UK Defence (252) – Of Retention, Undermanning, Gaps and Army Reserves Targets.

Recently published figures from the MOD have, according to press reports, shown that over the past year 7,260 trained military personnel have resigned from all three service branches. The figures also show that, at 140,570, the declared minimum number of trained military personnel required by the MOD is short by 6,000. Voluntary outflow figures confirm that between April 2015 and January 2016 the Army lost 3,950, the Royal Navy lost 1,380 and that the Royal Air Force lost 1,930 personnel. Overall it appears that one in four military personnel across all three of our armed services walked away before completing their training.

That so many of members of our armed forces are choosing to leave early is due to a combination of factors. Specific family reasons and normal retirements apart, these include concerns on remuneration, pension changes, lack of career prospects, concerns on welfare, housing and family support, acute shortages in specialist trade areas such as engineering and technicians and that obviously places a more intense pressure and burden on those that remain to keep up with the workload.

All these factors are reasons why too many members of our military personnel have chosen to vote with their feet and depart the military and they are reason why we must all be concerned. The problem is alarming to say the least and it is something that the Government and specifically the MOD must address as a matter of priority. If this requires additional funding from the Government to secure better levels of retention then as far as I am concerned these must now be found without damaging the already announced intention to increase, enhance and upgrade the UK’s overall level of military capability.  

That morale is low across various sections of our armed forces can hardly be denied and perhaps nowhere does this stand out more than within specialist trade branches that provide support to ensure that front line forces have sufficient capability to deploy. I would also have to say that retention and concerns over manning, both current and future, are now the priority concern of senior military personnel and with the rising number of unmanned positions across various trade branches of the military rising at an alarming rate it is clear that the MOD needs to act and come up with a better solution to retain personnel. Training ability across many branches of the military is clearly stretched and with qualified trainers from all branches of the military eagerly sought by private sector competition who are able to pay more the situation can only get worse.

It is well known that the Royal Navy has been so short of engineers that it has borrowed a large number of engineering technicians from the US Coast Guard. Whilst this is a great idea for the shorter term it is clearly not a sustainable solution to the wider problem. Cut backs in training instigated as a direct result of SDSR 2010 may be blamed for part of the problem and if we are to resolve the situation, retain and grow the number of qualified instructors that we need without losing them as soon as they themselves are qualified there needs to be a rethink on policy, commitment requirement, remuneration and whatever else is required to ensure we retain sufficient numbers of qualified personnel.          

SDSR 2010 led to a serious change in reserves policy too and while this has to a large extent worked well for the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force it is arguably one that is not yet working for the Army.

With the Army Reserves recruitment target believed to be short of at least 10,000 personnel and worse, that there is a strong probability that a proportion of Reserves who have signed up over the past two years and that are included in the most recent MOD figures having already resigned concern that the MOD may inadvertently be double counting is cause for concern.

Despite reassuring words from the Secretary of State for Defence and others that Reservist targets will be met most commentators on defence agree that the Army will probably struggle to have anywhere near the targeted number of 30,000 fully trained reserve soldiers working alongside full-time soldier equivalents by 2020.

Reservists are and should be an important part of defence but they should not be seen as being an answer to the problems already outlined in terms of retention or filling gaps in areas were manning shortage is very prevalent. Despite my rarely touching on specific Army related matters in these defence paper such is the concern over the MOD plan to recruit and train sufficient numbers of Army reservists in order to compliment a reduced number of full time soldiers since SDSR 2010 it would be wrong that I avoid this now very serious issue.  

To set the scene one needs to go back to SDSR 2010, a document that was published in November of that year. This defence white paper set out an intention by the MOD to cut the number of full time soldiers to 82,000 and to supplement these with a sizable increase in the number of trained Reserves. In theory and if well executed this might well have been a plan that could have worked although right from the start it had many critics who not only questioned the merits of cutting the number of full time Army personnel but also whether increasing the number of Army Reserves to 30,000 was either possible or sustainable.

Following a period of consultation with all parties involved including the private sector on the 3rd July 2013 the Government set out details of a plan to sustain and grow the UK Reserve Forces. The so-called new relationship laid out within the Government white paper which was entitled ‘Reserves in the Future Force 2020’ was seen by HMG as being a significant step forward in the plan to create a new, fully integrated Reserve Force in all three sections of the military. The Reserve Force would, according to the white paper, contain well-trained personnel who would not only be well-equipped but, according to the proposition, well-funded.

The raft of measures revealed by HMG were intended to grow the numbers of Reserves across all sections of the military, including the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, to around 35,000 personnel in total. The intention was also to provide crucial support and various additional incentives to reservists, their families and their employers. Indeed, the promise made by then Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. Philip Hammond was for better benefits to be paid to all those that signed up and that they would receive greater job security and more support for themselves, their families and the ultimate private sector employer who would of course be directly impacted perhaps more than ever before.

Specifically in relation to the Army, HMG’s ‘Reserves Plan’ proposed that the [then] Territorial Army would change its name to be called the Army Reserve. This was being done in order to, so the report said, better reflect the enhanced role and the full integration of Reserves into the ‘whole force’ concept. The report also confirmed that £80 million would be invested in the Army Reserve estate to accommodate the larger number (30,000) of Reserves that were now being targeted to compliment full-time soldiers.

In terms of the ‘offer’ the ‘Reserves in the Future Force 2020’ white paper told us that measures proposed included the introduction of paid annual leave when training as well as when deployed on missions and operations, generous Armed Forces pension entitlements, that Reserves would be better training and have similar access to the same equipment used by their full-time ‘regular’ counterparts. Reserves would also be able to access key defence health services when in training and on deployed operations together with the benefit of having transferable skills and academic qualifications. The Army Reserve training commitment was to be around 40 days per year, up from the then average of 35 days per annum, and there would also be legislation to ensure access to employment tribunals in unfair dismissal cases against reservists, without a qualifying employment period.   

Employers who would be required to release employees to take on the reserves role would be paid £500 per month, per reservist. Here would be a financial award paid to small and medium enterprises on top of the allowances and that I believe had been already available when reservist employees had been deployed, more notice given to reservists so that employers were better able to plan for the absences of their reservist employees, greater recognition for leading supportive employers and a national relationship management scheme to strengthen relationships with larger employers.

