Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/04/15/eurofighters_attack_the_pac/

RAF Eurofighters make devastating attack – on Parliament

Should have called it Operation Guy Fawkes, not Ellamy

By Lewis Page

Posted in Government, 15th April 2011 12:00 GMT

The RAF has blown up two apparently abandoned Libyan tanks using a Eurofighter Typhoon jet in a move which appears to have been motivated more by Whitehall infighting than by any attempt to battle the forces of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

The following video was released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) yesterday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the events shown took place (this is much faster than normal).

The video appears to show a T-72 tank neatly parked, stationary and unmanned: the target was plainly not in use. The Telegraph reports that the location struck was "an abandoned tank park". Many Libyan armoured vehicles are old and not serviceable due to lack of parts and servicing. RAF sources admitted to the paper that the jets making the strike had had to spend "a long time" searching before they could find a valid target to hit, and that the timing of the strike was "no coincidence".

The video release was accompanied by a briefing to reporters from an RAF air marshal, in which he stated:

"The RAF has never doubted the efficacy of the Typhoon as a potent ground attack aircraft. Last night, it proved we were right."

This hasty effort by the RAF to get Typhoons into ground-attack action took place just ahead of the scheduled release by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee of a damning report on the Eurofighter, titled Management of the Typhoon project. This report had been expected to be highly critical of the Typhoon, and indeed it is. It says:

In 2004, the Department decided to retire the ground attack Jaguar aircraft early and to spend £119 million to install ground attack upgrades on early Typhoons to cover the resulting capability gap. These upgrades were ready for use by 2008. A year later, the Department decided to retire the air defence Tornado F3 aircraft early to save money and therefore re-prioritised Typhoon away from ground attack missions to air defence tasks. It is now not using Typhoon's ground attack capability.

The RAF had already taken massive flak over the Eurofighter regarding an earlier report by the National Audit Office, which revealed that the service has only a handful of Typhoon pilots trained to carry out ground-attack missions. At that point the RAF stated that it planned to have enough airmen trained in ground attack to "conduct a small scale ground attack mission by 2014" and to stand up a proper bomber capability for Typhoon in 2016.

It thus becomes fairly plain that in order to carry out this week's small-scale attacks, the RAF must have resorted to measures such as pulling weapons instructors out of training units, disrupting the future personnel pipeline and quite possibly delaying the arrival of a proper, sustainable corps of Typhoon pilots capable of all tasks.

And the service has done all this, seemingly, in order to blow up a couple of abandoned, probably unserviceable 40-year-old tanks (most likely the T-72M "monkey model", as the Russians term the inferior kit they export to despised nominal allies).

Or, more accurately, the RAF has done this in an attempt to wrong-foot the MPs of the Public Accounts Committee.

But the MPs are right. The story of bomber capability on the Eurofighter has been a cockup from start to finish

Analysis

But in fact it is the RAF which will remain in the wrong on the matter of Eurofighter and its ground attack capability. It remains the case that the airmen have spent nine-figure sums upgrading early Tranche 1 planes to do ground attack, and that these aircraft will shortly be permanently mothballed – that is, thrown away – without in most cases ever once being flown by a pilot who could use those expensive weapon systems.

It remains a fact that the Eurofighter will only be fully capable as a bomber – to the point where it is actually better than the aged 1980s-vintage Tornado alongside which it is flying above Libya – in 2018, once yet more billions have been spent on it. (It would seem that in fact the RAF does doubt its potency, no matter what AVM Osborn may say). And it remains an even more painful fact that just three years later on current plans the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will arrive with its stealth and modern electronic-warfare capability, rendering the Eurofighter totally obsolete as a bomber and quite probably as a fighter too.

So the desperate effort we have seen this week to get some weapons off some Eurofighters should not obscure the fact that the RAF's conversion of the plane into a bomber has been and will continue to be an unmitigated, idiotic procurement disaster. It should also not obscure the fact that even without the bomber upgrades the Eurofighter was a horrific train-crash of a project: without bomber upgrades it would still have cost us £20.2bn to obtain our planned fleet of just 107 jets, putting each one at £189m (with bomber conversion this will climb to £215m).

And people should not allow the RAF's cynical, pointless bombings to make them forget that more and worse is to come on Eurofighter in the matter of the plane's running and support costs. These are officially acknowledged to be no less than £13bn until 2030 – nearly enough to replace Trident! – and it is quite plain that this figure has been unrealistically lowballed. In other words we will either pay more, or – perhaps more likely – get fewer flying hours and thus in effect even fewer jets.

One might note that the Australian government has recently purchased 24 of the latest F-18 Super Hornet jets from the States for about £3.9bn (spread over a decade) in a deal which includes training and support costs. These planes are at least as good as Eurofighters for any realistic task – better, for most jobs.

If we scrapped our Eurofighter fleet now, we could do a sensible deal like the Aussies – we'd probably get a better price as the F-18 line is nearing the end of its run and we would be buying in bulk. Our £13bn would buy and support a fleet of at least 90 Hornets. If we also scrapped the Tornado we could get many more. There is a huge worldwide fleet of F-18s, so running costs would be cheap as chips and we wouldn't have planes and pilots grounded for lack of spares as we do with the crappy Eurofighter.

Hornets would not only be better than Eurofighters and Tornados: they would also be able to fly from our new carriers as soon as they are built. On current plans the ships will stand empty for years, and then finally put to sea with small, feeble air groups.

Needless to say, the plan of simply buying F-18s would have BAE Systems and its bloated Continental arms-industry chums up in arms – as things stand it is they who will get our billions in sweetheart support deals without any penalties for poor performance.

But nonetheless the RAF itself realistically would much rather have a powerful fleet of F-18s for which it could actually obtain spares and which it could put into the air at a reasonable cost – as opposed to their current embarrassingly rubbish situation.

That is why it's so depressing to see the air marshals turning their (frankly rather transparent) behind-the-scenes machinations not against BAE Systems, but against their political oversight.

Yet another foolish own goal by the Ministry of Defence. ®