from USAF in that a wingman is trained to a higher level before reporting to a squadron and is capable of lead/mission completion. (This is similar to what the U.S. Navy does.)

How Training Is Resourced

Personnel. The RAF has two accession programs for its pilots. One involves a shorter term of service than the other does. The 12-year short-service commission is the least desired by the RAF but is the one most frequently chosen by the pilots. According to the RAF, a pilot signing in for 12 years has a yearly salary of 34.670 pounds at the end of the training phase. http://www.raf.mod.uk/careers/jobs/pilot.cfm
The 16/38 program (service to 16 years or age 38) is more desirable to the RAF, but not many follow its course.
At age 38, there is a reasonable flow from fighters to multiengine aircraft; some helicopter pilots flow to fighter aircraft at an earlier age. It costs about £5.7 million (2002 figure) to train a pilot reporting to a squadron with training taking approximately 4.2 years on average.

The flying units often have a shortage of experienced pilots. This is caused by a combination of failing to achieve targets for new pilots and by pilots leaving early or not extending their service. The RAF (like USAF) is constrained by a maximum number of new pilots in flying units so as not to increase the ratio of inexperienced pilots to experienced pilots to unacceptable levels.

Squadron tours last just about three years, and it is not unusual for a pilot to do sequential tours in the same squadron. Most “ground” tours have been eliminated (because of low numbers of RAF pilots). A pilot must do a minimum of six years after OCU before leaving. The goal is to get at least 12 years’ return of service. To encourage pilots with two years remaining to complete their service, the RAF reimburses the cost of gaining a commercial pilot license. After age 38, a person who stays in a squadron is specialist aircrew and will enter a fly-only track until age 55.

After a first squadron tour, a pilot is qualified as a section lead. Typically, the best pilots go to a program like Top Gun and then return to the squadron as a qualified weapons instructor. Other top pilots take flight instructor training and return to the squadron as a qualified flight instructor. Pilots may also rotate to another squadron.

The RAF has a full-time reservist program whereby a pilot retires from active commission and comes back as a Reservist (on active duty) at lower rank/pay grade but with an additional pension. It has a series of contracts for five years up to a maximum of age 60, which essentially allows a 50-year-old to serve two tours to age 60, after which an individual can draw an active pension with an added increment of Reserve pension. Many of the Reserve pilots go into the training system but they can serve almost anywhere in the community.

Pilot work is on average 200 man-days per year, and they view themselves as getting high productivity out of each man-day. They attempt to get maximum value out of every flight hour.

Flying Hours. Views on the number of required live flight hours vary widely. The NATO minimum is 180 hours (15 per month). RAF flying hours for jet pilots is between 180 and 240 per year (18.5 per month on average). Of these hours, 150 hours (12–14 hours per month; 12.5 on average) are felt to be a safety-of-flight minimum (instruments, takeoffs, landings). The RAF also feels the additional increment for military elements of flying (e.g., warfare tactics) is about three hours per month or 36 per year for a total of 186 annual hours (15.5 hours monthly). The 180–240 hours include all flying (e.g., transit and overhead flights) not just military elements or high-quality flying, which is estimated at 75–80 percent of the total.

RAF jet pilots are generally funded at 180 hours annually (15 per month). A desired number of monthly flight hours would be about 22.5, but they acknowledge it would be difficult to fly more than 28 hours per month given all the other things that pilots must accomplish. Not all planes have the same kind of flying hours provision: for example, the Tornado has fewer flying hours than maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) Nimrods had, but far more sorties (a typical Tornado sortie is an hour and a half, those of Nimrod were of course much longer). For Red Flag, there is a pretty intensive workup. There is no deployment pattern except for Red Flag, and a more constant level of flying exists in the RAF.

Compared with their RAF counterparts, Royal Navy Sea Harrier pilots would get six to eight
weeks of additional training, including 30 additional flight hours and 15 to 25 hours on the simulators as of 2002.

Simulators: Then, Now, and in the Future

In prior generations of aircraft and simulators, the RAF trained in the air and practiced in the simulator. In future aircraft and simulators, the RAF believes it will need to teach and train in the simulator and consolidate in the air. With new technology and new generation aircraft, cognitive, cockpit, and systems management skills are as important as hand-eye coordination. As the emphasis on skills takes new directions, the training system must avoid teaching skills and practices that will rarely if ever be used in modern aircraft. The present system forces too much training on to the OCUs and often to the front-line squadrons, with a widely damaging effect on budget (flying hours cost, and eat up operational life of the airframe) and deployability of each squadron. 

The RAF has never really fallen in love with simulators, and the service continues to treat them with some suspect. The fear is that future budgetary decisions may force the direct substitution of flying hours with more simulator hours. This is seen (not completely without reason) as a threat to the quality of pilot’s training. The RAF position is that simulator training must be thought of as enhancing the total time spent training and not as replacing flight with simulator hours. While this is a sound logic and makes for very well prepared crews, it is a source of high costs and makes it hard for the pilots to meet their required flying hour targets, while simultaneously hard-working the airframes (pushing up mainteinance and need for spares) and hurting the capacity to deploy pilots and planes on operations, latest example being Libya’s Ellamy ops and their effect on pilots training, particularly for Typhoon.

This fear for simulators will have to be fought off quickly, particularly since most of the F35 training will involve simulation. The USAF is setting very ambitious targets in terms of simulator hours for pretty much all its fleets, but most notably for F35 and F22, both planes that, in fact, notoriously do not even have a twin-seat variant for flying training.

The goal must not be in determining priority between flight or simulator hours, but it must be about training effectiveness. If simulators are used to practice the less complex training events, a pilot could focus flying hours on the more complex tasks. Similarly, simulator hours could concentrate on complex tasks difficult to train for using flying hours, and flying hours could focus on tasks best accomplished by them. Fewer live flight hours could lead to the same training outcome if effective and efficient simulators were available. The RAF has been taking steps in this sense with simulators both classroom based and airplane based: the newest Hawk T2, which will train Typhoon and F35 pilots, has sophisticate built-in mission simulation capabilities, that will allow a training halfway between reality and simulation, while reducing hours needed on the actual fighter jet in OCU.

As a result, live flight hours could be reduced while increasing proficiency.
The new generation training view will require significant changes in attitudes, beliefs, and measures of behaviors. For example, the RAF measures pilot experience in hours. An open question is how to count simulator hours in the future. Flying hours are the widely accepted performance metric driving the structure of the system, as opposed to their being one measure of outcomes.
It’ll be necessary to trade real aircraft flight time for simulator training, which will help in buying the simulator capability and lower overall operating costs. It will be expensive to fly 240 hours in an aircraft like the JSF, but only 50 hours would be insufficient. But the live flying hours do not have to be used the same way in the future as they are now. It is hoped that an F35 mobile, network-capable simulator will be created, for example, which could be used in a base either at home or abroad, or inside an aircraft carrier, to help keep pilots current at all times. A lot of potential comes from Network-Enabled simulators, such as those used by the RAF in Benson, where the Puma simulator, 2 Merlin simulators and 3 Chinook simulators can be networked to provide simulation of a large scale mission involving all helicopters.
Realism will be indispensable, possibly going as far as re-creating the “fear factor” of live flying, to avoid pilots getting complacent about mistakes.