The then Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Peter Wall, said at the time that “the Reserves white paper had given the Army important clarity on how it would generate an integrated Army of Regulars and Reserves. The Army Reserve will be more highly trained, better equipped and better paid. It has a key role to play in our nation’s security and it will offer its soldiers plenty of challenge and adventure”.

So what went wrong or was it simply that the plan was asking far too much and that as a supposed strategy, it could never work? A combination of both I would suggest but it was made worse by a lack of understanding of the culture that exists in the Army and of how the reservist issue would work in practice. By this I mean how well such a dramatic change in policy would go down with full-time soldiers, whether they would see this as being a workable and sustainable proposition for both the Reserves personnel who would be directly involved and also their private sector employers.

One may be entitled to suggest here that although the MOD has repeatedly said that they will meet the Reserves personnel numbers targeted for 2020 that the failure to so far achieve anywhere near the number that will be required makes this look increasingly like an impossible target. It is also one that has been made all the more difficult by frequently heard suggestions that full-time soldiers charged with training volunteers have a tendency to look down on their reservist charges, treating them as being inferior and showing them very little if any respect. Accepting the need to discipline in all forms of military training is one thing, being despised is quite another. 

Fitness is also a problem for reservists and with limited time available together with a full-time job to hold down in the private sector for most of the time keeping to the standard of fitness required by the Army is not easy. Indeed, there have been unconfirmed reports that over 50% of reservists have failed Army medicals.

Another problem that has come to light is the time required by reservists to travel to the required training camp. The problem which has meant that many have chosen to absent themselves from training or have been forced to do so is particularly noticeable in respect of weekend training camps. The problem is that the MOD has not built sufficient time in the programme for travelling to training locations which may be hundreds of miles away. This can often mean that some reservists are forced to pull out because they are unable or unwilling to take even more time off from their main employment. 

None of this is to suggest that private sector employers have been anything other than very supportive of those employees that wish to sign up as reserves. Given that this comes at a great cost to employers and that the Government has only offered additional support to small and medium sized companies that support staff joining reserves industry should be thanked for the effort it has made. Industry has always supported the need to support reservists and it is a tradition that, particularly with the Army, goes back a very long way.

But of all the problems in respect of reservists that stands out to me as being a problem the one that impacts most is that of reservists being treated by both the MOD and sometimes, by their full-time soldier equivalents, as being inferior soldiers. While it is to a degree understandable that full-time soldiers should take a view that they, having received years of specific military training and maybe having deployed in theatre several times in their career, have experience that reserves may never have, they easily ignore the fact that that reservists bring with them a multitude of wider skills that are often missing in branches of the Army.

From an MOD perspective another frequently heard claim is that full-time soldiers get promoted faster than reservists. Whether or not the last point is true or not treating reservists as inferior is clearly unacceptable. Reserves not only bring additional skills and different forms of experience into a Force but they can also deliver new ways of thinking if allowed to present their views.         

Last year the Major Projects Authority (MPS), a body that is responsible for analysing and reporting annually on all major military projects downgraded the Army reserves plan to what it called “unachievable” in respect of what it believed would be the Army’s ability to meet the reserves recruitment numbers as set by the Government. If it was needed, the MPA’s warning was a shot across the bows that the attempt to reduce costs by employing and training greater numbers of Reserves was a strategy that needed to be seriously rethought.

Few I suspect would argue that having a large compliment of trained reserve soldiers ready to assist and to deploy alongside full-time soldiers is anything other than sensible. What never stacked up though in the case of the Army was the proposed balance of having a reduced 82,000 number of full-time soldiers and a far larger compliment of 30,000 fully trained reservists. The reservist issue has little to do with the Army’s slow pace of modernisation, its acceptance of the need to change and to make itself more affordable it is equally about a failure to make an enticing enough offer to would-be reservists together with a failure to understand that there is a burden on industry who are required to release their employees for maybe several weeks a year so that they can undertake the training and potentially deploy that needs to be better understood.

That the balance between the proposed number of full-time soldiers – 82,000 and those proposed by the Government for reserves – 30,000 are arguably out of quilter with what many believe the Army requires is not an argument I propose to pursue here although it is one that probably has merit. However, despite some of its own senior officers publically questioning whether the Army needs 82,000 full-time soldiers today the truth is that, along with both the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, retention of existing people is one of the most serious issues facing the military today. The Army is, I am told, currently well below its target of having 82,000 full-time soldiers and the military as a whole is, mainly because of the ‘offer’ struggling to retain trained people. In a competitive world there are plenty in the private sector both at home and abroad ready and willing to attract trained engineers and technicians not to mention front line personnel with offers that the MOD is unable or unwilling to match.

Back to the question of Army reservists and I understand that such is the level of dissatisfaction amongst those that had previously signed up to join the reserves that many have already left. Indeed, we may question here that within the numbers of reserves that have signed up and that are disclosed by the MOD that there may be a rather too large element of double counting in these figures meaning that rather too many of those included may have already left. 

Retention of those that have signed up to join the Army reserves is as far as I can see as serious a problem as signing new members up. Industry is doing its best to allow those of its staff who wish to sign up to do so and to have sufficient time off to accommodate required training. But while those that sign up know that their employers are behind them they are bound to worry whether by doing so might impact on the likelihood of promotion. Because of this and in some cases, the way that they have been treated by their full-time master many have already chosen to leave. 

Figures for 2015/16 have not yet been made available but those for 2014/15 show that just 5,000 people joined the Army Reserve during the year. Admittedly that was better than the mere 3,000 that signed up in 2013/14 but neither of these figures includes those that had by the end of the year in question already left.  

Do those in the military that ask volunteers to take periods off work understand or even care that those same volunteers also have commitments to their employers? Do they understand or care that employers are making a massive commitment to the military in allowing their staff to volunteer and take periods off work? Do senior military officers charged with increasing numbers of Army reserves really understand the level of discontent amongst some full time soldiers that reservists are being employed to do some of their jobs and how some reservists are treated? Have they taken the trouble to even notice how some reservists are being treated?

