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RAF gets funds for more Reaper UAVs, Puma upgrade

Funds have been approved to expand the UK Royal Air Force's fleet of General Atomics Predator B/Reaper unmanned air vehicles and extend the lives of 30 Eurocopter Puma transport helicopters, while progress is also expected on a planned Tranche 3 order for the Eurofighter Typhoon, says a senior service official.

Describing the UK's two operational Reaper UAVs (one pictured below) as "absolutely vital assets", Air Marshal Sir Barry Thornton, the RAF's air member for materiel, says a fourth example will be deployed to Afghanistan next year to replace one that crashed earlier this year. "We have an agreement to purchase two more next year," he adds.

© Crown Copyright

A proposal to upgrade 30 Pumas (HC1 example below) to an HC2 configuration has also been approved, with this to enable the type to remain in use until at least 2022.

© APG Photography/AirSpace

The RAF will also next month field its last of six AgustaWestland Merlin HC3A (AW101) transport helicopters acquired from Denmark, he adds.

Speaking about Tranche 3 production of the Eurofighter during an Air Power Association event in London on 4 September, Thornton said "negotiations are still under way, but I believe we will find a solution satisfactory to everyone." He declined to elaborate on the UK's preferred outcome, noting: "it depends on many factors".

The RAF's first Tranche 2 Typhoon will be delivered in late September and receive its release to service clearance during November.

The MoD is meanwhile nearing a decision on selecting a replacement for the RAF's British Aerospace Nimrod R1s, with options including acquiring RC-135 Rivet Joints from the USA or installing new mission equipment aboard the existing R1 airframes or new BAE Systems Nimrod MRA4s.

BAE expects to achieve the power-on milestone for the RAF's first of nine production MRA4s in mid-October, with deliveries to run from late 2009. But "cost remains an issue", says Thornton.

Other highlights for the UK's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance fleet this year will include an operational trial involving its Raytheon Systems airborne standoff radar system (Sentinel R1 aircraft, below) during November. "We expect it to be an asset in great demand after it has been demonstrated in theatre," says Thornton.

© Raytheon Systems

Meanwhile, Thornton reveals that the MoD expects to spend £900 million ($1.64 billion) on urgent operational requirement deals for the British armed forces this year. He warns that acquiring an "eclectic mix" of equipment through UOR channels will have long-term consequences in the provision of in-service support.

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