Currently, the RAF uses simulators a good bit in its OCUs. But squadrons use them a lot less. The flight-hour-to-simulator ratios vary by stage in the training pipeline.
In 2002, for initial training (Hawk), there was a 5:1 (live:simulator) ratio using a legacy syllabus. Pilots do 140 flying hours and 28 simulator hours. This increased to a ratio of 1.8:1 with reduction of flight hours from 140 to 106, and an increase in simulator hours from 28 to 60. In the OCU, the ratio was 4:1, but should have grown to  2:1 (80 flying hours and 40 simulator hours). For squadron continuation training, the 2002 ratio was about 15:1 (180–240 flying hours to 12 simulator hours). The figures I can report here are unfortunately not up to date, but finding exact figures is a complex task, and even these now-old ones are like gold. If someone is aware of current practice, I’d love to learn.  
In 2002 there was a “goal” of bringing the squadron continuation training on a 3:1 ratio (180 flying hours and 60 simulator hours) with the simulator hours consisting of one currency period and four tactical periods. I don’t know if this target was met: possibly for Typhoon, or possibly for none. But in time of budget constraints, the simulators will become more and more important: lately, even a Parachuting simulator for PARA and other air assault-units has been adopted by the british armed forces, and the Army has adopted simulators derived from high-fidelity videogames to deal with some aspect of Iraq and Afghanistan preparation. The RAF and FAA will have to draw heavily from simulators, to achieve a big reduction in “wasted” flying. The same number of total hours will be flown in a cheaper way… and there’s potential for them to be flown better, too. 
The F35 will sign the start of a new age in this sense.

Harmony Guidelines

It is now worth reasoning in terms of deployability, taking into account the Tour Interval Guidelines and Separated Service Harmony Guidelines of each service. Harmony Guidelines are designed to ensure harmony between competing aspects of Service personnel's lives: operations, time recuperating after operations, personal and professional development, unit formation and time with families. Two measures of harmony are used: Unit Tour Intervals and Separated Service. Unit Tour Intervals measure the frequency of deployment. Separated Service measures absence from normal place of duty or lack of freedom to enjoy leisure at the normal place of duty. Separated Service includes activities not captured by Unit Tour Intervals like pre- deployment training, exercises, public duties, recruitment activities, and other duties which result in personnel not sleeping in usual accommodation. 

The MoD began consistently reporting Unit Tour Intervals and Separated Service in 2006, although some data was collected already before then. Each Service has different criteria for Harmony Guidelines, reflecting different operational practices.

The guidelines can be found on the official government documents, and you can read them here. 
Unit Tour Intervals (UTI) guidelines by service

Naval Service: Fleet Units to spend maximum of 60% deployed in 36 months. These conditions of service apply to the whole RN, inclusive of Royal Marines Commandos, Commando Helicopter Force and Fleet Air Arm, even though Tours in Afghanistan see the Marines deployed in support of the Army, in a scheduled built to Army guidelines: as such, the 3rd Commando Brigade normally deploys every 4 tours. (4 x 6 = every 24 months, as army units)

[This can be exemplified by observing how 42, 45 Commandos and 29 Commandos Royal Artillery have deployed in Herrick V, then again on Herrick IX and are doing so again as part of Herrick XIV, with their deployment to be complete by April. 40 Commando deploys, under Army command, also every 24 months: it did so, for example, in Herrick VII and then as part of Herrick XII, and will deploy again in Herrick XVI]

Note that, however, the RM Commandos add to these tours a whole range of other long term deployments away from home, since their role is to cover Artic warfighting, which requires yearly exercises in Norway, and they are also tasked with Amphibious Assault, for which at least one full Commando unit embarks for a yearly exercise (currently Cougar 2011, in the Mediterranean).

Army: 24 month average interval between unit tours. Tour length is normally 6 months.

RAF: 16 month average interval between Unit tours, with a tour lenght of 4 months.

Separated Service guidelines by Service

Naval Service: In any 36 month period, no one to exceed 660 days Separated Service.

Army: In any 30 month period, no one to exceed 415 days Separated Service.

RAF: In an 12 month period, not more than 2.5% of personnel to exceed 140 days Separated Service. Later expressed as 280 days in a 24 months period.

The most receptive ones will have noticed that the UTI and Separated Service Guidelines of the Navy are almost exactly equal. 660 days indeed is roughly the 60% of 36 months period in deployment.
Assuming, for comfort, 30 days for month, for 36 months, is 1080 days. The 60% of it is 648 days. 660 days means 22 months in deployments of indicatively 6 to 9 months each.
Notably, despite the demanding guidelines, the report underlines that "the Royal Navy is able to meet its targets through front line gapping", which tells us that, despite broadly meeting its guidelines, the Naval Service is as stretched as the others.

For the Army. 24 months period between a six months deployment in combat zone (Unit Tour Guidelines) and a maximum of 415 days of combat/training/out of area deployment on a 30 months period. 415 days is a good 13 months.
Over 30 months, army personnel can be asked to deploy once in combat zone, for six months, and spend many more months away from “home” for exercises and pre-deployment training.

RAF personnel is given 16 months between a deployment and another, and in 12 months it can only do 140 days away from home, with only 2.5% of the total strength of the RAF being “authorized” to break these figures.
Tour length is four months, and in the 12 months in which a Squadron has had a warzone deployment the guidelines leave only around 3 weeks of out-of-area training, for example for exercises such as “Merlin Vortex” which saw the Merlin MK3 redeploy for training in Nevada, US, before they began their service in Afghanistan. 

Where do the problems lie? Well, for a thing, an aircraft carrier deploys for six or even nine months each time, and it is impensable to rotate the embarked squadron in the middle of a deployment. We could assume that the squadrons embarked would be included in the 2.5% of the personnel allowed to break guidelines, but does it make sense? Not really.

Having to rotate personnel in and out every four months is a problem, and puts an evident strain on logistics and, in an Afghanistan scenario, air transport. These graphics will make things clear: building on the Harmony guidelines of the three services, these graphics provide a plan for a continuous 36 months presence in a warzone abroad.

The above graphic shows a medium-intensity Navy style deployment. 6 month tour for each squadron, 12 months between tours. There is no indication of out of area training, but during the 36 months period each squadron could still be asked to be away from home for 10 months without breaching the guidelines. 

While is not the routine for Afghanistan, this is possible if the Navy is asked to cover an operation on her own. It is preferably not done in a Joint environment such as Afghanistan because such a demanding schedule of deployments, compared to the other services's performances, would cause quite some embarassment to both Army and RAF, and of course it would probably "hurt the sensibility" (to say the very least) of the Navy personnel, required to do so much more than the others. 

As a matter of fact, however, any of you can readers can check the rules at the link i provided earlier and do the math: even more demanding deployment timelines can be fitted within Navy harmony guidelines. 

The same deployment made in Army guidelines. A minimum of 5 Squadrons are needed to cover the same role. Any helicopter fleet with less than 5 Squadrons will be unable to deploy a whole squadron for an enduring deployment: only a Flight or Detachment of variable sizes will be sustainable. 

The same deployment, finally, covered with RAF rules. It still takes 5 squadrons, as with the Army, but there's the further disadvantage that personnel has to be transported in and out more times. 
If you'll have the patience of checking, you'll find that Chinook, Merlin, Harrier, are all fleets that do not manage to deploy more than a Flight on operations, and do so still breaching guidelines at times. Only the Tornado, with its 5-squadrons strong fleet (after cuts) is (in theory) capable of keeping a whole squadron deployed continuously abroad. 

For this and other reasons, I’m notoriously firmly convinced that carrier airplanes, and thus the JCA force, should be a Fleet Air Arm thing. However, since this is unlikely (to say the very least) to be allowed, I must inexorably put forwards my argument that the RAF guidelines MUST change.

