Published on November 27th, 2016 | by Jim Lee


Further progress with the Royal Air Forces modernisation process

On 18th November, the UK Ministry of Defence announced that the structure of a 3 bay hangar, for in-depth maintenance of its Airbus A400M Atlas C1 aircraft fleet, had been completed at RAF Brize Norton. The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) contracted Balfour Beatty to complete the work on the maintenance repair and overhaul facility, at a cost of £42 million (around €49.45 million). RAF Brize Norton is the Royal Air Force’s largest station and is home to its air transport and air-to-air refuelling fleets.

The RAF will operate 22 A400M Atlas aircraft, replacing the versatile C130 Hercules, in support of the deployment of the Joint Rapid Reaction Force. The 45 metre (147.64 ft.) long aircraft can carry 25 tonnes of cargo, for more than 2,000 nautical miles (3,704 km) and has a wingspan of nearly 42.5 metres (139.44 ft.). It will enable the RAF to support all three services and be interoperable, whilst having the ability to operate from short, unprepared landing strips and also performing at both low level (150 ft./45.72m above ground level) and high altitude (up to 40,000ft./12,192m); ensuring the deployment of conventional and high readiness forces and equipment directly into the operational area.

The RAF took delivery of the first of Atlas aircraft, ZM400 (c/n 015) on 17th November 2014, and it took delivery of its most recent aircraft, its 11th, ZM411 (c/n 039), on 28th October. Earlier, ZM409 (c/n 034), was delivered on 16th September. Since coming into service in March 2015, the A400M has already provided mission support by flying operational cargo to RAF Akrotiri.

The finished structure of the new hangar includes three separate bays to hold three A400M Atlas aircraft, as well as the C17 Globemaster and the A330 Voyager, when static. It also has a ground equipment store, engine and tyre bays and a 3 storey office and amenities block. At 28 metres (91.87 ft.,) high, the hangar covers 24,000 m² (258,334 ft²) and used 3,200 tonnes of steel to construct. The roof houses 600m² (6,458.4 ft²) solar panels to provide up to 70 kilowatts of electrical power.

Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) will now complete a six month ‘fit out’ of the interior, before the building becomes operational, early next year.

UK and Norway agree new cooperation on Maritime Patrol Aircraft

UK Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon announced that the UK and Norway would work closer cooperation on Maritime Patrol Aircraft, including in reducing costs and increasing operational effectiveness, during a visit to Norway’s Joint Headquarters, Bodø, close to the Arctic Circle, on 10th November.

He also visited Bodø Main Air Station, home of two F-16 squadrons, and a squadron of Search and Rescue Sea King helicopters, where, with his Norwegian counterpart, Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide, he signed a new agreement, on host nation support for UK exercises, in the country. The agreement further increases the UK and Norway’s ability to exercise, train and operate together. The Defence Secretary welcomed the fact that British armed forces undertake yearly winter training in Norway, particularly 3 Commando Brigade in Harstad and Evenes and elements of Joint Helicopter Command at Bardufoss.


UK Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon with his Norwegian counterpart Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide

He arrived in Norway following meetings with the Northern Group countries, the previous day, in Copenhagen, where he reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to European defence.

As part of last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, the UK announced that it would procure nine Boeing P8 MPA and deal was sealed at the Farnborough air show on 11th July (see here). The new capability, which will be based in Scotland, will allow for enhanced situational awareness in key areas such as the North Atlantic, and will also further increase the protection of the UK’s nuclear deterrent and the UK’s two new aircraft carriers.

Work on the UK’s MPA programme is progressing well, including the investment on infrastructure in Lossiemouth in Scotland, where the new aircraft will be based. Former armed forces personnel who previously served on UK Nimrod are also re-joining the RAF to help operate the future P-8s. 12 have recently re-joined and more will re-join in the future.

UK chosen as a global F-35 repair hub

On 7th November, the MoD announced that the UK has been chosen by the F-35 Programme Office to be a global repair hub providing maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade services for F-35 avionic and aircraft components. Over the lifetime of the programme, components for hundreds of European-based F-35 aircraft will be serviced and maintained in North Wales.

The F-35 maintenance programme will generate millions of pounds and support thousands of jobs in North Wales, with the potential to unlock more than £2 billion (around €2.36 billion) of future F-35 support revenue, for the UK defence industry, over the lifetime of the programme. This will help sustain thousands of high tech jobs and skills. The work will involve maintenance and repair of systems for the F-35 aircraft, including electronic and electrical components, fuel, mechanical and hydraulic systems, and ejection seats.

The winning UK solution will be based on an innovative partnership enterprise between Defence Electronics & Components Agency (DECA), BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman, supported by key F-35 Original Equipment Manufacturers. The work will be centred at the UK Government-owned, Defence Electronics & Components Agency (DECA), based at MoD Sealand, in North East Wales.

The North Wales maintenance site already supports around 400 jobs with thousands more in the wider supply chain – these will be sustained and grown over the coming years as a result of this announcement. MoD Sealand is a perfect location for maintenance work on this scale and the Defence Secretary is confident that they will see further investment locally for the aerospace industry in Wales.

The new global avionic and aircraft component repair service is expected to be operational from early 2018.

First two Grob Prefect T.1s for the Royal Air Force delivered

The first two Grob Prefect T.1s for the RAF have been successfully delivered to Affinity Flying Training Services, a short 9 months after contract award, earlier this year. A total of 23 Prefects will be delivered to the RAF, as part of the UK Military Flight Training System and they will wear serial ZM300 to ZM322 in RAF service. These aircraft will serve in the Elementary Flying Training role, giving student pilots the first taste of military aviation. They will replace G115Es, designated as the Tutor T1, undertaking pilot grading, basic and elementary flying training. The Tutor fleet is owned and maintained by a civilian company, Babcock and the fleet of 119 aircraft is used in the Light Aircraft Flying Task, also undertaking air experience flying for University Air Squadrons and Air Cadet organisations.

