Great Britain to Rearm With More Drones, Fighters, Patrol Planes

New strategic review boosts air power

Great Britain to Rearm With More Drones, Fighters, Patrol Planes Great Britain to Rearm With More Drones, Fighters, Patrol Planes
The United Kingdom’s latest strategic review calls for more Typhoon and F-35 fighters and drones plus a new fleet of maritime patrol planes —... Great Britain to Rearm With More Drones, Fighters, Patrol Planes

The United Kingdom’s latest strategic review calls for more Typhoon and F-35 fighters and drones plus a new fleet of maritime patrol planes — effectively reversing many of the deepest cuts from the previous review back in 2010.

Great Britain’s Strategic Defense and Security Review is roughly equivalent to the United States’ own two military planning efforts — the Quadrennial Defense Review and Future Years Defense Program. Every five years the U.K. Ministry of Defense conducts an SDSR to clarify national strategy and attempt to match it with weaponry and resources.

By all accounts, the last SDSR was a disaster. Coming at the depth of the global economic slowdown, it amounted to little more than a budget-cutting exercise, slicing eight percent from the MoD’s nearly $40-billion annual budget.

Among other cuts, the 2010 review scrapped both of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers and all 72 Harrier jump jets that flew from them, cancelled the Royal Air Force’s Nimrod maritime patrol plane program and halved the British Army’s tanks and tracked artillery. 17,000 uniformed personnel lost their jobs.

The government believed it could get away with the cuts because, it thought, the world was about to become a safer place. The war in Iraq was over for the United Kingdom; British troops would be drawing down in Afghanistan. This was before Crimea, before Syria, before Islamic State.

“It will come as no surprise when I say that our new national security strategy will show a deterioration in the international security environment over the last five years,” Secretary of State for Defense Michael Fallon said. And with its public finances in better shape, the U.K. government can afford to address the danger — and buy back some of the capabilities it gave up in 2010, especially in the air.

Highlights of the 2015 review include:

  • Doubling the number of Reaper drones from 10 to 20
  • Extending the service lives of early-model Typhoon fighters to 2040
  • Accelerating the acquisition of F-35 stealth fighters and buying 138 in total
  • Buying nine P-8 maritime patrol planes
  • Developing a high-altitude surveillance drone
  • Designing a new anti-submarine frigate
  • Establishing two, 5,000-person strike brigades with Ajax armored vehicles, using existing personnel

The F-35 speed-up is a big deal, as under previous thinking there would have been just eight of the stealth fighters to fly off of the Royal Navy’s two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers when the first vessel entered service in 2020. Now, 24 F-35s will be ready for the new flattops.

In addition to keeping older Typhoons longer, the RAF previously announced it would also delay the decommissioning of some Tornado attack jets, shuttering one frontline squadron in 2017 and the final two in 2019. The 2010 plan would have left the RAF with just 120 or so fighters — late-model Typhoons plus a few F-35s — as early as four years from now. The current plan boosts the number to no fewer than 160.