The decision to scrap the Royal Air Force’s Sentinel reconnaissance aircraft under defence cuts is to be reviewed following its performance over Libya.
Head of the Royal Air Force (RAF), Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, says the Sentinel R1 – fitted with sophisticated radar imaging equipment – played a “pivotal” role in spotting and identifying Colonel Gaddafi’s forces and should be retained.
Under the Strategic Defence and Security Review, all five of the RAF’s Sentinel aircraft have been listed for withdrawal from service by 2015, the British Forces Broadcasting Service reports.
However, Air Chief Marshal Dalton has indicated it could be in line for a reprieve in the light of the aircraft’s performance in Libya.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s The World At One he said: “Whenever we have had an operation we then have to go back and have a look at whether the assumptions we made before or during were correct.
“The value of Sentinel and the value of the picture it provided was so critical that I think we will need to have another look and see what way we can provide that capability in the future.”
The aircraft had been particularly important in convincing the politicians that international forces were able to identify accurately and hit targets on the ground, he said.
“Sentinel was pivotal to be able to provide the picture – the picture in electronic terms, the picture in imagery terms – so that our intelligence was well-placed therefore to identify those targets and to precisely target against them,” he said.
“It was also important because we were able to demonstrate that to lawyers, to the targeteers, to the politicians, that we could see what was going on, we could identify them moving as well as the static, and we could therefore focus on what was important to achieve the overall effect.”
The UK National Defence Association (UKNDA) welcomed Dalton’s comments. UKNDA Chief Executive Andy Smith said: “This is excellent news, not just because we have a good chance of securing a reprieve for the Sentinel R1 but also because it could be an indication that other aspects of the SDSR are also being looked at afresh in light of the experience in Libya. The SDSR was a Treasury-led review which, if carried through in its entirety, will do irreparable damage to Britain’s military capabilities.
“We have a chance now to block the more short-sighted SDSR decisions and, I hope, to persuade our new Defence Secretary, Mr Hammond, to reverse the latest defence cuts and cancel the redundancy programmes in all three Services. With the world situation more dangerous than ever, now is the time to expand our Armed Forces, not reduce them.”
The UKNDA was formed in 2007 to campaign for better-resourced Armed Services and a robust strategy for national defence and security.
Last year the United Kingdom announced its Strategic Defence and Security Review, which is intended to cut defence spending by 8% over four years. The RAF and navy will lose 5,000 jobs each, the Army 7,000 and the Ministry of Defence 25,000 civilian staff. In July UK defence secretary Liam Fox announced long-awaited cuts that will shrink the army from 101 000 to 82 000 by 2020. The UK army will shrink to its smallest in more than a century as deep cuts are made to help fill a £38 billion hole in the Ministry of Defence’s budget.
More than 70 Harrier jump jets, the Navy’s flagship HMS Ark Royal aircraft carrier and the Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft were also cut. Axing the Harrier and Ark Royal means no planes will be able to fly from British aircraft carriers until 2019.
Tanks will be cut by 40% and heavy artillery 35% – but there will be 12 more Chinooks and communications equipment and more money for unmanned planes, Prime Minister David Cameron said.
He said the government would procure a fleet of hunter killer Astute class submarines, complete production of six Type 45 destroyers and start a programme to develop “less expensive, more flexible, modern frigates”.