Sunday, February 27, 2011

RAF May Retire Tornados Early to Save Money

The U.K. Ministry of Defence is scrambling to find GBP1 billion ($1.62 billion) in cost savings prior to the end of the current fiscal year on March 31. Adding to the challenge, the cost-cutting options presented represent politically difficult choices that may see Britain transition from Tier 1 military status to Tier 2.

The options include cutting 20,000 troops from the Army from 2015 onward (this would shrink the British Army to its smallest size since the 1820s due to a downsizing at the end of the Napoleonic Wars) and withdrawing more ships from an overextended, under-strength Royal Navy.

But the option being considered most carefully seems to center on the Royal Air Force's fleet of Tornado ground attack aircraft. With the release of the U.K. Strategic Defense and Security Review last fall, the Tornado emerged as a big winner in a MoD review that pitted the aircraft against the Harrier GR7/GR9 fleet in what evolved into a battle royal for which platform remained in service. Due to its continued use in the Afghan theater, the Tornado made the cut and the last Harriers were withdrawn from service earlier this year.

Now the Tornados operating in Afghanistan could fall victim to budgetary cutbacks, as officials are considering the immediate withdrawal of the RAF's eight Tornados deployed in that theater. This move would be followed by the retirement of the remaining Tornado fleet of roughly 100 aircraft within as short a timeframe as three years.

In their stead, the MoD would seek to expedite the rate at which Eurofighter Typhoons are being brought into service, a task that may be facilitated by the dissipation of a potential sale of 24 Typhoons from the British Royal Air Force's Tranche 1 Block 5 stocks to Oman.

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