The Royal Air Force’s force commander for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISTAR) has made an impassioned plea for his full fleet of Raytheon Sentinel R1s to be retained past September, despite the current planning to retire one-fifth of the fleet.
Launching a lobbying campaign against the planned retirement of one aircraft from the five-strong fleet in September, Air Cdre Dean Andrew, commander of the ISTAR force, No 1 Group, said at the Farnborough air show that it is “unthinkable” that the UK lose any of this capability when it is so heavily used in theatre.
“I don’t want this capability to be replaced until earliest 2025-2026,” he says. “My job is to make sure I don’t burn out the fleet or the capability until we get there, because for me as a warfighter, it is unthinkable that we would let this wither on the vine.”
The fleet was given a lifeline in the Strategic Defence and Security Review in November, when the planned retirement of the Bombardier Global Express-derived Sentinel was extended from 2018 to “into the next decade”, but with a single retirement in September 2016.
“What we can’t afford to have happen is to take an aeroplane out of service, close the base, and then six years later put it in a base that is just down the road,” Andrew says, referring to the retirement of the RAF’s British Aerospace Nimrod MR2s in 2010, which lost the UK its maritime patrol capability. This will be replaced with nine Boeing P-8 Poseidons from late this decade.
“If I do that and lose all of that experience – we were the best in the world at doing that [maritime patrol] – it would be unimaginable.”
He notes that losing one fifth of the fleet does not equate to just losing one fifth of capability, because the service being provided will be very challenged as a result.
“The whole way we do business changes,” he notes. “It’s not just one fifth less capability – it’s not a salami slice. The decision has been made. I can’t overturn that decision, but I know some people that can, and I am going to lobby them.”