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On Fewer Wings and a Prayer for the Future: The RAF and the Defence Command Paper

Justin Bronk
RUSI Defence Systems, 23 March 2021
Air Power and Technology, Martial Power Programme, Military Sciences, UK Integrated Review 2021
There are notable positive outcomes for the RAF, especially a long-overdue AESA radar upgrade for Typhoon and part-renewal of the Chinook fleet. However, there are also significant cuts to operational capability and key questions remain as yet unanswered.

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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Justin Bronk
Research Fellow, Airpower and Technology

Justin Bronk is the Research Fellow for Airpower and Technology in the Military Sciences team at RUSI. He is also Editor of the... read more

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