The military’s fighter jet fleet is “appallingly” low in numbers and would struggle to defend the UK in an all-out war, MPs have said.
The cuts outlined in the 2021 Defense Command Paper will create a gap in combat air capacity that will last into the 2030s, leaving the UK “dangerously exposed”, the House of Commons Defense Committee said in a report.
The panel criticized the retirement of the fleet of C-130J Hercules transport aircraft seven years ahead of the planned retirement date.
Our current fleet does not have the mass needed to withstand the attrition of an all-out war with an equal opponent
The move would significantly limit the capacity of the RAF’s air mobility fleet to support defense operations and humanitarian missions and would particularly hamper special forces, it said.
The decision to reduce Britain’s fleet of Wedgetail E-7 early warning aircraft from five to three is “the most perverse” of all the cuts in the Defense Command Paper, the report says.
Delays in flight training programs in recent years were also described as “completely unacceptable”, noting years of waits for pilots to qualify were a concern for morale and the effectiveness of the force.
The Ministry of Defense (MoD) will spend more than £55 million sending pilots abroad for fast jet training because of a shortage of aircraft, MPs have found.
They also said the increasing use of simulators for flight training was “not optimal” for pilots and ground crew and “not a replacement” for live flying.
Tobias Ellwood, Chairman of the Defense Committee, said: “The capability of air power can determine the success or failure of a military. The ability to control the skies is critical in modern warfare, and aircraft provide our armed forces with unparalleled range, altitude and speed.
“Since the end of the Cold War, the RAF’s fleet has been greatly reduced in numbers, falling to just a third of its previous size. Our report released today concluded that budget cuts – including those in the last Defense Command Paper – have resulted in air capacity gaps that will persist into the next decade.
“Our investigation found that the RAF has prioritized quality over quantity, leaving us with a fleet of fighter aircraft that are high quality and expensive, but which are worryingly low in number. Our current fleet does not reach the necessary mass to withstand the attrition of a full-scale war with an equal opponent. It is urgent to fix this problem. Closing capability gaps will only increase them in the long run.”
He added: “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marked the beginning of a darker and more dangerous era for Europe.” Yet the Defense Department has failed to reverse any of the cuts to our aviation capabilities made in 2021.
“If the Department of Defense refuses to read the signs of the times and make appropriate investments, we are in for turbulent times.”
A Ministry of Defense spokesman said: “The RAF remains a world-leading defense force and has the necessary capabilities to meet NATO and UK commitments.”
“With the RAF on a 24/7 defense of the UK and protecting our overseas territories and interests, its capabilities and personnel play a crucial role in quickly dealing with threats wherever they arise in the world.
“The RAF is also driving change by investing in the cutting-edge technology and modern aircraft needed to fly and fight effectively, while rapidly tackling known challenges like the flight training pipeline.”
“The committee’s report recognizes that the updated Defense Command Paper aims to address the threats we face now and in the future.”
https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/mps-ministry-of-defence-raf-tobias-ellwood-mod-b1106015.html MPs warn Britain is ‘dangerously vulnerable’ due to fighter jet fleet cuts