Leaked documents suggest that Britain’s ability to train high-speed jet pilots is at risk from faulty aircraft, the need for more instructors and an influx of foreign students filling the courses.
RAF recruits are spending months, sometimes years, effectively flying desks instead of fighters as they wait for their training slots to open.
With the growing threat from Russia and China and wars raging in Europe, delays could hamper the availability of crews to operate the front-line Typhoon and F35 squadrons in the future, Defense Ministry sources said.
Pilots assigned to train on other aircraft, such as military transport aircraft and helicopters, are also suffering. Royal Navy and Army pilots are also affected.
According to an internal memo, the balance is so severe that the RAF is considering asking up to 30 recruits to voluntarily resign. The Air Force Chief of Staff warned of a “reputation risk” if such action was taken. There is no offer of forced dismissal.
An internal memo from May viewed by Sky News and slides from the RAF Chief Officers’ Meeting in July reveals:
• A “new” issue with the Rolls-Royce engine of Hawk jets used by fast jet recruits for training. “We will reduce pipeline capacity over the next three years.” This will increase the waiting time for some trainees to join the course to around 12 months. • Concerns about “damage spillage” by qualified pilots leaving RAF to get better pay in the industry rather than stay in frontline or instructor roles. One slide said, “The draw is so good in a small pool where we’re approaching the critical mass point.” However, RAF sources said there was no “mass exodus”. • Britain’s promise to train pilots in places like Qatar and Saudi Arabia as part of a deal to sell Typhoon jets is already absorbing limited training space. This has forced many RAF pilots to wait longer to join the Operational Conversion Unit, the final stage of the training, a Defense Department source said. Quick jet training to learn how to fly an F35 or typhoon this year.
‘The largest baby in RAF’
“He’s the biggest guy in the RAF right now,” said one service officer familiar with the training pipeline.
Asking for anonymity, they told Sky News: – A one-year course that only takes two or three years is crazy, especially if it’s the taxpayer’s money.”
An unnamed former Air Force officer also agreed.
He called the situation a “scandal… crisis,” and said that it had been a persistent problem for nearly 30 years that the Air Force Chief of Staff had repeatedly tried but failed to resolve.
However, a second serving RAF source defended the situation and vehemently denied that there was a crisis.
He said this year will always be a “challenge” as the Air Force prepares to retire a number of aircraft and introduce new platforms as part of its modernization plan.
Image: RAF C17 Globemaster III aircraft carrying the UK’s Ukraine support package
Instructors forcibly taken to the sky
Russia’s war in Ukraine has put additional pressure on the RAF, demanding that it provide faster jets and crews to patrol the skies of NATO allies east of the alliance.
At one point, instructors at the Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire affected several training courses that had to be rescheduled to take the time to pilot Quick Reaction Alert jets mobilizing to protect British airspace. I did.
Sources said a senior group of RAF officers met three to four times a year to discuss all training issues.
This is “in a world of dynamic markets and dynamic training – and in all this challenge with multiple aircraft doing different things – we do this effectively on a regular basis, without waiting for problems to arrive.” , the source said.
“We’re trying to go upstream and manage people’s lives and help them throughout their careers.”
A RAF spokeswoman said: “Although we acknowledge the challenges of our training pipeline, we are working across defense with industry and international partners to improve our staff’s training experience and outcomes, including recruiting more instructors and actively managing training time. We are working together,” he said. .
“We still have enough crew to deliver on our operational promises.”
Image: RAF Akrotiri’s Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4
long queue of trainees
The leaked documents gave us an idea of the scale of the challenge.
About 347 trainees, more than half of the total flight training system personnel of 596, including aviators in the Army and Navy, are waiting for a training course or are undergoing a ‘refresh’ course. Students are forced to refresh their skills when the delay in advancing to the next level of education is so great that what they already know is no longer up-to-date.
The waiting time of the flight course depends on the aircraft type.
The memo stated that about 80 people would have to wait three and a half years to receive the multi-engine training required to operate transport aircraft such as the A400m and C-17, as well as reconnaissance aircraft such as the rivet joint and Poseidon. submarine hunter. Separately, learning how to fly a Chinook helicopter would require waiting two or three years.
They are called “holdings” because dozens of personnel are waiting for a training process due to delays – they are scattered around RAF bases, other military headquarters, and even around the main London Department of Defense.
RAF sources said they are working hard to ensure that those waiting don’t waste their time working on the copiers.
Image: RAF Akrotiri’s Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4
The problem ‘goes back to the end of the Cold War’
Sources provided examples of some officers being sent to Russian or Arabic courses and learning how to become air traffic controllers. This “gives everyone a wider range of professional qualifications than they expected.”
However, delays have changed the service demographics across the RAF, raising the average age of newly qualified pilots from their early 20s to 29.
One of the documents warned that this could have “significant implications for future professional development, reaching, and retention.”
Defense sources said today’s training difficulties can be traced back to the false hope that after the end of the Cold War, successive governments will cut defense spending and receive so-called ‘peace dividends’ and that Russia will no longer do so. Threat.
The size of the Air Force, Army and Navy has been repeatedly reduced to include pilots and fighters, and frontline squadrons have been reduced from about 30 to 7.
At the same time, plans were made to privatize most of the military’s flight training.
Image: RAF Akrotiri’s RAF Typhoon FGR4
Around 2008, a joint venture called Ascent, made up of American defense giant Lockheed Martin and Britain’s Babcock, secured an initial 25-year contract to provide what became known as the Military Flying Training System (MFTS).
You will need to train a fixed number of recruits in a variety of specializations, including high-speed jets, multi-engine (such as reconnaissance and transport aircraft), and helicopters.
But Defense sources said the RAF continued to change its mind about the size of its training pipeline after a 2015 review that imposed painful cuts on the entire military and slightly adjusted levels during a 2010 defense review under pressure from the Treasury Department.
Sky News understands that some officers at the time would prefer the RAF pay a little more to maintain the extra training capacity that could surge new pilots if future governments think the air force has been cut too much.
It also creates resiliency to absorb the effects of defects that arise in the training process.
If not needed, additional training slots could be filled with foreign crew members as part of a multi-billion-pound deal to sell British-made Typhoon jets to international partners.
However, Defense Department sources said others within the RAF disagreed and should choose a contract that cuts finance-driven spending and trains the minimum number of pilots feasible.
They won the argument, but it appears that Britain has created a system that struggles to provide the pilots it needs in peacetime, let alone go to war again.
“The system has been scaled back down to work only when everything turns out to be perfect,” said the former RAF officer. “It’s a system that only works if you keep throwing six.”
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