My suggestion is that the air force personnel gets revised deployment guidelines, ideally at least something like:

Tour Length 6 months, break between tours 24 months, with at least 220 days of separated service each year, so to allow (when necessary) longer training and preparation deployments. They would still be quite permissive timelines compared to those of the other two services, and this revised set of rules would ease a lot of problems and improve deployability considerably. Such a revised timeline is ESSENTIAL if the RAF Squadrons are to be embarked to some effect on the aircraft carrier, as 220 days of separate service would allow the formation to embark for six months of deployment and have some more time that can be spent embarked or deployed abroad in training exercises.

Note that this will require also a quite expansive change in the expectations of RAF personnel in their terms of service. Now RAF personnel can expect:

1 - That their career will be based on land and primarily within the UK
2 - That they will operate mostly from their home base – rarely being required to be separated from their family and children for long unless there are ongoing operations abroad. Exercises will of course bring personnel away from home for weeks, but alone they aren't going to add up to comparable separation times. The pressures of Herrick and Telic, of course, have kept personnel deployed for much longer time. 

This will have to change, at least for who joins the F35C JCA force. Typhoon and other assets will be affected only when a conflict somewhere is going on, as in Peacetime, even with more demanding timelines, deployments abroad certainly won’t augment by much, since they do cost.
But if the RAF is to deploy at sea, the pilots that do will have to start thinking of their career more in Navy than in air force terms.

Otherwise, the Joint Carrier Strike Wing will not work, and it’ll be only an immensely expensive Tornado replacement with near none capacity of proficiently deploy abroad and at sea. A Joint approach is acceptable, if done in honest and correct way. Turn our heads away from certain facts will, inexorably, lead to a future in which a NAO reports and the press slam the “carriers” for delivering no air power.
But the problem lays in the airpower, not in the ships. And it is a problem evident already now. It must be tackled. 

UPDATE on Harmony Guidelines 

As of April 2014, Harmony Guidelines have been harmonized so that they are calculated on the same 36 months period. The new values are: 

Navy: 660 days in 36 months (unchanged, ratio of 18.33 days per month) 
Army: 498 days in 36 months (exact same 13.83 days per month ratio as before, just adjusted on 36 instead of 30 months) 
RAF: 468 days in 36 months (ratio of deployed days per month increased from 11.66 days to 13)  

RAF tours of duty are being formally uplifted from 4 to 6 months, a process underway since 2009 as part of a ISAF-wide harmonization relating to tours in Afghanistan. 
Six months are now the standard expected duration of a tour of duty for all services, although navy rules continue to account for longer tours, mainly connected to ship deployments but relating to embarked aviation as well and formally extensible to all units of Navy command.


The main bases 
Lossiemouth:  long term future secure, with 3 Typhoon squadrons and QRA North responsibility. Plans to move XV(R) Sqn, the Tornado GR4 OCU to Marham in 2015 seems to have been abandoned as unpractical.

Marham: safe as long as the Tornado fleet survives, RAF Marham has also been formally selected as F-35B main base and will receive substantial infrastructure investment because of it. A number of VTOL landing pads are planned, as well as refurbishment of runway and hardened shelters. An hangar is expected to house a Maintenance, repair and Operations (MRO) line for british F-35B, and another structure will have to be built for application of the stealth coating and its verification.

Coningsby:  main Typhoon base, with OCU, OEU, logistics, two frontline squadrons and with the responsibility for Quick Reaction Alert South. Its future appears secure well past 2020. 

Brize Norton: base of the transport and air refueling fleet, it is possibly the most secure base of all.

Valley: base of the advanced flying training, of a SAR flight and of SARTU (Search and Rescue Training Unit) which will disappear in a few years time due to the passafe of SAR to the civilian solution managed by the Department of Transport. 
Valley is however planned to receive Basic Flying Training in the coming years, as Tucano is replaced and Basic Training relocates away from Linton on Ouse.

Leeming and Linton-on-Ouse: flying training bases. Come 2018, Linton on Ouse is planned to lose its Basic Flying Training School, and closure might follow.

Benson: the Merlin HC3/3A is to go to the Navy and will move to Yeonvilton, freeing up quite a lot of space. RAF Benson is vital a base for the fleet of support helicopters of the RAF: the Puma, Merlin HC3 and Chinook simulators are based here, along with the Helicopter Ops controller teams and other essential parts of the fleet of utility helos. Its future is secure, I believe, mainly because moving all these formations and the simulators and logistics based here to anywhere else would be quite suicidal a move. One of the two Merlin squadrons, might become a new Chinook squadron as the new HC6 arrive and the Chinook force expands. The Chinook OCU flight is planned to move into Benson during 2015, and more Chinook might follow. It has not yet been firmly decided if Puma and Chinook OCU flight will be grouped into a new squadron, but i think it is quite likely. 

Odiham: the home of the Chinook squadrons. After a long period of uncertainty, its future now looks safe and several infrastructure improvements have finally received the go ahead.

Waddington: home of the Sentry fleet, of the future Rivet Joint fleet, of 39 and XIII Squadrons and their Reapers and, in my vision, home of the future fleet of Marittime Patrol aircraft that will inevitably prove necessary sometime soon, to further evidence how stupid it was to scrap the Nimrods.
A base that I definitely see as safe, and that would see a definite expansion in the future becoming home of the Scavenger fleet of drones if and when the programme progresses.

Northolt: home of the “Royals” with their VIP transport fleet.  

Including also Flyingdales and Menwith Hill, these are the main bases that will survive long time in the future. Several of the other stations across the country will be closed, however: the number of bases is unrealistically high compared to an ever shrinking overall fleet of flying machines, and much as it will cause an outcry and protests, it is time for everyone to realize that it is too simple to give no funds to the Armed Forces and then cry when the nearby base closes and delivers a blow to the local economy. It is one of many consequences of twenty and more years that have delivered only downsizing and cuts.

The Fleets: making the best possible use of them

Typhoon -   Best case, the fleet will number 107 planes by 2018, with the Tranche 1 planes being retired. The risk of going further down, to around 90, exists and has already been voiced by RAF top brass in a few interviews. The hope is that the cut-syndrome will one day reach a stall, and that 107 planes will survive (out of a planned fleet of 250, then 232, then 160!), because that is arguably the minimum realistic figure to maintain five frontline squadrons active in the coming decades. If the MOD is really lucky, someone will eventually buy at least some of the used RAF Tranche 1, but at the moment it does not look likely.

As painful as it is, the decision to retire the Tranche 1 early makes financial sense: the Tranche 1 planes came into service in four different standards: Block 1, Block 2, Block 2B and Block 5. All the Tranche 1s are being brought to Block 5 standard through the Retrofit R2, and when they reach this they receive the designation FRG4 from the RAF (T3 for the trainer twin-seat). The upgrade takes as long as 12 months for the older Block 1, and 6 for the Block 2B. The modifications also include a different rudder terminal, more resistant, and different external fuel tanks with internal pumps that allow a faster, easier balancing of the plane as fuel is used up.

The Tranche 2 entering service are even more advanced, and go under the name of Block 8: the avionics’ computers are more up to date, but this means different supports are needed than those used by Block 5, and a good part of the Line Replaceable Items are not compatible. The Tranche 2 airframe is also different, incorporating solutions that give it, in RAF words, a “considerably longer service life”.
Just this quick summary makes it evident that upgrade the old Tranche 1 planes would be expensive and require a lot of work. Overall, it is judged more effective to retire the old T1s and retain only the Tranche 2 and 3A, with better and up to date capabilities, with a long life ahead of them, and with the potential of being upgraded further.

Ample information about the Typhoon is available in the Eurofighter Typhoon article.

