Much of Friday’s debate took for granted the Royal Air Force’s capacity to deliver substantial air power. We are to understand the operation in Iraq could last for years.
In 1991, at the time of our first Gulf War, the RAF had exactly 30 front-line fast jet squadrons. Today, we have seven.
Of those seven, four are Typhoon squadrons. They do not yet have the necessary Stormshadow, Brimstone or RAPTOR capabilities. The other three squadrons – II(AC), IX(B) and 31 – are equipped with Tornado GR4, which does have those capabilities.
II(AC) Sqn is currently due to disband as a Tornado squadron on 31 Mar 15 and re-equip with Typhoon. I am advised that the technical integration of Stormshadow and Brimstone with Typhoon is not likely to be complete by 31 March. Integration must be followed by training until Typhoon is able to deliver this new capability.
The people and equipment of just two squadrons will struggle if operations in Iraq continue for long. I would certainly not expect two squadrons to sustain combat operations continuously for years. Air Chief Marshall Sir Michael Graydon, a former Chief of the Air Staff has said, “To sustain this operation is going to be quite a stretch.”
Today’s combat aircraft are more capable than those of 1991 but eventually technology cannot substitute for numbers, especially when attempting to sustain enduring operations. The RAF is certainly agile, adaptable and capable and flexibility is no doubt the key to air power, but aeroplanes cannot be in two places at once. As an ex-RAF officer, I am bound to write that our people are superb and that they achieve whatever objectives are set time and again, but there are limits to what individuals and their families can bear.
No one is likely to suggest that we need 30 front-line fast jet squadrons today. However, the request for greater resources for the RAF cannot be far off.