Air International 2008-02
J.Lake - RAF at 90 - A Gathering Storm? /Military/ (2)
The RAF is investing significant resources in its ISTAR capability, the latest addition being the Sentinel R.1, which will be used for battlefield surveillance. The type is pictured in formation with the other two aircraft types that are based at RAF Waddington and undertake ISTAR, a Nimrod R.1 and an E-3D Sentry AEW.1.
Jaguars were retired from RAF service in 2007 and in doing so the airforce lost what many viewed as the most versatile and deployable fast jet in the inventory.
RAF Tornado GR.4s are currently supporting ground forces operating in Iraq, flying missions from Al Udeid AB in Qatar. The type has recently had the Litening III pod integrated, which can provide high quality video imagery from medium level that can be datalinked to troops. The RAPTOR reconnaissance pod is also expected to fully enter service in the near future. The aircraft pictured is from 31 Sqn and is carrying an LGB.
AirTanker was selected to provide the Airbus A330 MRTT to replace the VC.10 and Tristar. However, delays to finalising the PFI contract mean that the two aircraft types currently in service may have to soldier on until 2015.
An undoubted success has been the C-17A Globemaster III, four of which serve with 99 Sqn at RAF Brize Norton. As a result, the aircraft are to be purchased outright from Boeing, previously they were on lease, and a further two examples have been ordered.
The RAF's first RQ-9 Reaper UAV, ZZ200 (c/n 109, USAF/07-109), takes off from Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, on one of its first missions on October 20, 2007. The UAV currently carries both its RAF serial (just aft of the wing) and USAF serial (on the dorsal fin, which also carries a 39 Squadron badge).
Unmanned air vehicles are likely to become an increasingly important asset for the airforce in the future. It already operates two MQ-1 Predators and three MQ-9 Reapers, with the UK Government signalling that it may acquire ten more MQ-9s. Both types are already serving in Afghanistan.
With the retirement of the Canberra PR.9 in 2006, the RAF is now without a high altitude photo-reconnaissance capability. Part of the slack will be taken up by the RAPTOR pod which can be carried by the Tornado GR.4, though the inability of the type to reach high altitude will degrade the pod's usefulness, especially in mountainous areas.
Lockheed Martin's F-35B STOVL variant of the Lightning II will replace the Harrier, though it may be at least ten years before it enters service. Pictured is the first F-35B to roll off the production line.