These are just a few of the issues raised in several conversations that I have been involved in over recent weeks and I have to say that some of the things that I have heard are very worrying. Just as the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force have been asked to do on a smaller scale the Army has been charged over the past three or four years to spearhead a campaign to increase the number of reservists that can act in compliment to full time serving soldiers. It’s been a tough job so far and one that in terms of target numbers of volunteers has fallen way below MOD hopes and expectations.

Army 2020 which was launched in 2010/11 envisaged recruiting 30,000 volunteer reservists to work with a planned regular force of 82,000 full time soldiers. Poor retention and disappointment over the pay and pensions offer has led to many full time serving soldiers to vote with their feet and leave. And with industry adopting a more cautious attitude to losing staff who might wish to volunteer for periods of a few weeks serving and training with full time soldiers in part due to the additional cost burden for them the incentive to let people go has been less.

None of this has been helped by the way that the Army has attempted to recruit volunteers often using dull, dingy, worn out facilities in infrastructure that has seen little investment for decades. Two years ago I was shown one such facility in Hampshire that was in effect a terrapin hut located in the car park area of a run-down industrial estate. There was absolutely nothing that would have attracted a would-be volunteer reservist to sign up and nothing to show what the Army was about and what it did. Another facility that I looked at in South London had no weapons, vehicles or kit to show a would-be volunteer although I confess that it had an excellent boxing ring and facilities to match run and paid for by other volunteers.

Although reservists can and do deploy perhaps the most important need to employ them is for the specialist knowledge and experience of other important requirements that they can bring. People with specialist knowledge of cyber security, technical and technology skills are all examples of urgent requirement and areas in which the Army is short of experienced personnel. To do this my understanding is that the army have set out to work more closely with industry.

There can be little doubt that if the Army is to achieve 60% of its reserves target by 2020 it will need to work a lot harder to convince would-be reservists of the merits of joining up. Culture will need to change it within the Army itself and also within the MOD meaning that stereotypical notions of reserves being inferior to full-time soldiers and of it being acceptable to treat them as second rate will need to be binned. Equal opportunities are required and the need for those who might sign up to see vision and opportunity for so doing will need to be enhanced by senior Army personnel. Everything is possible but it requires strong leadership, will and determination to succeed. 

CHW (London – 16th May 2016)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Tel: 07710-779785

UK Defence (250) – RAF F-35 Lightning Force Gathers Momentum

Following confirmation in SDSR 2015 of an intention to accelerate growth of the UK’s fifth generation F-35B Joint Strike Fighter ‘Lightning’ Force and also that the Government will now acquire 138 of the aircraft through the production programme lifetime the pace of infrastructure development and other work required in order to allow the UK to receive its first F-35 aircraft is now a top priority for the MOD.

Confirmation by the MOD of further F-35 related infrastructure related orders over recent days and that by 2023 two F-35 Lightning squadrons will have been stood up have been universally welcomed. It is pleasing to see that all engaged on this massive and very important defence programme are now working for the self-same ends to ensure that timetables for infrastructure delivery and achievement of initial operating capability by late 2018 can be met. There are now just 30 months to go before the first Royal Air Force F-35 Lightning aircraft is due to be in operational service with 617 Squadron at RAF Marham and no one is underestimating the challenges that lie ahead in order to meet the various deadlines set.

F-35 Lightning is a game changer for combat air in defence and it will be operated by both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. What separates it from other fast jet aircraft capability is its low observable properties, or stealth, and that it is an advanced 5th generation aircraft. This really is a step change in capability for UK defence. Lightning has advanced on-board sensors that are designed to understand the environment within the area it is operating. Playing an important role in ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Intelligence) the aircraft is programmed to evaluate the enemy systems it is fighting against and then to share that information with other Lightning aircraft in the same battle space in order to generate a fill picture of the environment they are operating within. Date gathered by ‘Lightning’ can also be fed into other areas of defence, using its low observable capability.

The low observable characteristics that the UK’s fleet of F-35 ‘Lightning’ aircraft will have enables the capability to access air space that a potential adversary may have previously denied us. Whilst technology moves at a pace, the aircraft is designed to ensure that enemy radar systems will not see the aircraft. This is an important point and while it is one that has been argued by some the real point is that that it affords strategic influence on a scale hitherto not possible as well as dramatically increasing aircraft survivability in non-permissive or hostile environments.

The decision to accelerate development of the Lightning Force and to have a second front line squadron working alongside 617 Squadron by 2023 makes excellent sense. The F-35 development programme may have had its issues and no one is denying that software and some other problems remain to be solved but pleasingly the latest HASC (House Armed Services Committee) hearing on the programme in March raised no new incremental issues and continues to retire earlier risks.

The UK ‘Lightning’ Force will also be deployed on board the UK’s two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. On time and on budget the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier build programme is progressing extremely well and the first aircraft will leave Rosyth later this year to begin sea trials.

Work to prepare Her Majesty’s Naval Base, Portsmouth which will be the home base of both these massive ships is also proceeding well. Work under contracts worth £100 million placed by the MOD to contractors in Portsmouth has included requirement for significant harbour related dredging work that will both widen and deepen a large access area within the Portsmouth Harbour complex in order to accommodate what are the two largest ships ever built for the Royal Navy. This work is now well under way and 190 miles away from Portsmouth large scale infrastructure work at RAF Marham in order to ready that base for F-35B Lightning aircraft and that requires work to be conducted on 90% of airfield operating surfaces along with required construction of integrated training, logistics, maintenance and other requirements for F-35B Lightning basing requirements is just about to begin.

The planned second F-35B ‘Lightning’ squadron that will be stood up has now been named as 809 Naval Air Squadron. Combined, 617 Squadron and 809 Squadron are expected, by 2023, to be able to field 24 Lightning aircraft either deployed on HMS Queen Elizabeth or operating from the main operating base at RAF Marham.

In respect of F-35 Lightning’s ability to demonstrate presence and, alongside other Royal Air Force front-line fast military jet aircraft, the ability to provide the UK with additional strategic influence across the globe can in my view hardly be argued. F-35 has had many critics right through its development programme but as far as I am concerned in respect of fifth generation capability the aircraft will bring there is no other aircraft in production that can match it.