Typhoon frontline squadrons  

3 Squadron 

11 Squadron – Also based in Coningsby, it has been the first “swing role” squadron, being cleared for air to ground attack with laser guided bombs.

6 Squadron – RAF Lossiemouth. 

1 Squadron – RAF Lossiemouth.

II Squadron – Will stand up formally in January 2015 in Lossiemouth.

1453 Flight – The Falklands air defence element, with 3 aircraft and 1 on-site spare. Aircraft are known as Faith, Hope, Charity and the spare is Desperation.

Tanker aircraft fleet – Think Defence has had a detailed and perfect review of the tanker aircraft situation, and I can only agree with him that the Cargo variant of the airbus would have definitely been the best choice.  Probably, had the RAF been given funding and permission to buy the planes outright, it would have been aimed for the cargo variant. The PFI, however, planned to have part of the planes operating with civilian airlines as we all know, and this probably had merit in setting for the Passengers variant. This means a much reduced cargo capacity: the A330 MRTT has the traditional wide body 2-deck layout of the A330. The lower deck on both versions is the same; it can carry a combination of military 463L pallets and civilian LD3 and LD6 containers, typically either 8x 463L, 1x LD6 and 1x LD3 or 25x LD3. The difference is in the top deck, which in the RAF variant will have no cargo door and seats semi-permanently installed. Instead of seats, the upper deck in cargo variant could carry up to 26 more 463L pallets, within a cargo value of 45 tons. Palletized seats sets are also available, so that nearly infinite configurations of seats and pallets are available. Cargo-configured top deck can be fitted with up to 252 palletized seats. It is also likely that the palletised intensive care facilities used on C17 by the RAF won’t be compatible with the Voyager in the passenger configuration, while almost certainly if the top-deck had been acquired in cargo configuration we could have relieved the few C17s from the “flying hospital” role. 

On the other hand, the A330-200F Cargo Variant weights 11000 pounds more and carries 12000 pounds less transferable fuel, in exchange for all its advantages. 

But it is too late for changing the decision by now, anyway. But let’s try and look at the positive side: the A330 Voyager, however, still represents a massive improvement in capability from the Air to Air refueling fleet currently available, and offers some really impressive performances. Notably, some possible mission profiles include:

-          Self deployment. A Voyager can support a packet of four Typhoon fighters (for example) in a 5000 km deployment travel, while also carrying 15.000 kg of payload.
-          Towline missions: a Voyager can spend 4 hours and 30 minutes on station at 1850 kilometers from its base, refueling other planes from a reserve of 50 tons of fuel. In another scheme, with the distance reduced to 925 kilometers, the time on station is 5 hours, with 60 tons of fuel.
-          MEDEVAC role can see the plane fitted with up to 130 stretchers.
-          The Voyager will be able to carry 291 persons on a 6000 miles travel.

And already, there’s been official speculation of using it as an ISR platform as well: "FSTA is much more than a tanker," says chief of the air staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton. "It has the ability to stay airborne and provide a [communications] relay facility for much longer than our current aircraft types."

A400M fleet – Again I do agree with Think Defence here, when he suggests acquiring a few AAR kits for the new cargo plane. It would allow one single aircraft type to cover all of the needs of the Falklands garrison, and the A400M would be a precious and very effective tanker capable to easily resupply in flight helicopters. A niche capability, very precious, also to better support special forces operations. The AAR kits should and could be bought along with the French, who already plan to acquire them. With a funding contribution, the UK could acquire the possibility of using the kits when needed, and possibly have a limited number of them assigned to its needs. Joint maintenance with France and maybe even Germany’s fleet appears as the most promising way to achieve savings along the life of the fleet.

Notable A400 Atlas features include:

-          Combat troops load of 116
-          37 tons of useful payload
-          66 stretchers plus 8 seated medics in MEDEVAC configuration
-          Kneeling landing gear for ease of field operations of loading/unloading
-          3750 naval miles range with 20 tons payload
-          2600 naval miles range with 30 tons
-          1780 naval miles range with 37 tons maximum payload
      29 to 41 tonnes of transferable fuel can be carried (depend if the cargo-bay mounted tanks are used or not) and two refueling pods can be fitted under the wings. The A400 can refuel two fighter jets at 400 knots speed and 22000 feet of altitude, but also refuel helicopters at 110 knots and 5000 feet, something which the Voyager can’t do. 
       Take off at maximum weight in 3000 feet (To Be Confirmed) 
       Landing at maximum landing weight in 2000 feet (To Be Confirmed)
-          Cargo bay is 23,11 meters long, 4 meters wide and 3,85 meters tall, offering plenty of space for carrying even the latest vehicles, and the future FRES SV and UV. 

C17 fleet – The purchase of a 9th C-17, which months ago was on the verge of happening, now seems destined not to take place. The fleet of 8 C-17 remain a powerful capability; getting to 10 aircraft would have been a great boost, but budget and manpower constraints appear too tight to buy in to the few white tails Boeing still has available.

In future, fitting refueling probes to allow the super-cargos to refuel in flight might be not just good but necessary: the C17 was originally leased as a stop-gap interim measure during the waiting for the A400M, but its peculiar capabilities have made it a cornerstone of the RAF capability, and now this ‘defect’ can hardly be accepted. 

Once the pressure from operation Herrick lifts, it will be highly desirable, i would think, to develop the tactical capabilities of the C-17 which, so far, the RAF has not exploited. Short and austere runway capability, airdropping and all other tactical roles, which are what gives the C-17 an edge over the Antonov AN-124 which was considered as alternative, are to this day not used by the RAF. 
This has to change to get the most out of this great aircraft: if all it is used for is delivering oversize and heavy weight loads to good runways, then the AN-124 would have been a better pick, as it carries far more, both in weight and in volume. 

A Tactical airlifter?

The C17 and A400 are both “heavy lifters”, and by 2022 the C130J is expected to be gone, and even the Bae 125 (6) and 146 (2) used by “The Royals” RAF squadron for VIP transport will be retired some time in the 2020s. Since cargo transport will always remain a fundamental requirement in the future operations abroad, and since there are a whole lot of missions for which an A400 (and even more so a C17) are oversized and overexpensive, it might be a good move to look at solutions for a niche “Tactical Transport” capability. Also because the new types offer greater capabilities, but numbers are cruel, and by 2022 there will have been a massive drop in frontline strength.

I understand that the BAE 146 C.MK3 (two of which have been purchased as UOR) are doing well in Afghanistan, and at 40-some million completed with DIRCM countermeasures, they are a great deal. 
Unfortunately, their nature of UOR means that their long term future isn't certain. 
Even if they are retained, and even if they were to be uplifted in the number, they remain somewhat limited by their configuration and the lack of rear ramp, which limits cargo and pretty much forbids vehicle carrying capability. 

The best tactical airflifter alternative is the C27J Spartan: new design, military all the way, and excellent performances.
68 troops can be carried, or two up-armored HUMVEEs, or 36 stretchers and six attendants for MEDEVAC role, or 10.000 kg worth of standard pallets. A flying gunship palletized kit is in development (actually, two different gun systems are); a EW / Anti-IED jammer payload has been successfully employed by the italian air force in Afghanistan, and a VIP fit that can be installed in the cargo bay is available and has already been ordered by several customers.
However, the much higher standards in terms of avionics and self protection mean that the unitary cost is significant. 

The Bae 146 C.MK3 could be a good long term capability to retain. The kind of cargo delivery capability it lacks could be replaced somewhat by alternative approaches: the precision guided airdrop kits are coming up nicely and proving themselves workable, and with the US preparing systems suitable for delivery of large and heavy (up to 60.000 pounds) loads, a tactical airlifter might not be necessary, as large aircraft promise to soon not need to land to deliver tactical loads in the immediate proximity of the frontline.

