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RAF defends decision behind two-year tactical airlift capability gap, plans additional A400M purchases

RAF defends decision behind two-year tactical airlift capability gap, plans additional A400M purchases


The RAF’s A400M fleet is set to replace the C-130J tactical airlifter, but it won’t be able to offer full capability until 2025. (RAF)

BELFAST A senior Royal Air Force (RAF) British defense official has strongly defended a 12-year early retirement of the Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules tactical airlift aircraft, but the decision leaves a two-year gap in airlift capabilities. Admit it.

“There are a few niche features of the C-130J that will not transition to the A400M program when the C-130 is retired this summer. [of 2023]RAF deputy commander-in-chief Air Marshal Richard Knighton said at a hearing at the UK Defense Commission on Wednesday.

At the hearing, RAF Aviation Chief of Staff Mike Wigston said it plans to acquire six more Airbus A400M Atlas transport aircraft by 2030 as part of a replacement program, in conflict with the National Audit Office (NAO). also revealed. Financial watchdog assesses that such procurement is unaffordable

At the time, the early retirement of the C-130J fleet from 2035 to 2023 was one of the most surprising decisions out of the United Kingdom’s Joint 2021 Security, Defense, Development and Foreign Policy Joint Review, and the A400M It was set to replace it. .

When ministers make decisions in 2021 [to retire the C-130J fleet] It was very clear about the niche features and the potential operational implications,” said Knighton. “Working with our operational staff, the ministers concluded: Level of operational risk [outlined] It was acceptably small. “

Wigston told the commission that the decision to retire the C-130J was made in the face of heavy lobbying from members of the military who opposed it.

MPs wondered why the C-130J fleet could not be spared until the A400M’s niche capabilities were proven, but the idea was that one would have to pay for that and something else. Ignored based on [another aircraft or acquisition] According to Knighton, it should be removed.

Royal Air Force C130J Hercules tactical air transport aircraft with the 903rd Expeditionary Wing, RAF Akrotiri, conducts field flight sorties to maintain crew air currency (MoD)

Issues other than funding influenced the decision to hasten the retirement of the C-130J.

It’s about the Air Force’s ability to operate two tactical airlift units, each with its own supply chain, its own tail section, its own training requirements and its own crew requirements, Wigston explained.

Wigston said part of the negotiations to withdraw the aircraft prematurely included the RAF agreeing to add the range of capabilities available on the C-130J to the A400M as soon as possible. .

By and large, we’ve been doing it, he added.

According to Wigston, four of the 14 C-130Js have been retired to date, but the A400M fleet has experienced reliability issues and suffered from technical deficiencies, including the discovery of corrosion in the landing gear bays. Concerns remain about the operational output of airlifts and the limitations of special forces because they are needed and needed. long runway.

Tobias Ellwood, MP and chairman of the National Defense Committee, said he was concerned about the C-130J being taken out of service because it denied the special forces the skill set they needed to do the job. said the Royal Marines would no longer be able to perform boat drops from A400Ms as they did from C-130Js.

Early in the hearing, Wigston confirmed for the first time that the RAF plans to purchase six more A400Ms by the end of the decade.

The decision was made in the face of the National Audit Office’s 2022-2032 Equipment Plan, published in November 2022. “The option to purchase additional A400M aircraft has been assessed as unaffordable, and Air Force Command is “developing affordable options for improvement,” the plan said. A400M Availability.

Since the NAO is non-enforceable, the RAF is free to proceed with new orders despite the funding warnings. Formal approval of six additional aircraft may be issued in a future update of the Consolidated Review. Defense priority in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Wigston said the Air Force launched a second F-35 Fifth Generation Fighter Frontline Squadron and the first MQ-9B SkyGuardian (known in British service as the Protector) remotely piloted air system (RPAS). said to receive the delivery of this year.

According to NAO, Protector’s cost increase increased by 74% between the year of the initial cost evaluation and acquisition approval. The drone was originally scheduled to enter service in 2018, but was delayed due to budget issues. A new date for 2024 was then set by the RAF.

Such high costs are why observers say platforms such as the Protector and MQ-9 Reaper are not worth much in competitive environments such as those over Ukraine compared to cheaper, more expendable platforms. One. Wigston bluntly agreed.

There are many platforms that do not choose to operate in that environment [Ukraine] Freedom, Protector and Reaper [two] Of them he said:





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