Between now and late 2018 when 617 Squadron is targeted to achieve IOC (Initial Operating Capability) with its fleet of F-35B Lightning STOVL (Short Take-Off Vertical Landing) aircraft it is obvious that  an enormous amount of work requires to be done. As already mentioned, two weeks ago the Ministry of Defence announced contracts worth an estimated £167 million to upgrade and build new facilities at RAF Marham, the Norfolk base chosen to be F-35 ‘Lightning’ Force Headquarters. This will include maintenance and finishing hangars and separately, £118 million of contracts awarded to BAE Systems covering engineering and integrated training centre and logistics operations facilities required at the base in readiness for the arrival at RAF Marham of the first F-35 ‘Lightning’ aircraft in 2018. The construction elements of all the work required will be done by Balfour Beatty and work on the site is due to start within days. Balfour Beatty will employ over 300 staff on the site.

No one should underestimate the amount of work required in order to ready the UK for F-35 ‘Lightning’ at RAF Marham. As I witnessed for myself when I visited the base last September the scale of the work required is massive and all this must be done whilst the three remaining Tornado GR4 Squadrons, 1X, 12 and 31 Squadrons that continue to represent the front line air to ground bombing force of the Royal Air Force, will continue to operate from the base right up until the Tornado OSD (Out of Service Date) in March 2019.

The UK currently owns and operates four F-35B Joint Strike Fighter aircraft of which three of are currently committed to Operational Test Flying at Edwards Air Force base in California and the fourth is based at the United States Marine Corps Air Station at Beaufort in South Carolina. Next month will see the fifth aircraft (BK-5) delivered followed approximately eight weeks later, by a sixth aircraft. Following on from then my understanding is that UK F-35 Lightning aircraft will be delivered on the basis of one new aircraft every eight weeks over the following eighteen month.

Working in collaboration with their US counterparts 17 Squadron has for the past three years had responsibility for all test and evaluation work on the UK’s F-35B Lightning II aircraft. The squadron is responsible for bringing the UK’s first 5th generation combat air platform into both Royal Navy and Royal Air Force frontline service. And is based at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Part of their work is to test F-35B Lightning ll in a variety of operational scenarios in order to inform front line squadron units on important tactics and procedures needed to operate in hostile environments. Jointery is at the heart of the operation here with manning drawn by approximately 58% of personnel emanating from the Royal Air Force and 42% from the Royal Navy.

As previously mentioned, when fully operational UK F-35B Lightning’s will also operate from the two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers currently under final construction by the Carrier Alliance (Babcock International, BAE Systems, DE&S and Thales) at the Babcock International’s Rosyth facility in Scotland. The F-35B STOVL variant (Short Take-Off Vertical Landing) variant of the F-35 ‘Lightning’ that the UK is acquiring initially will also be able to operate from austere landing strips or other operating bases that have short operating strips.

The Royal Navy Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers will be a key enabler for planned strategic reach of the F-35 ‘Lighting’ aircraft and the first of the two ships, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is expected to begin class flying trials in 2018. Following this, the first front line F-35 Lightning squadron to be stood up, 617 Squadron, and that is expected to have achieved initial operating capability in 2018 will, in 2019, embark on the beginning of deck work ups over a two year period and that is intended to lead to Initial Maritime Operating Capability having been fully established by the end of 2020.

The first operational deployment of HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently planned for the spring of 2021. To that end, having recently myself been a guest of the Royal Navy at Rosyth to look in detail at the final fitting out and in-dock test phase of HMS Queen Elizabeth before she begins sea trials later this year (see UK Defence 244 – HMS Queen Elizabeth) and to look over construction of HMS Prince of Wales, a programme that itself is running approximately eight months ahead of schedule, I am very satisfied that the planned timetable will be met.

Along with other UK F-35B aircraft elements that include large numbers of maintainers that are also in the US being trained 617 Squadron (the first UK Lightning ll squadron that be officially stood up in 2018) currently has 40 personnel operating alongside the US Marine Corps 501 Training Squadron at Beaufort. By the end of 2016 these numbers are expected to have more than doubled to over 100 before eventually topping out at 242 in 2018.

The relationship between the US Marine Corps and members of the Royal Air Force deployed at Beaufort and with members of the joint Royal Navy/Royal Air Force 7 Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base has been absolutely superb. Having also had the good fortune myself to spend time with Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida in 2014, and that included the ability to talk to pilots and see UK personnel maintainer training I have nothing but praise for how the partnership between the US and UK on F-35 has worked. The ‘jointery’ between the UK and US personnel at all the US bases being used has been truly fantastic. The US Marine Corps Air Station at Beaufort will remain the primary source of training for 617 pilots and maintainers (engineers) until the summer of 2019 at which point they will all have moved back to RAF Marham.

The UK has invested very heavily in the F-35 programme and we must never lose sight as to why we have invested such large sums in fifth generation fast jet technology. As said earlier, 5th Generation will be an essential element of future UK Combat Air capability and I believe it is important to put a message across that this point is not lost in the Carrier Enabled Power projection narrative. There will be those that disagree and there are F-35 sceptics aplenty but I remains very confident that the Lightning capability will give us all that we want.

We are not the only country in Europe acquiring F-35 and amongst some of the others Italy, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands stand out. And here’s another important point. We are we are not procuring F-35 because we happen to have also decided to build and acquire two aircraft carriers but in my view, vice versa. The UK will operate F-35 Lightning capability from both land bases AND the aircraft carriers and this from a defence and from a projection point of view should be embraced as the most efficient and effective way to exploit the capability.

As I have observed many times in articles and private comment in recent years it is all too easy to try and compare F-35 STOVL capability with that of the now withdrawn fleet of Royal Navy and Royal Air Force Sea Harrier and Harrier GR9 VSTOL (Vertical Short Take-Off and Landing) capability. But I take the view that Lightning ll should never be viewed in comparison to legacy capability, superb though these aircraft certainly had been through their decades of service. Lightning ll capability is to my mind best exploited when utilised far forward in none permissive environments and engaged in ‘hard to access’ high-end targets that 4th generation aircraft cannot reach. This is not a replacement for the Sea Harrier and it was never intended to be that although it does of course have the capability to do what Harrier could and will if necessary still be used for that role if required. While Lightning ll will no doubt spend significant time at sea the point should not be lost that it will also spend a significant time engaged on high-end missions of a very different type.