Future Force 2020: SPEAR

The Selective Precision Effect At Range (SPEAR) is the most important and fascinating programme of the RAF for advanced weaponry and ammunitions for the next decade. Spear was conceived initially as a two-stage program. The so-called Drop 1 would cover a short-range weapon, with a powered weapon being purchased to meet the longer-range Drop 2 requirement.

Spear is now seen as comprising five capabilities, according to British industry executives. Capabilities 1 and 2 would likely be met by developments of the Raytheon Paveway IV and the MBDA Dual-Mode Brimstone, respectively. Capability 3 is understood to correspond to what was previously Spear Drop 2. The fourth element of the revised program encompasses upgrades to the Storm Shadow cruise missile, while the fifth element could cover a longer-range cruise missile.

SPEAR is also probably going to be the most expensive RAF weaponry programme, though, and we have to ask ourselves if:

-          It is justified and needed in all its parts?
-          Can’t it be done in a cheaper way?   

SPEAR Capability block 1

The main guided bomb in the future of the UK’s Armed Forces is obviously the Paveway IV, the latest addition to the RAF’s arsenal, already proven by usage in Afghanistan. Paveway IV is the british answer to the USAF’s JDAM, and it undoubtedly built on American experience with the Joint Direct Attack Munition: while the USAF first focused on a bomb guided on its targets by the GPS and then found out that a secondary laser-targeting mode was desirable, the Paveway IV was immediately conceived as a combined guidance weapon, using GPS and Laser, depending on the situation. The weapon is a guidance kit based on the existing Enhanced Paveway II Enhanced Computer Control Group (ECCG) added to a modified Mk 82 general-purpose bomb with increased penetration performance. The new ECCG contains a Height of Burst (HOB) sensor enabling air burst fusing options, and a SAASM (Selective Availability Anti Spoofing Module) compliant GPS receiver. It can be launched either IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) only, given sufficiently good Transfer Alignment, or using GPS guidance. Terminal laser guidance is available in either navigation mode. The bomb displayed amazing accuracy, and can be detonated at impact, with delay to exploit penetration against protected, buried targets, or it can detonate in the air for air-burst effect. The Paveway IV guidance kits can also be modified to fit other sized warheads, but for now it is being used only for 227 kg warheads. Its stand-off range is significantly greater than any other precision guided bomb. Paveway IV's unique manoeuvrability means that, if necessary, following launch it can turn and attack a target behind the delivery aircraft. The availability of dual-mode laser/GPS guidance within a single weapon also means that air forces do not have to incur the expense of maintaining two separate (laser and GPS) weapon stockpiles.

As part of SPEAR Capability block 1, a series of enhancements to the Paveway IV are to be pursued:

-          Low Yeld Warhead for reduced collateral damage in urban environment
-          Enhanced Penetrating Warhead for engagement of deeply-buried reinforced targets
-          Extended Range with wing-kit
-          Improvements to the GPS signals security

In particular, point 4 is already being undertaken by Raytheon, while point 3 should be the easier of all to fulfill, because the Paveway IV system is already compatible with the addition of wing-kits, and many such systems are already available, with an obvious leading contender in the form of the MBDA’s Diamond Back wing-kit, which would allow the bomb to glide for tens of miles to strike targets while keeping the launcher aircraft as far away as possible for enemy air defence weaponry.

Point two, perhaps the most interesting, is likely to be given the go-ahead early in 2015. It seems destined to replace the much larger 2000 pounds Paveway III with BLU-109 warhead. If the small 500 pounder can match the Paveway's III capability, that will be a massive achievement. 
Most likely aimed to an upgrade of the Paveway IV and AASM respectively, the joint UK-France development programme through MBDA of the bunker-buster Hardbut warhead is the most probable answer to this requirement.

The second test firing of the Hard and Deeply Buried Target (HARDBUT) Next Generation Multiple Warhead System (NGMWS) was carried out successfully at the Biscarrosse test range of DGA Essais de Missiles on 14th September 2010. The HARDBUT Technology Demonstration Programme (TDP) is a successful warhead research programme jointly funded by the UK MoD and French Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) with MBDA UK as the Prime Contractor. The NGMWS is designed to defeat a wide range of targets such as command and control facilities, infrastructure and underground facilities including caves, reflecting current and potential future operations.

All these modifications appear overall “easy” and relatively inexpensive, and I can’t find a single good reason for stopping these improvements. Savings would be little, while capability gaps would remain.

SPEAR Capability Block 2

We get to the Brimstone missile, which I think is the definitive anti-tank weapon. Fire and Forget, carried in numbers (up to 12 on a Tornado GR4, up to 18 on the Typhoon, even if integration on the second has yet to come) and deadly effective, the Brimstone gives the UK the capability to stop dead in their tracks large formations of enemy armor with a single sortie of a fighter jet. However, such a tank-busting scenario is (relatively) rare. I say relatively because the last time that such a mission could have been effected was just as far back as 2003 in Iraq, definitely not so long ago, much as some “experts” talk about 2003 like it was prehistory already. I think that, to whoever reads regularly this blog, argumentations such as “we did not need to employ tanks and anti-tank weaponry from 2003, they are useless in the modern world!” look like the total nonsense they are, so I won’t express just why such reasoning horrifies me. We could just say that, pretty much, every kind of equipment and the army itself is “useless” and “not employed” between a war and another. It is an affirmation on par with the earlier one, in terms of stupidity.

However, Afghanistan, and the second part of the Iraqi campaign, have been a quite different kind of war, the first COIN experience of the Army after the Northern Ireland campaign, and the first (but very possibly not last) experience of what COIN can really be in troublesome middle-east nations. Here, tanks have been rare or inexistent targets, while air strikes have often been required to tackle apparently much less challenging requests, such as killing surgically a lone Taliban sniper firing from a “killing hole” in a compound. This has led to major changes to the Brimstone missile, which has had to evolve to adapt to a whole different range of uses: mainly, this is visible in the Dual-Mode Brimstone and in the development of a Multipurpose HE/FRAG warhead addition in place of the purely anti-tank tandem warhead of the original design.  The Dual-Mode Brimstone adds to the original millimeter-microwave radar guidance a Semi-Active Laser mode, allowing for pin-point accuracy and for third-part designation of targets, most notably by hand-held target designators used by the troops on the ground. Typically, this reduces the load of a Tornado GR4 to 3 triple rails and 9 missiles, since the fourth Brimstone rail is replaced by a Laser-Designation pod such as Litening III, but in exchange, thanks also to modifications to the warhead including the addition of Blast-Fragmentation elements, the DMB is far more flexible and capable to engage targets going from a group of insurgents in the open or into a compound to single, lone snipers hidden in holes and behind walls. In other words, the most common targets in a COIN scenario such as Afghanistan.

The Brimstone Dual Mode offers the first true insight of what the Americans are trying to do with the Joint Attack Guided Missile (JAGM) project, destined to replace all Hellfire and Maverick missiles in the navy and army and air force. The Americans, building on the Hellfire (just as the Brimstone did) are trying to create a multi-mission missile with a triple seeker (millimeter-wave radar, Semi-Active Laser and Infra Red imaging) capable to engage static and moving targets with pin-point accuracy, low-collateral damage and ensured killing power against targets ranging from Main Battle Tanks to lone snipers in hiding, even in crowded urban setting. The US Armed Forces are hoping to make a reality the “single-stock” concept that should already be a reality in the UK thanks to the Brimstone: instead, despite being capable of replacing Hellfire on helicopters and drones, of being fired from fast-jets, drones and helicopters and even ground platforms and boats, the Brimstone never made it past the Tornado GR4 so far, with Hellfire being continuously bought in numbers for the drones and the Apache helicopters. 
There is, however, the idea to replace Hellfire on Apache by around 2021; and Reaper integration is a possibility, after successful firing trials carried out with US help. 

