Just days after celebrating the anniversary of its greatest moment, the British Royal Air Force is facing a future with a much smaller fleet of aircraft. A new report from IHS Jane's 360 claims that by 2019, the flying service's fighter inventory will hit its lowest level since its founding, over 100 years prior.
The drawdown is being blamed on the retirements of the Panavia Tornado and early examples of the Eurofighter Typhoon. The RAF currently operates 192 fighters, including 53 Tranche I Typhoons and 87 Tornadoes. The remaining 52 fighters include Tranche II and III Typhoons, meaning that the RAF will be retiring 77 percent of its fighter fleet by 2019. Troubling as this report is, as IHS points out, the drop in the fighter fleet is only temporary.
The UK will continue taking deliveries of the Tranche III Eurofighter through 2019, when the total inventory will hit 40. The arrival of the American-made Lockheed F-35B will bolster the air force, although the Ministry of Defense is already considering reducing the UK's commitment from 138 fighters to just 48. And even, only 15 to 20 F-35s will be in service by the time the Tornado/Eurofighter retirements are complete, leaving the RAF with a best-case fleet of just 127 aircraft.
So, how does the MoD and RAF supplement its smallest fighter fleet since its 1918 inception? Jane's is reporting that keeping the Tranche I Typhoons in service is one option. After all, the fighters have only been in service for 16 years, which is a remarkably short time in the life of fighter aircraft. On top of that, it'd offer better value for the money to UK taxpayers and would require only a modest investment. According to Jane's, the service life of these early Eurofighters could be extended to 2030.