So what are the remaining constraints? Yes, there remain software and safety issues to resolve but quite frankly I am in no doubt that these will all be achieved. This is still a relatively new aircraft development and it will be many years yet before it can be regarded as being mature. All military aircraft developments have issues that delay the programme and F-35 is no different in that respect. We must also remember that IOC remains some way off yet and that overall, despite the programme moving forward apace, we are still in the Systems Design and Development (SDD) part of the JSF programme. The SDD is not timetabled to complete until the final quarter of 2017. Nevertheless, Block 3i aircraft are now being delivered and it is with this software that USAF are expected to declare IOC in the late summer or early autumn this year. From that point all aircraft built by Lockheed Martin for the UK F-35 Lightning ll programme will be delivered under the Block 3i standard and which, all things being equal, will cater for the full spectrum of core mission requirement. By then the number of flying hours across the whole F-35 enterprise will likely have exceeded 100,000, a solid foundation from which the UK as a Tier One partner on the programme will continue to grow its force of Lightning ll aircraft to form two front line squadrons and an OCU.

For the UK perhaps the greatest unknown in regard to the Lightning ll programme is the through-life solution for sustainment – or what is called the Global Sustainment Solution (GSS). As a Tier One partner on the programme it is hardly surprising that the UK is planning to bid for the rights to be the avionics sustainment hub for Europe. Minister for Defence Procurement Philip Dunne said last week following a visit to the US that “we will be making a proposition to the F-35 Joint Programme Office for the avionics hub for Europe utilising a UK MOD facility working alongside industry adding that we will be putting forward, [what we think] will be a highly competitive proposition that we hope to get a conclusion to later this year”. Currently my understanding is that the global sustainment strategy has been split into three zones – North America, Europe and the Pacific. The first wave of sustainment awards appeared two years ago and have concentrated on heavy airframe and engine sustainment. Securing the avionics repair and maintenance would provide the UK with something that it is recognised as being very good at and it would sustain sovereign capability on the program and many new jobs.

The decision as to who and where the Global Sustainment Solution will be located for Europe is eagerly awaited not just by private sector industry but also by the UK Lightning Force not least from a planning and logistics perspective. The main competitor to the UK is probably Italy, another F-35 programme partner and one that currently not only builds parts for Lockheed Martin but is also constructing F-35 aircraft for the Italian Air Force and those that have been ordered by the Netherlands from parts supplied direct from Lockheed Martin and the Tier One partners.

With the UK having been a ‘Tier One’ partner on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme from the outset BAE Systems involvement on the programme is extensive. Indeed, it is worth reminding that BAE Systems along with other UK based suppliers such as Rolls-Royce (manufacturer of the lifting system that is centered around a large fan located in the middle of the airframe) are responsible for 15% of the total F-35 build programme. BAE Systems has said that its involvement on F-35 will support 25,000 British based jobs over the next 25 years. The RAF Marham contract awards coincide with BAE Systems having just completed the tenth aft-fuselage from its highly invested plant at Samlesbury in Lancashire and that has been delivered to the Lockheed Martin plant at Fort Worth in Texas for fitting to F-35B Lightning ll aircraft for the UK.

This year at the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford in Gloucestershire the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will make its debut flight in the UK. Important members of the Government, military delegations, industry and the military itself will get to see this superb aircraft demonstrate some of its capabilities in the air for the first time. A number of F-35 aircraft will be involved and these will later go on to the Farnborough International Air Show.

CHW (London – 26th April 2016)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Tel: 07710-779785

Global Military Spending Back On Upward Track

Ahead of a morning to be spent in MOD Main Building I thought it may be useful for those that have not seen the latest figures on global defence spending and trends to put the essential points out here. The following is for information purposes and, having myself been away when these were published, I am grateful to Defense News for bringing the latest research figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) to my attention.

The new research from SIPRI shows that total global military spending rose to an estimated $1.6 trillion in 2015. The increase in defence spending worldwide represents an increase of around one per cent from the previous year and it is the first seen in global military spending since 2011. For the record, spending on defence had risen continuously for a period of 13 years between 1998 and 2011 before then decreasing in each of the following four years. From an economic average perspective SIPRI suggests that global spending on defence represents 2.3% of global GDP.

In terms of where growth is coming from and trends SIPRI says that the majority of growth is emanating from Asia, Oceania, central and eastern Europe and some Gulf states. Importantly, there was a slower drawdown on in the USA than in previous years. Nevertheless, US defence expenditure was, at $596bn, still almost triple that of the estimated expenditure by China of $215bn, even though it was down 2.4 per cent from the amount that the US spent in 2014.

Spending by Saudi Arabia, at $87.2bn overtook that of Russia ($66.4bn) for the third place in the global spending list – most of the reason for this being attributed to a fall in the value of the ruble. The UK at $55.5bn changed places with France at $50.9bn for fifth and seventh places, respectively. This was attributed to the fall in value of the euro. The report also highlighted the impact of falling oil prices on defence spending which led to an abrupt fall in spending in countries such as Angola, Chad, Ecuador, Kazakhstan, Oman, South Sudan and Venezuela.

The largest spenders on defence are the USA ($596 billion),China ($215 billion), Saudi Arabia ($87.2 billion), Russia ($66.4 billion), United Kingdom ($55.5 billion), India, ($51.3 billion, France ($50.9 billion), Japan ($40.9 billion) and Germany ($39.4 billion). According to SIPRI

There was no change in the countries that comprised the top 15 military spenders in 2015 compared with 2014, although there were some changes in order. The United States, with total expenditure of $596 billion, remains by far the world’s largest military spender, at nearly three times the level of China, which is ranked second. Nonetheless, US military expenditure continued to decline in 2015 but at its slowest annual rate since 2011 (–2.4 per cent). SIPRI projections for 2016 indicate that US military spending will remain roughly constant in real terms.

