The UK Ministry of Defence will publish a new combat air strategy document later this year, which defence secretary Gavin Williamson says will “bring together the best of British engineering, skill and design, and deliver a compelling vision for the future of air power".
Williamson announced the activity on 21 February, saying the "bold and ambitious" plan is expected to be released "in the summer", shortly after the Royal Air Force marks its 100thanniversary.
"The MoD will work across government and closely with industry and international partners to explore the UK’s future combat air capabilities, building on the industrial strategy and refreshed defence industrial policy launched last year," he says.
"The strategy will examine the operational capability needed in the future and the skills and resource required to deliver it. The work will take new and emerging technology into account, as well as export potential, while testing British industry’s ability to deliver our future requirements."
According to chief of the air staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier: "This strategy will ensure that the RAF can continue to remain at the forefront of the high-end airpower technology and innovation we need to deal with future threats, working in close collaboration with UK industry and our international partners."
Current RAF strike assets include the Eurofighter Typhoon and Panavia Tornado GR4, with the latter to be replaced in service by the Lockheed Martin F-35. The UK's first frontline unit to receive short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs, 617 Sqn, will be established at RAF Marham in Norfolk later this year and achieve initial operational capability in December. Operations with the Typhoon are expected to continue until at least 2040.
Welcoming the MoD's future combat air strategy, BAE Systems notes that the activity "recognises the central role of the air sector in our nation’s defences and prosperity", adding that it hopes to "further develop the UK’s world-leading combat air capability”.
Paul Everitt, chief executive of the ADS trade body, says the process "signals the vital need for industry and government to work together to ensure the UK remains a world-leading military air power and a highly competitive and capable option in the export market."
France and Germany late last year expressed their willingness to develop a future combat aircraft to follow their Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter programmes. UK involvement in such a scheme remains uncertain, in part due to the effect of its departure from the EU in March 2019.