This article first appeared in Aviation Week & Space Technology.
A British Conservative government would revisit Royal Air Force transport and fighter aircraft basing plans -- and intended closures -- including a move to consolidate all U.K. fixed-wing airlift at one hub.
Gerald Howarth, the shadow defense minister, says reconsideration of the present government's decision to ax Lyneham -- one of the RAF's two main transport bases -- would "absolutely" be part of a strategic defense review, were the party to be returned to power. A national election in the U.K. has to be held no later than June.
"We would put the future basing of our fleets, not just the air transport fleet but the fast-jet fleet, as well into the mix for a strategic defense review, that seems to me to be the sensible thing to do."
RAF Lyneham is currently slated to close in 2012, with the air force's 24 C‑130Js and a small number of C‑130Ks being transferred to RAF Brize Norton. The government announced recently that the fighter base at RAF Cottesmore will also close.
Brize Norton eventually will be the long-term home to at least seven Boeing C-17s, 14 Airbus A330-based Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft, 24 Lockheed Martin C-130Js and, notionally, 25 Airbus Military A400Ms. The U.K., however, will almost certainly cut the number of A400Ms it buys (assuming the program survives) to a maximum of 19.
Howarth spoke last week at a Westminster Hall debate in Parliament, held to consider the U.K.'s tactical and strategic airlift capacity. The war in Afghanistan and the deployment to Iraq, which ended in 2009, have placed the air force's transport fleet under pressure. This is compounded by delays to the A400M.
Howarth argues that "it seems to me essential -- if we are to have a defense review that will assess the real and potential threats to the nation and if, having done so, we are to decide what military capabilities we require to meet those threats -- that we must translate those decisions into the aircraft, ships, tanks . . . that are needed and the places where they will be based."
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