Despite additional spending by Saudi Arabia on military operations in Yemen, its annual rate of growth also slowed (5.7 per cent) due to the sharp fall in the price of oil. The fall in oil prices also meant that Russia’s increase of 7.5 per cent on defence spending in 2015 was considerably lower than it had projected in its budget. Moreover, the 2016 Russian budget shows a reduction in military spending is expected. Even so, Saudi Arabia and Russia registered the highest levels of military expenditure as a share of GDP since 1990 (13.7 per cent and 5.4 per cent, respectively). The drop in the value of the euro was a major factor behind the United Kingdom climbing to fifth position above France which fell to seventh position, and Japan overtaking Germany to move into eighth place. Among other top 15 countries in 2015, the largest growth was by Australia (7.8 per cent), while the biggest decrease was by Italy (–9.9 per cent). There were also modest falls for France, Brazil and Israel.

European military expenditure increased by 1.7 per cent in 2015 to $328 billion, 5.4 per cent higher than in 2006 (see table 3). Spending in Western and Central Europe was $253 billion, down 0.2 per cent on 2014 and down 8.5 per cent compared with 2006. Expenditure in Eastern Europe was $74.4 billion, up 7.5 per cent on 2014 and up 90 per cent compared with 2006.There were signs in 2015 that the austerity-driven decline in military spending in Western and Central Europe that has held sway since 2010 may be coming to an end. While military spending in Western Europe continued to fall (by 1.3 per cent in 2015), for the first time since 2009 the number of countries in the sub-region that increased expenditure was higher than the number of those that reduced spending.

The three biggest spenders in Western Europe—the UK, France and Germany—have all signalled a growth in spending in coming years. Military expenditure in Central Europe rose for a second consecutive year (by 13 per cent), with a clear majority of countries increasing spending. Total expenditure in 2015 was slightly higher than its previous peak in 2007. Growth in military spending was most apparent in the countries bordering Russia or Ukraine, reflecting the escalating fear of a threat from Russia. Poland boosted spending by 22 per cent to $10.5 billion in line with its 10-year $40 billion military modernization plan, and military spending reached 2.2 per cent of its GDP in 2015. Romania increased spending by 11 per cent to $2.5 billion and declared its intention to raise its military burden from the current 1.4 per cent of GDP to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) target of 2 per cent by 2017.

CHW (London 13th April 2016)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Tel: 07710-779785

UK Defence (248) – Of More Hawk Aircraft Support, Addressing Pilot Shortfalls and Ed Strongman

News that the UK Ministry of Defence has committed £372 million to be invested on various individual contracts covering continued in-service maintenance and support for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy BAE Systems Hawk TMk1 and TMk2 (Advanced Jet Trainer) military aircraft is extremely welcome if hardly that surprising. In its most modern form the Hawk TMk2 offers a digital revolution in training that allows accurate and timely mission planning, briefing, rehearsals, mission execution and debriefs, all of which are fully linked to a student’s Training Management System. It is new generation technology throughout with heads-up display, full-colour Multi-Functional Displays supported by the latest generation of mission computers that can provide display data that is fully representative of combat aircraft such as Typhoon and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

For many years TMk1 and TMk2 Hawk aircraft have been the primary aircraft used to train Royal Air Force and Royal Navy fast jet pilots. The record of success of both Hawk and the training provided is formidable and having myself regularly engaged with 1V Squadron in the Moran Building at RAF Valley together with Ascent management team responsible for the operation of MFTS fast jet training and had the opportunity to fly with them I need no further convincing that fast jet pilot training in the UK is absolutely world class.

The 28 TMk2 Hawk aircraft that are the mainstay of the Ascent/1V Squadron operated combination of synthetic based and actual live flying training are all based at RAF Valley in Anglesey.  208(R) Squadron which is also based at RAF Valley and recently celebrated its 100th anniversary operates TMk1 Hawk aircraft on the advanced flying training and tactical weapons role. Both include international students, a vitally important element of UK based fast jet training capability particularly in terms of coalition-building, innovation and prosperity agenda requirement and importantly, in respect of defence diplomacy. Hawk TMk1 aircraft are also operated by 100 Squadron based at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire on a multitude of training related tasks, by the Red Arrows based at RAF Scampton, by the Royal Navy at RNAS Culdrose and by the RAF Centre of Aviation Medicine at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire.

For both BAE Systems and Babcock International the contracts placed by the MOD are I believe worth an estimated £300 million. Importantly, they will sustain approximately 600 highly skilled engineering based jobs at the various Royal Air Force and Royal Navy military bases involved. The servicing contracts cover aircraft maintenance, fleet management together with technical and engineering support for Hawk TMk1 and TMk2 jets. This is in addition to modification and obsolescence management along with the maintenance of master documentation. BAE Systems has long provided end-to-end MRO support for Hawk customers of which in excess of 1,000 aircraft have now either been ordered or delivered.

The ability of the operator to have maximum numbers of aircraft available is paramount to efficiency of the whole fast jet training operation. BAE Systems and Babcock International have worked extremely hard to improve MRO and technical based support on the Hawk jet in order to deliver 95% availability and they remain confident of their ability to continue to deliver this. The need to continually improve efficiency is hugely important not only in terms of lowering cost of operation but also in viewing what more can be done to increase the number of aircraft hours.

But although we have a superb training system for fast jet pilots particularly in the existing No 1 Flying Training School based at RAF Linton-on-Ouse and at the UKMFTS Ascent Flying Training/RAF 1V Squadron partnership at RAF Valley do we have enough pilots? The answer is that we already have a shortfall of trained fast jet pilots and as far as I can see it is a situation that is likely to get worse before it gets better.