The new aircraft, wearing the civil registrations G-MFTS (will become ZM300) and G-MEFT (will become ZM301). arrived into the home of military flying training, RAF Cranwell, for a short refuel stop on 15th November before completing their journey to RAF Barkston Heath, where they are due to begin providing flying training to Navy, Army and RAF pilots, next year.

Marking a distinct change in training aircraft, the Grob 120TP comes complete with a fully digital cockpit, retractable undercarriage and a turbo prop engine, all the better to prepare the modern military student pilot for their frontline aircraft.


RAF’s first Grob Prefect T-1’s arrive at RAF Cranwell

The delivery of these Prefect T.1s has freed up G115Es for disposal and on 10th October, Finland’s Defence Ministry, announced the acquisition of 28 of these second-hand aircraft, for elementary and basic flying training, replacing the Valmet L-70 Vinka, provided by Patria Aviation.

Negotiations on the organisation of a flight training service and maintenance of the new aircraft are still in progress but in addition to the aircraft, the contract, worth approximately €6.06 million, will include all necessary training on the type.

The Grobs will be modernised after delivery with new navigation systems, cockpit displays and radios and the contract price excludes this upgrade work. Deliveries are scheduled to take place in 2016 and 2017.

In addition, the Finnish Defence Forces’ Logistics Command recently sent Requests for Information (RFI), regarding the replacement of its F-18 Hornet aircraft to the governments of Great Britain, France, Sweden and the United States, as part of its HX fighter project. These governments were requested to further send the RFIs to their respective industries which manufacture multi-role fighters. On 22nd November it was confirmed that they had received responses from Boeing (F/A-18), Dassault Aviation (Rafale), BAE Systems (Eurofighter Typhoon), Lockheed Martin (F-35) and Saab (JAS Gripen).

Plans to transfer the British Army’s fleet of Britten-Norman Islander and Defender aircraft to the RAF confirmed

On 10th October, the UK’s Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Ministry of Defence responsible for Defence Procurement, Harriett Baldwin, confirmed that the Fixed Wing Manned Aerial Surveillance Capability, provided by the Army Air Corps’ (AAC’s) fleet of Islander AL1 and Defender AL2 aircraft, will be transferred from the Army to the RAF. According to the 2016 UK Armed Forces Equipment and Formations report, published on 6th September, the MoD said it owned nine Defenders, three Islander AL1s, and three Islanders CC2s, with eight, three and one aircraft respectively in daily use. The fleet of Islander AL1 and Defender AL2 aircraft are used to provide surveillance support to special forces operations overseas, and counter-terrorist operations within the United Kingdom and have been used extensively in Northern Ireland. The aircraft are operated by 651 Squadron which is part of 5 Regiment AAC and is based at Joint Helicopter Command Flying Station, Aldergrove, Northern Ireland (formerly RAF Aldergrove).


UK Army Air Corps Defender Mk.2

Plans to transfer the aircraft by 2018, are understood to be in development by the UK MoD, and while Ms Baldwin confirmed that while it had been agreed “the governance of the aircraft would be transferred from the Army to the RAF”, detailed implementation plans, including timescales and the implications for 5 Regiment Army Air Corps, or other Units have yet to be finalised.

Other details, such as basing, unit structure, and whether existing army air and ground crews will transfer to the RAF, have also to be worked out. Due to the sensitivity of the missions flown by the Islanders and Defenders, many aspects of their operations are shrouded in high levels of secrecy.

The Red Arrows

On 1st November, the RAF Aerobatic Team completed their first ever public display in China and in the process made Aviation history (see here). The performance by the Red Arrows, at Zhuhai, takes the total number of countries in which the team have displayed to 57, since 1965 – the team’s opening season. The full display was in front of thousands of people on the opening day of Airshow China. The visit to China is part of the Red Arrows’ Asia-Pacific and Middle East Tour and interest in the Red Arrows was huge in China, with images and interviews with the team seen by tens of millions of people across newspapers, online and on television.


The team arrived in China just over week earlier and carried out a practice display and dozens of ground engagement activities, including visits to schools, universities and meeting businesses, in Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and Guangzhou.

royal-air-forceCoinciding with the their visit to China, the Defence Secretary confirmed that the team is to re-equip with new aircraft, saying that the team’s current Hawk T1s are in need of replacement, and that a decision would be made within the next two years. He added that it is too early at this stage to say what type of aircraft will replace them, but obviously a sensible replacement would be the Hawk T2, which has an extended nose for additional avionics and features a number of major changes under the skin. Gone also is the traditional cockpit dials and switches and in their place are three, full colour, multi-function displays similar to those used by modern fighters such as Typhoon. It also has the advantage of already being in RAF service as its transonic, tandem 2-seat training aircraft. We will have a few years to wait before a final selection is made.

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About the Author

Jim has had a life-long interest in military matters and aviation. Initially, he fused both of these interests together with a passion for military aviation, initially as a photographer. He has travelled extensively over the years and has been the guest of many European air forces, plus the air forces of the United States, Russia and others throughout the world. His first introduction to journalism coincided with an interest in the civil aviation industry was when he initially wrote for and later edited, ‘Aviation Ireland’, the club magazine of the Aviation Society of Ireland. Jim was a contributor to Flying in Ireland since its inception over 10 years ago and is now a key contributor to this site. He has also contributed items for a number of other aviation magazines and has produced a number of detailed contributions to Government policy documents, most recently the Irish Government’s White Paper on Defence. He is also deeply involved in the local community and voluntary sector and has worked both in local government and central government.

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