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The headline changes to the RAF’s force structure may lack the dramatic scale of those being undertaken by the British Army. Nevertheless, the Defence Command Paper (DCP) signals a significant course change for the RAF.
The fixed and rotary wing mobility fleets, in particular, have suffered major cuts. Nine of the oldest CH-47 Chinooks are to be retired, although the intent is to subsequently replace them with new-build CH-47F/G airframes as part of a fleet upgrade programme. Here, the results should be greater Chinook force capability and efficiency in the medium term. However, the remaining 14 C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft will be retired without replacement, and the baton passed entirely to the 22-strong A-400M Atlas fleet, which will further ‘increase its capacity and capability’. Puma and the other small medium-lift helicopter fleets such as Gazelle and Griffin will be retired, with the intention to invest in a single new medium-lift helicopter capability in the mid-2020s.
This rationalisation of the mobility fleets is a logical decision in the context of the cuts being made across defence to fund modernisation and strategic realignment. Despite having given sterling service, the C-130J Super Hercules and Puma HC-2 fleets each share significant capability overlaps with lighter and heavier stablemates. As a result, they were the most logical choices to rationalise the number of fleets in a mobility force that was originally right-sized to support enduring operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The move will result in a notable loss in mobility capacity but few distinct mission capabilities that cannot be at least partially covered by other types.
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