The conclusions of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR 2010) that were announced by the Prime Minister during October 2010 had a major impact on the training of pilots and weapons system operators. The decisions to withdraw the RAF and Royal Navy Harrier fleet, to cancel procurement of the Nimrod MRA4, and to reduce the RAF Tornado GR4 fleet by two squadrons had a serious impact on training requirement. Short term thinking by the MOD ruled and the problem that the Royal Air Force has today is in my view a direct result of this. The result of such large scale capability reductions in air power led to the ending of weapons system operator training and the disbanding of No 76 (Reserve) Squadron during May 2011. There was also to be a considerable amount of reduction in the number of student pilots undertaking basic fast-jet training on the Tucano at RAF Linton-on Ouse and this in turn led to the disbanding of No 207 (Reserve) Squadron in January 2012. Thankfully it was not all bad news and the role of No 1 Flying Training School today remains to provide basic fast-jet pilot training for Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Foreign & Commonwealth students in preparation for advanced training on the Hawk TMk1 and TMk2 aircraft, in the case of the latter aircraft, using formidable combination of synthetic/simulation based training with live flying at RAF Valley. Refresher and instructor training (QFI) for qualified RAF and Royal Navy pilots also continues at RAF Linton-on-Ouse.

I have over the past couple of weeks covered the separate issue of proposed changes to air cadet gliding and I do not propose to add further to these comments here except to remind how vitally important gliding, flight experience and other flying opportunities are for cadets and how this together with opportunities to fly with University Air Squadrons has long been a precursor for many to join the Royal Air Force. So it was, so it remains.

The much heralded positive changes that emerged from SDSR 2015 in respect of air power regeneration and capability enhancement have not surprisingly significantly increased demands on the Royal Air Force particularly in regard of requirements for fast jet pilot training. It is worth recalling here that SDSR 2010 had targeted a reduction of fast jet squadrons to just six following the final run down intention of Tornado GR4 squadrons that was and remains due to have occurred by March 2019. The intention to reduce the number of fast jet squadrons to what many of us believed at the time of the announcement was a dangerous and unacceptable new low was however to be thankfully reversed in SDSR 2015.

A lot of work went on behind the scenes to achieve this and while still below what many would describe as being the ‘ideal’ number of squadron SDSR 2015 did at least confirm that the Royal Air Force would stay at nine squadrons post the Tornado GR4 out-of-service date having been reached (this being facilitated primarily by the decision to retain Tranche 1 Typhoons). The move was universally welcomed both internally by the RAF and externally by commentators such as myself and when mention was made that there was a possible plan in existence to get to 10 squadrons eventually there was understandable amount of loud cheer.

Nine squadrons are better than six and ten, even if these are to be smaller squadrons than hitherto, is far better that nine. To achieve all this plans exist for better exploitation of advanced simulation based training and use of synthetics as opposed to actual flying in mission practice. It makes sense to do this in that it will allow a greater number of pilots to be sustained at high readiness from a broadly unchanged number of actual hours being flown. But the reality is that the Royal Air Force will be seriously short of trained pilots unless the whole more effort and investment is put into training.

The Royal Air Force is well aware that based on SDSR 2015 requirements it faces a shortfall in numbers of fully trained pilots. The training problem isn’t just about attracting and training enough new personnel it is also about retaining and training sufficient QFI’s (Qualified Flying Instructors). It takes a very long time to train a ‘trainer’ and once trained other more attractive doors are seemingly opened to them. Certainly it is a competitive market and many qualified ‘trainers’ have been attracted to Gulf based countries eager to employ them on much higher salaries. Moreover, the culture of ‘cuts’ since SDSR 2010 witnessed pilots having completed basic and initial training with no jobs to go too.

The problem is though understood and actions to increase the number of trained pilots is already in hand. As mentioned a few weeks ago following a private visit in which I spoke at RAF Cranwell and where Initial Officer Training and Elementary Flying Training (EFT) currently take place the intention is that due to a small element of course compression an additional course can now be accommodated.

I will cover detail of the planned new arrangements covering the announced next stage of the Military Flying Training (MFTS) programme that is planned to take over from the existing Tucano operated Basic Fast Jet training operated out of RAF Linton-on-Ouse later in this paper and note also that during April following a short period away a separate paper based on current operation and future plans for Rotary Wing Training based at RAF Shawbury will be published.

On the future Basic Fast Jet Training plan while the decision to award the programme to Ascent Flight Training has been welcomed there remain various concerns in relation to the original idea of moving the No 1 Flying Training School operation from Linton-on-Ouse to the originally suggested possibility of RAF Valley. A specific concern related to this was raised by me in a separate article written for the Royal Aeronautical Society ‘Aerospace’ journal last year and with good reasoning too.

Due to a number of fears including location where climate, environment and the envisioning that finding sufficient numbers of personnel willing to move to Valley might well be a problem I had made a strong plea to leave the replacement MFTS programme exactly where the existing No 1 Flying Training School is currently based at RAF Linton-in-Ouse. As far as I am aware, no location decision has yet been announced. Another possibility is that the Ascent operated programme that was awarded in February and that comes into effect three years from now might be moved to RAF Leeming.

While the planned investment in what we tend to call ‘Basic Flying Training’ is extremely welcome and, despite concerns over the rather small numbers of new aircraft that are planned to be acquired, the marked increase in synthetic based training that will significantly reduce emphasis on live-flying is still three years away from starting to operate. Until then the venerable and now ageing Tucano aircraft will be required to soldier on meaning that spare parts and maintenance could remain serious issues. Certainly the scope for efficiency gains to be made at Linton-on-Ouse or to increase the amount of pilot training look to me to be very limited.

I have previously talked in the issue of QFI retention at RAF Valley where a near 50/50 basis of synthetic based training to actual live flying is rightly considered to be a perfect balance within the UK MFTS programme. While the QFI shortage situation has I believed eased somewhat on a year ago it is still a potentially very serious issue particularly given the length of time it takes to train QFI’s and the need to generate more trained fast jet pilots quickly.

In any event, to achieve the underlying requirement will, if the number of fast jet pilots graduating is to be increased, also require an increase in the number of synthetic based training hours and of the actual flying hours operated on RAF Valley’s 28 Hawk T2’s. My understanding is that the number of contracted Hawk T2 flying hours is currently 9,200. If that is correct and if the maths suggesting that there is a possible shortfall around circa 100 trained pilots today and that may rise significantly higher between now and 2018/19 it appears to me that we should be aiming at a minimum 15% to 18% increase in throughput of pilot trainees that are currently going through both the first and second stage fast jet training system process. To achieve that may require additional investment.

