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Jane's Defence Weekly UK brings forward Tornado retirement date ... again
Gareth Jennings Jane's Aviation Desk Editor
London The out of service (OSD) date for the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) fleet of Panavia Tornado GR.4 strike aircraft has been brought forward by a further two years, and the type could be retired earlier still, according to the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Defence Equipment, Support and Technology) Peter Luff. Answering questions in the House of Commons on the introduction into service later in the decade of the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), Luff said on 21 June that: "For planning purposes, the assumed out of service date for Tornado is 2019, but no firm decisions need to be taken before the next [Strategic Defence and Security Review] SDSR in 2015." Prior to the minister's comments, the Tornado's OSD had been set at 2021 (brought forward from 2025 during the SDSR in October 2010). As part of the 2010 SDSR, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it would reduce the GR.4 force from the 40 force elements (FE) then operational to 18 FEs by March 2015. With an FE representing the aircraft required to sustain ongoing operations plus a number held in readiness to deploy in the event of a crisis, a force size of 18 FEs would suggest a fleet of 49 aircraft (based on 40 FEs comprising the 108 aircraft operational at the time of the force reduction announcement). At that time the ministry said this reduction would take place "gradually to coincide with the end of operations in Afghanistan and the build-up of our [Eurofighter] Typhoon force". In his comments to the House, Luff said: "We are reviewing, as part of normal business, how we intend to manage the transition between Tornado, Typhoon and the JSF. We plan to run down the Tornado force broadly in line with the buildup of the Typhoon force, and the introduction of the JSF at the end of the decade. This will ensure we retain the operational capability we require." The MoD had not responded to a request for confirmation of the new Tornado OSD by the time IHS Jane's went to press. ANALYSISAs part of SDSR and the MoD's force reduction programme, the RAF's stated intention is to base its future capabilities around two aircraft types per mission. For the fast jet fleet this translates into the Typhoon and one other (with the JSF eventually replacing the other platform).
With the Typhoon only capable of an austere air-to-surface capability with the Paveway II precision-guided munition and its 27 mm internal cannon, the remaining platform would be responsible for the lion's share of the RAF's ground attack duties for the short- to medium-term at least.
The Tornado was consequently spared the SDSR axe that befell the BAE Systems Harrier GR.9 fleet in 2010, as it was capable of carrying a wider range of air-to-surface weaponry (including the MBDA Storm Shadow stand-off cruise missile) and was available in adequate numbers to sustain operations in Afghanistan at the same time as maintaining an adequate contingency capability (as was demonstrated with the Libyan campaign).
However, with combat operations over Afghanistan set to conclude by the end of 2014, and with development of the F-35B and the P1EA upgrade for the Typhoon progressing well (under which it will receive a more complete air-to-surface capability with other upgrades following), the MoD would appear to feel that the savings made by bringing forward yet further the retirement of the Tornado will not come at the cost of a reduced capability.
Various studies were done in the past. Recently Boeing launched a stealthier version of the strike Eagle (which is very un stealthy..)
I guess Europe could step in. But the issue is everyone sits on their specific requirements and demands a fair share for their own industry. Hampering every european project. And resulting in e.g. the Typhoon having no stealth, thrust vectoring, range and phased array radar and a substandard air to ground capability. When everyone could see it was a good idea 20 yrs ago, but couldn't change the politically negotiated contract..
Simply giving e.g Dassault the required billions and deadline and have them hire the best euro supply chain is undiscussable.. we demand a fair slice of the pie and country specifics & the costs and planning explodes in our faces..
..the issue is everyone sits on their specific requirements and demands a fair share for their own industry. Hampering every european project...
The system of procurement for complex weapons systems such as 5th generation fighters is just not fit for purpose in my opinion. The costs are so huge that you have to have multinational collaboration; In Europe this inevitably means a variety of conflicting military, political and commercial agendas which will push and pull the project around from start to finish. It will take so long to complete that once you've got there, you've forgotten why you needed it in the first place. You may end up with just what is required at that time - if you are very lucky. So you have to make it multi/omni/swing role to hedge your bets, but that means more compromise along the way.
I am struggling to rationalise how we got here, but guess it's a combination of defence companies over-specifying and under-pricing at the outset, which whets the appetite of the military brass for the latest and shiniest new kit that will solve all their conundrums. As soon as they understand what they are getting, they will then change the specifications half-way through development. Governments moaned and groaned about escalating costs, but times were good and taxation could always sort it out. But that's no longer true, and some projects which were started in the champagne days are having to be finished as the soup kitchens multiply. It's also probably due to a change in society which does not accept military casualties as in the past, and therefore technology is expected to reduce individual risk at the expense of very great complexity and cost. Hard to argue against if you're the guy at the sharp end.
So there's the problem. It's just the solution that's the difficult bit. If the world economy suddenly reignites, the process goes back to how it was before - not efficient, not correct but manageable and accepted. If it doesn't then you just have to get through the current batch of costly, inefficient projects and wait for the good times to return and memory to fade before aiming high again. I don't think we learn from history.
Of course, you may think very differently.
Last edited by Lowe Flieger; 14th Aug 2012 at 17:03.