Now there is obvious scope for further developing the Brimstone Dual Mode, enhancing its Inert nature for improved handling safety, to make it modular so that it can be assembled pre-mission with the most adequate kind of warhead, to fit it with a base multi-mission explosive head and to make it the weapon of choices across the armed forces. And the SPEAR programme will likely, one day (finally) come around to this as solution to the “50 kg section”.

SPEAR Capability block 3

Targeted mainly at the F35, the Block 3 SPEAR is a cruise missile capable to be carried into the bomb bays of the JSF. As of 2010, the design of the weapon seems to have crystallized on what MBDA calls Capability 100B: essentially, a mini-Storm Shadow missile, weighting around 100 kg and with a range of 100 to 180 km. Reports (and the weight) seem to suggest that the 100B missile would be carried on a four-pylons rail in the fashion of the American Small Diameter Bomb: with a rail on each Air-Ground pylon in the two F35’s weapons bay, a single JSF would carry, stealthily, 8 missiles and 2 ASRAAM or 2 Meteor missiles.

SPEAR 3 will also reportedly have the capability to be employed against ships. The UK has been utterly abandoning the field of air-launched anti-ship missiles, and with the demise of the Nimrod MRA4 currently the UK has NO fixed wing platform at all which could employ anti-ship missiles against enemy vessels. This admittedly puzzles me, to say the least. Trying to sink a warship with laser-guided bombs is not really going to work without several planes being lost to the enemy air defence: the UK lost ships in the Falklands to bombs, but we should not forget how many argentine planes went down in flames to launch those bombs. And they were facing missile systems obsolete and primitive (Seacat) or still full of flaws and limitations (Sea Dart with its near incapacity of hitting anything flying low) that only years later would have been truly mitigated, or new and modern but still affected by teething problems (Sea Wolf). No one of us today would like to be ordered to get close to a Type 23 to drop bombs on it, with the levels of efficiency that the Sea Wolf has reached, and ships such as the Type 45 would cause a decimation in any formation of planes coming in heavy with bombs. We might argue that an engagement against big warships has been rare in the years (Uk forces have had to engage mostly just small corvettes and FACs that Lynx with Sea Skua could easily dispose of, in the last few wars, and in the Falklands, luckily, the torpedoes of HMS Conqueror were enough to send the argies back in port before the task force was put before the trouble of finding a way to deal with the 25 De Mayo and its escorts…) but I think this is not nearly enough. Even the Royal Navy SSNs do not have anymore a sub-launched anti-ship missile after the Sub-Harpoon was retired, so they’d need to repeat the HMS Conqueror feat and come real close to their targets in a war, and the Type 45 is still bare of anti-ship missiles, even if HMS Duncan has finally been fitted with the base infrastructure and hopefully will get an ex-Type 22 Batch 3 missile load sometime soon. This does not seem like much of a problem until we reason in terms of COIN, but one day these deficiencies might cause serious trouble.
I see another role, in which a stealthy F35 would want to carry all its weapons inside: Suppression of Enemy Air Defences. SEAD missions will continue to be necessary to enable an air campaign over a technologic enemy, and SAM systems continue being high on the wish list of most nations, from Iran to Venezuela, since they are the simplest and cheapest way to contest air superiority. Iran knows that its air force has little chances of rivaling with the US and NATO forces in the sky, and creating an air force capable to truly compete requires immense amounts of money, advanced airplanes, training, expertise and AWACS platforms. SAMs are a far cheaper and simpler “Air Superiority-Denial” asset that can give headaches to the enemy.

The ALARM has now been withdrawn without replacement. Differently from the AGM-88 HARM, the ALARM packed all the sensors it needs to target enemy radar emissions, while Germany and Italy had to modify a few tens of their own Tornado GR1 to make them “ECR”, cleared for the electronic war, for seeking, targeting and destroying enemy radars. The Typhoon could in theory carry up to 6 ALARM, but now the RAF is left withou an anti-radiation missile and no plan to get a replacement. 

An option studied in the past years has, in my opinion, lots of merit: 

The Dual Role Meteor

MBDA has been touting a fascinating proposal: an anti-radar offspring of the Meteor BVRAAM missile. Combining active and passive radar sensors, this Meteor development would almost replicate the concept of AWACS-Killer air to air missile so loved by the Russians, by making the Meteor capable to lock in the electromagnetic signals coming from an enemy ground radar or AWACS and kill them. Advantages are many: commonality, economies of scale given by a greater number of missiles acquired, a missile that might be capable to cover two very different roles at once and, very important, it would be a missile sized to fit perfectly into the F35 weapons bay. Such a radar-killing Meteor would have increased chances in air to air combat too, capable to follow enemy radars without emitting tell-tale signals that inexorably warn the enemy that a missile is coming for them. Compared to the HARM, it would offer a much higher speed and a greater range by far. Capable of over Mach-4, the Meteor ARM would replicate the original concept behind the HARM (High-speed Anti Radiation Missile): it would be faster than the SAMs, and it would kill their guidance radar before they can strike the attacking aircraft. A GPS system could memorize the position of the enemy radar, so to still be able to complete the engagement even if the enemy was to turn the radar off once detected, and since the Meteor comes from the start with a two-ways data link, it could be possible to retarget the missile in real time towards a different radiation-source if the primary target was lost and rules of engagement denied the possibility of a “blind” strike. Again, retaining at the same time the active radar seeker in the same missile, with the adequate software the Meteor would become capable to engage ground targets as well.

This concept would follow the line that the USAF and US Navy are tracing with their Joint Dual Role Air Dominance Missile (JDRADM) a programme still in its early phase of life, which is targeted at developing a successor to the Sparrow, AMRAAM and HARM missiles, capable to attack air and ground targets, combining active and passive radar guidance while retaining AMRAAM-compatible sizes, so to ensure ready and easy integration and allowing internal carriage on F22 and F35. It is likely that such a double-role Meteor would have an higher unitary cost, but advantages would come from having a single, larger stock of missiles covering all roles. A Meteor with an air-ground capability, besides, would come a lot more handy, in a lot more situations.

Challenges, of course, are not as trivial as it seems: fitting both active and passive radar seeker into the limited space available is a noticeable feat of technique. But it is also a feat already done more than one time. The same AARGM 88E, the latest HARM variant, has a seeker of this kind, and another was part of the then-abandoned german Armiger missile.  A sizeable expansion of the software of the missile will be needed, very possibly a new proximity fuze better capable to determine when to detonate the warhead to deal with the new range of targets (radar aerials, vehicles, troop concentrations) will be needed, along with modifications to the fragmentation warhead, which will probably require an enhancement, primarily to fire heavier, deadlier fragments capable to kill the mobile radar vehicles of SAM batteries. The useful “loiter” mode of the ALARM will be lost, but trying to replicate it would be terribly expensive and hardly justifiable, considering that, at over Mach 4, the Meteor will offer a reaction-time short enough to compensate.