Royal Air Force Manning Requirements covering all trades and professions are worked out at the beginning of each year based on what are called the Into Training Targets (ITT). Even though the ITT can and does fluctuate during the year my understanding is that it is already pointing to a sizeable shortage of trained fast jet pilots over the next few years.

We move on and it certainly isn’t all bad news. 22 Group of the RAF works extremely hard and the motivation to succeed is writ large all around you. It is not an easy job to get all the various pieces of the pilot training jigsaw in place and when policy that was announced in SDSR 2010 is reversed to a well-thought out strategy in SDSR 2015 time is required to get it right. All credit to the current Air Officer Commanding 22 Group, Air-Vice Marshal Andy Turner for his work in furthering the persistent pursuit of excellence that is the hallmark of 22 Group.

And then there is the Hawk jet itself, another piece of excellent UK sovereign capability built by BAE Systems and in operation with dozens of air forces around the world. As a fast jet trainer aircraft Hawk AJT is as I said earlier absolutely world class. With its digital glass cockpit layout featuring twin multifunction displays (MFD’s) Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC), Hands-On-Throttle-And-Stick (HOTAS) controls, two mission computers, Inertial Navigation/Global Positioning Systems (IN/GPS) with digital moving map for both navigation and weapon aiming accuracy, Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS), embedded-radar simulation capability, On-Board Oxygen System (OBOGS) plus full NVG (Night Vision Goggles) combined with power provided form the hugely reliable and efficient Rolls-Royce/Turbomeca Adour Mk 951 engine the Hawk TMk2 or AJT if you prefer is without doubt a very formidable fast jet training aircraft capability package. The TMk2 Hawk is currently the primary lead in trainer for Tornado GR4 and Typhoon jets in service with the Royal Air Force and with its similar cockpit layout and systems it has also been designed to be the lead in trainer for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft that the UK is acquiring for Carrier Strike.

For ASCENT, a now well bedded in partnership between Lockheed Martin and Babcock International and that at RAF Valley working in close harmony with 1V Squadron has been responsible for fast jet training since the 2008 award of the Military Flying Training System (MFTS) was made I consider that although the ride toward excellence has not been without a few bumps the level of quality and performance now being reached is formidable.

I suspect that being a Hon member of 1V Squadron that I have been rather fortunate to be able to observe the excellent partnership relationship that has been established between ASCENT and 1V Squadron grow in stature and I know that the strength of the relationship has been instrumental to the success of the venture.

Clearly, the further commitment to Hawk maintenance and support announced by the MOD is hugely important and at the same time we must not underestimate the amount of pressure the Royal Air Force is facing as it attempts to rebuild capability and resilience lost in the aftermath of the damaging SDSR 2010. Facing a shortfall of at least 100 fast jet pilots the need for training and indeed, a more forward thinking view in respect of retention has never been greater than now.

Located within the Moran Building at RAF Valley, a modern extremely well equipped building housing the entire Ascent led fast jet flying training system that includes a large range of synthetic based flying training devices, simulators, mission and flight planning and management systems within a network based synthetic training system the ASCENT/1V Squadron training model is recognised by air forces across the world as the model for training excellence. By virtue of the design capability that the UK has established in the now close to 50/50 mix of synthetic based to actual flying and having positioned itself as a world leader in both the technology and concept of fast jet training it is something of a great regret to me that while talking much about the innovation and prosperity agenda within SDSR 2015 the UK Government has so far failed to properly embrace the earnings and export potential that the UK clearly has in respect of the massive international defence training requirement. To do that of course requires long-term thinking, a belief in sovereign capability and the need for more investment in training.

In February this year Ascent, in partnership with the MOD was awarded contracts to deliver the prior stages of pilot training within the ongoing Military Flying Training System (UKMFTS) through to 2033. A total investment of £1.1 billion was confirmed enabling Ascent to deliver the fixed wing element of training at a various (some yet to be confirmed) military air bases in the UK. As part of the investment, a contract worth approximately £500 million was signed with Affinity (a joint venture between Kellogg Brown and Root Ltd and Elbit Systems UK) in which the joint venture company will provide three different aircraft types as well as their maintenance and support to be used at different stages of the training. At the same time contracts were awarded by the MOD to Lockheed Martin and Babcock International to deliver all ground based training equipment and infrastructure requirements needed to support the delivery of the fixed wing training capability. Planned to be fully operational in 2019, fixed wing flying training will see students conduct Elementary Flying Training on the Grob 120TP ‘Prefect’ before going on to complete either Multi Engine Pilot Training on the Embraer ‘Phenom’ 100 and for the Basic Flying Training element, on the Beechcraft ‘Texan’ T-6C.


Edward “Ed” Strongman – Airbus Chief Test Pilot

It is with regret that I have to report the death over this past weekend of Edward “Ed” Strongman who had, until his retirement in late 2014, been the Chief Test Pilot for Airbus Defence and Space.

Having joined Airbus in 1995, Ed Strongman was initially Project Pilot for the A330/A340 family and was particularly closely involved with the development of the A340-600 which he piloted on its maiden flight in April 2001. Subsequently he worked on all Airbus aircraft and participated extensively in the A380 flight test development programme and in December 2009 captained the maiden flight of the A400M.

A veteran test pilot Ed Strongman was selected to attend the United States Air Force Test Pilot School (USAFTPS) at Edwards AFB, California in 1979 following five years spent on operations flying Royal Air Force Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft. After graduating from USAFTPS, he served for six years at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Bedford flying a wide range of transports, fighters and helicopters. On leaving in 1986 as Commanding Officer of the Test Squadron he joined the UK CAA as a certification test pilot and was involved in regulatory approval of various jet and turboprop aircraft.

Ed Strongman had accumulated more than 11,000 flight hours of which more than 7,000 were in flight test. Born in Cornwall in 1949, he gained an engineering degree from Bristol University.

He is succeeded by his wife, three daughters and a son and I am sure that those who like myself knew or had met Ed will join with me in sending our deepest condolences to them at this time of great sadness and loss.

CHW (London – 29th March 2016)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Tel: 07710-779785