Is RAF supply right in the middle of the reality of the Ukraine-Russia war? air force technology

The ongoing war in Ukraine has demonstrated the military demands of operating in a contested environment, not the least of which is the air domain. Western nations like the UK, emerging from two decades of permissive air access in counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, may struggle to sustain themselves in peer-to-peer conflict.

In 2021, the UK published its long-awaited integrated review of defense priorities, classifying Russia as a “strategic competitor” in the years to come. The Integrated Review was followed by the Defense Command Document, which proposed a series of programmatic changes based on financial restrictions and emerging threats to reform the country’s military.

Speaking at the UK Defense Committee’s evidence-gathering session on aviation procurement on June 28, Dr Sophy Antrobus, a research fellow at the Freeman Air and Space Institute at King’s College London, and Justin Bronk , senior researcher for air power and technology at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), outlined the potential challenges facing the UK.

According to Bronk, a particular capability that would be required in a peer-to-peer conflict with Russia would be the ability of RAF air assets to operate in contested airspace, which is no small challenge given the difficulty that Moscow has met in its own efforts to suppress Ukraine. air defense systems.

“There are some credible issues that [the Ukraine war] threw for British air power, which did not have a decisive effect for either side in the campaign. There will be pressure on the air to demonstrate why it would be different for an experience in the UK, rather than Ukraine or Russia where there was a mutual denial of air superiority,” Bronk said.

In line with a UK assessment that Russia would be “an even greater threat” to European security even after the end of the war in Ukraine, Antrobus said Europe may need to reassess the risks posed by its inability to adapt to lessons learned from the conflict.

Fighter forces

The UK retains its Typhoon and F-35B multirole fighters as its main combat air platforms, the former consisting of 107 Tranche 2 and Tranche 3 aircraft. old Trance 1 rigs, rather than looking for an admittedly expensive upgrade.

The number of fifth-generation F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) stealth fighters continues to grow, with 48 under contract and 27 more expected to be ordered, bringing the total to just one attrition replacement following the loss of an aircraft in the Mediterranean Sea, to 76 platforms.

Meanwhile, the UK is developing a future sixth-generation fighter jet, dubbed the Tempest, which will gradually replace the Typhoon in the air defense role and has a targeted entry into service in the mid-2030s.

However, according to Bronk, the funds available to combat air programs over the next ten years seemed unlikely to allow the development of a platform as advanced as Tempest, which would not benefit from the number of national partners and commands of planes like Typhoon did.

Tempest, Bronk said, was “much more complex” than the Gen 4.5 Typhoon platform and was being developed as part of a smaller consortium. France, Germany and Spain are all committed to Europe’s rival, the SCAF’s sixth-generation fighter programme, the latter two having been important partners in the pan-European Eurofighter ‘Typhoon’ effort. “Costs [for Tempest] will be higher,” Bronk said.

Focusing singly on the fact that the British RAF’s objective would be to penetrate, challenge and secure air superiority against a competitor such as Russia in the near future, Bronk was unequivocal as to what the plan should be.

“If you ask me how I would equip myself in five years to fight the Russians, I would buy as many F-35s as possible,” Bronk told the committee.

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