MBDA sustains the feasibility of this kind of approach. However, on top of the technical challenges, there is to consider that the UK risks being alone in funding such a development, unless France (far less likely Spain and Sweden or others) can be lured into a common programme. Germany and Italy, in fact, have invested lots of money in the new, enhanced AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile: essentially, an improved HARM. Italy spent 158 millions euro to acquire 250 missiles and have them integrated on its 30-some Tornado ECR, and Germany also invested in this programme, making it unlikely to see them committing precious funding into yet another anti-radar missile anytime soon. Similarly, the JDRADM risks being really expensive a programme to join, and the new missile might come too late to replace ALARM, and too soon to make it acceptable to replace the Meteor after investing so heavily in it. Buying the AGM88E, however, (which is pretty much the last option on the table) would be far less than optimal.

So far, the dual role Meteor is sadly not progressing.

SPEAR Capability Block 4

MBDA-Led, joint anglo-french upgrade and sustainment programme for the Storm Shadow missile. Italy, being the third major user of the missile, could likely participate to the upgrade programme, while Saudi Arabia is unlikely to collaborate, save probably having its missiles later updated by BAE.

Not much is really known and firm about these future upgrades, but a two-way datalink is almost certainly going to figure, to allow re-targeting and increasing the control over the missile post-launch, just as with the latest Tomahawk IV. Other improvements are likely to include an increase of the range of the missile, particularly since the upgrade will build upon experience matured with the SCALP Navale with its 1000+ km range.

It is to be noted that the 250 km range figure for Storm Shadow is the range for a low-flight profile engagement from launch to hit. If the missile could do at least part of the cruise at altitude, efficiency of the propulsion would be much higher, allowing for a much longer range.

The TAURUS KEPD350, to provide an example, has a ceiling cruise altitude of over 7000 meters. Flying at altitude requires less consume of fuel, so that, when it is possible to fly the missile at altitude, range grows to 350 km, or even to over 500 in some attack profiles.

It is widenly thought that the real range of Storm Shadow is much higher than 250 km, but the exact data is of course classified.

Another upgrade considered for Storm Shadow was the DUMAS, for which development started in 2006 in a collaborative programme with France. DUMAS technology combines an active infrared scanning laser and a passive infrared detector which, used in conjunction with sophisticated algorithms, detects, images and identifies targets. 
DUMAS will improve existing and new missile systems by increasing target search areas and by providing powerful automated target identification capabilities. It was meant to  demonstrate a new seeker capable to guide the missile on moving, difficult targets, while also providing before-strike enhanced imagery, valid also to conduct a first mission-effect estimate.
The DUMAS is believed to have informed subsequent developments and researches tied not just to the Storm Shadow but also other elements of SPEAR.   

SPEAR Capability Block 5

Rumours about this last touted development went as far as to suggest a 600+ km supersonic cruise missile. Frankly, this looks largely injustified, unless:

1)      – The RAF is trying to sell this missile, if nuclear-tipped, as a “cheaper” option to replace Trident
2)      – The RAF with this missile aims to reduce the importance (and priority) acquired in the last few   years by the strike capability of TLAM-equipped navy submarines.

In both cases, this missile would still be the worst possible decision, and it represents the last thing I’d use funding for, much as it fascinates me. I struggle to justify it, or find a real role for it in the balance of the forces. The more I think about it, and the more it looks like the personification of the desire of the RAF of getting back in charge of strategic strikes, downplaying the utility (and need) of Tomahawk.

In more recent times, SPEAR 5 might have actually been absorbed by the joint studies with France for a Future Cruise and Anti Ship Missile meant to replace Storm Shadow and anti-ship missiles on french and british ships. This is far more interesting, but the talk is of a 2030 target date for any actual product, which is way too far in time.


-          ASRAAM, later updated building on the CAMM missile development, will remain the short-range weapons for air to air duels.
-          METEOR, to become the main anti-air asset of the RAF replacing AMRAAM, should be further developed to take on the role of ALARM as well and take on a full multi-mission capability.
-          PAVEWAY IV, the main guided bomb, and possibly, at some point in the future, the only model of guided bomb kept in service. Improvements to include a weapon data link and anti-jam GPS to start with. A wider range of warheads should be made available for the common guidance kit, including a reduced-yield warhead and a bunker-buster one building on HARDBUT. A wing kit is somewhat desirable, but it does not look like an urgency, and with money being at such a premium, this upgrade should be delayed. The IR-Imaging seeker looks more sensible, since it would make the Paveway IV even more accurate, and capable to strike even fast moving targets, if the similarly-kitted JDAM is an example to trust.
-          Capability Block 2 
-          Capability Block 3 looks quite useful and undoubtedly fascinating, but not entirely justified. An alternative option is buying the already available Small Diameter Bomb II, capable to defeat even a moving MBT. It is not a powered weapon, but it can glide up to 75 naval miles in optimal conditions of launch, and might suffice. It’ll have the bonus of coming already integrated on the F35. The most sensible approach however, in my opinion remains the deferral of this voice of expenditure, with the money re-directed towards the earlier proposed Meteor upgrades, so to close the bleeding gap in SEAD capability.
-          Capability Block 4 by 2020/25, the Storm Shadow will definitely need an upgrade to stay in step with the natural evolution of requirements and technology. No reasons to deferr the updates, particularly because this should be the least expensive element of SPEAR.
-          Capability Block 5 might be turning into the Future Cruise and Anti-Ship Missile studied jointly with France. However, the target date for an (eventual) entry in service is 2030, so it is not going to be a solution to any requirement for a lot more time.


Budget and numbers

A recent internal Defense Ministry document puts a nominal price and program size on Scavenger. Life-cycle costs are estimated at £2 billion ($3.3 billion). The procurement would be for 20 aircraft to support operational needs, although an additional 10 air vehicles would likely be needed as attrition reserve for a 15-year program life, so I will assume the acquisition of 30 drones. The development and fielding timeline is expected to stretch eight years, so the ISD target date is around 2018.

The 2 billion figure for life-life total expense for the programme is a good starting point to try and determine the budget that is expected to be used for Scavenger. Normally, through-life support for an asset is the source of (indicatively) 60% of the cost. Assuming this empiric value for Scavenger, we see that perhaps as many as 1200 millions will be necessary for running the system in its 15-year operative life. This would leave 800 million pounds for acquisition of the machines, but a billion has also been previously mentioned as a possible budget for this procurement. A fleet of 30 machines would thus mean an unitary cost ranging from 27 to over 33 million pounds for each drone. This is roughly the same that the UK is paying to acquire US MQ-9 Reapers, according to the figures reported: 5 drones are being acquired for a total of 135 million pounds, or 27 millions per drone.

This might be a bit optimistic: Scavenger will most likely be the result of the joint work of BAE and Dassault, and it will be a new machine born out of a requirement list that, as much as possible, will have to harmonize the needs and requirements of the RAF, the RN, the British Army, and also those put forwards by France. The french plan for a long-term fleet of up to 60 drones, and the new machine could gain significant export orders if things are done the right way, but even so there will be design costs, inflation and capabilities to pay for, and while some of today's technology will become cheaper by the time Scavenger hits production, undoubtedly there will be costs coming up from other aspects.

It has also been suggested that Scavenger would be a way to mitigate operational shortfalls the U.K. will face as a result of program cuts made in last year’s Strategic Defense and Security Review. In particular, the system has been touted as a means to take on some of the maritime surveillance tasks left unmet by the cancellation of the Nimrod MRA4 program and by the ground-surveillance requirements that the Sentinel R1’s retirement would bring.

The doctrine center's report, however, wisely pours cold water any many of those notions. “Scavenger is unlikely to be in the same class as Sentinel in terms of its ability to monitor a very wide area or to provide radar imagery at equivalent standoff ranges.” For maritime surveillance, the current notion for Scavenger would only “partly alleviate” the loss of the Nimrod MRA4, with effectively no contribution to the anti-submarine warfare mission unless the unmanned aircraft’s envisioned role changes dramatically. It is in fact self-evident that, while Scavenger could go and do surface searches (without the speed and range of the MRA4, however, and with sensors inexorably smaller and less powerful), it will have no ASW capability at all. Nevertheless, the Royal Navy is working to help set the Scavenger requirement, in part to ensure that forces at sea can benefit from the intelligence collected.

The Navy also wants to plug a tactical surveillance hole, and this year will demonstrate a medium unmanned helicopter capability to help refine its needs. This, however, is likely to evolve into a Fire Scout-like unmanned helicopter, and will substantially be the drone that will be operated out of the Type 26 frigates and other warships. Such an unmanned helicopter, is hoped, could also help the army fill certain other specific needs of the ground forces while retaining the highest possible commonality with navy drones. I will later take my shots about what this might mean, but what should be clear is that this drone requirement is separated from Scavenger, which aims at fielding a Medium Altitude, Long Endurance drone which can complement and replace the Reaper.

The present: MQ-9 Reaper

in January 2005 the 1115° RAF Flight was established at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, to operate US Air Force-owned General Atomics M/RQ-1 Predator unmanned Remotley Piloted Air System (RPAS). RPAS is the official RAF acronym for drones: the name is meant to make it real clear that the airplane is piloted and controlled by human beings, even if there is no pilot on board. Admirable effort in political correctness, but as expected not enough to avoid tons of countless examples of scaremongering about “terminator machines” and unmanned platforms “which drop bombs on their own”. The press is an enemy that can't be defeated, unfortunately, so that's how things go.

45 members of the RAF were assigned to this bi-national collaborative programme, which also allowed the UK to have voice and direct participation in a whole series of tests, trials and experiments about the use of drones, their limits, their good points, and the kit that they need/best operate with. This practice became known as the Joint UAV Experimentation Programme (JUEP), which looked at RPAS applications for other emerging requirements. Part of these trials, between December 2005 and February 2005, saw the testing of a RAPTOR reconnaissance system on board of Reaper. During those trials a DB-110 recce sensor and tactical data link taken from a Royal Air Force RAPTOR targeting pod was integrated into a US Air National Guard stores pod normally carried by a Lockheed Martin F-16. The new configuration was carried on the inner port pylon of a National Guard's Predator B's wing. The proposed compact DB-110 pod is optimised for carriage on a centreline pylon, and could provide the basis for a highly integrated cross cueing sensor suite for the Reaper.

On 3 January 2007, as the RAFacquired 3 MQ-9 Reaper drones from the US as part of a UOR for Afghanistan, the 39 Squadron RAF, which had last operated with the English Electric Camberra recce plane up to 2006, was reformed to operate the new machines. The RAF squadron was reformed on RAF Waddington air base, but it actually works in Creech AFB, Nevada, in the United States. The 45 men already present in the base became the 'A Flight' and continued with their collaboration with the USAF, while 'B', 'C' and 'D' Flights were formed to operate the 3 Reapers, which were deployed to Kandahar airfield to provide a persistent ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) capability to British and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

In 2009, the 39 Squadron lined, in Creech AFB, a force of 12 two-man crews, assigned to a fleet of 3 Reapers, which became two after one was lost in Afghanistan to an engine failure and crashed in June 2008. A team of Special Forces was sent into the crash site to remove the secret technical equipment, after which the wreckage was destroyed by RAF Harriers.
Although the aircraft can fly for up to 17 hours, when fully armed, the crews only fly for a maximum of four hours each to ensure fresh eyes are always watching the British troops on the ground. And because much of the flying is on autopilot, crews can take lavatory breaks, stretch their legs and, in some circumstances, take a call from their wives.
The crews are supported by a tri-service team of intelligence specialists, signalers and meteorologists and part of the personnel works in Afghanistan to maintain the drones themselves, in Kandahar.

In the control room of the Reaper, at Creech AFB, the pilot sits on the left-hand side and the sensor operator sits on the right. The pilot has a throttle and a joystick from where he can release bombs or fire missiles. In front of the crew are 10 computer screens, of which two provide high-resolution, real-time video imagery of the ground. The other screens provide the crew with the information they need to fly the mission. Crews talk to Joint Tactical Air Controllers (JTacs) – the troops who identify targets and call in air strikes – on the ground in Helmand. When a Reaper is providing top cover for British troops, the JTac is in constant communication with the crew. Using a device known as a "Rover", a laptop computer, the JTac can also see the same video image as the crews in Creech and can direct the Reaper onto targets.
The crews often work with members of the Special Forces conducting surveillance and strike operations against senior al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders or High Value Targets (HVTs).

The RAF reapers were used for RECCE only for roughly a year, and the drones began to carry weaponry only in early 2008. The drones use Paveway bombs and Hellfire of various variants (included the Hellfire N, armed with a thermobaric warhead) but are not currently capable of using british stores such as Paveway IV and Brimstone, because no integration has been funded. Notably, for ease of use on Reaper, a twin rail for Brimstone is available, but the RAF has not acquired this.
Currently, 4 Reapers are available, and a further five are on order. 9 Reapers will allow the RAF to keep up to 3 simultaneously in the air over Helmand.

In 2012, it has been announced, XIII RAF Squadron will be reformed on RAF Waddington to use the new Reapers, and command them (finally) from the UK. It is not totally clear if 39 RAF Squadron will progressively relocate back to Waddington or if that is not on the plans yet.

The main stats for Reaper are: 
Weight - Empty: 1676 kg
Fuel capacity: 1815 kg / 2230 liters
Max Take-Off weight: 4763 kg with 385 kg of sensors and 1360 of weapons
Weaponry load: four underwing pylons, normally loaded with 2 x 500lb Paveway laser guided bombs and
4 Hellfire missiles on two twin rails
Speed: 260 knots maximum, 200 knots cruise
Endurance: 17 hours fully armed – 2 Paveway + 4 Hellfire
24 hours unarmed (up to 28 according to some sources)
14 hours maximum endurance at maximum load   
Max Range: 5927 km
Weight: 10,000 lbs
Maximum altitude when armed: 25,000ft
 Unarmed 50,000ft
Wing Span: 60ft
Length: 36 ft
Engine: 1 x 1000HP turbo prop
Sensors: three cameras - Day TV, low light, infra-red.
AN/APY-8 Lynx II Synthetic Aperture Radar, range 85 Km
Electro-Optic sensor turret with laser targeting
Store Pylons: 7
o    Up to 1,500 lb (680 kg) on the two inboard weapons stations
o    Up to 750 lb (340 kg) on the two middle stations
o    Up to 150 lb (68 kg) on the outboard stations
o    Center station is currently not used

More stores can be carried than those used currently in Afghanistan, but two bombs and four Hellfires is the standard loadout. Stinger missiles have been trialed on the outwards pylon, and the USAF plans to test AIM-9X Sidewinder and even AIM-120C AMRAAM on it at some point, while also integrating a maximum load of 4 BRU-61 pylons with 16 Small Diameter Bombs.

The Reaper can be dismantled into its main parts and fitted into a purposefully-designed container for carriage inside cargo aircrafts such as C130J and C17.
The MQ-9 aircraft operates from standard U.S. airfields with clear line-of-sight to the ground data terminal antenna which provides line-of-sight communications for takeoff and landing. The PPSL provides over-the-horizon communications for the aircraft and sensors. 

An alternate method of employment, Remote Split Operations, employs a GCS for takeoff and landing operations at the forward operating location, while the CONUS-based crew executes the mission via beyond-line-of-sight links (satellite). This is the method used, also by the RAF, for operations in Afghanistan.