Whether one agrees or disagrees with the UK’s launch of Storm Shadow at Syria on 13 Apr 18, the Prime Minister had the luxury of selecting this low risk military option. The UK support to the US, UK French coordinated joint action was contributed by Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 aircraft which launched the Storm Shadow cruise missiles targeted at a facility where it had been assessed the Assad regime had stockpiled chemical weapon elements in contravention of Syria’s obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
However, given the planned retirement of the entire Tornado GR4 fleet by mid 2019, and the Typhoon aircraft yet to be operationally cleared to fire Storm Shadow, there is a grave danger of a long-range deep strike air launched cruise missile Capability gap appearing just at the time this valuable option seems most needed. Even with a few Typhoon aircraft and crew becoming operational by early/mid 2019, the loss of the Tornado fleet, and with the F-35B aircraft fleet being years away from operational capability with limited weapons planned, this vital stand-off weapon option will be vested in the small, single remaining fast jet Typhoon fleet that under current plans will be burdened with providing all fast jet combat weapon delivery roles for the next half a decade.
DS has to ask, is it a militarily wise decision to place all air weapons delivery hopes and aspirations on to one fast jet type not yet approved for all weapons required (even if the clearance processes can be accelerated)? And, even more precariously, on the as yet unproven F-35B Lightning II that still has very significant challenges to overcome to get to achieve even limited Initial Operational Capability (IOC) to operate off land and aircraft carriers by the early 2020s?
The need to retain a credible deep strike air launch, and Close Air Support, capability is surely reason enough to extend the remaining two squadrons of Tornado GR4 until the F-35B achieves true combat IOC or the Typhoon achieves Full Operational Capability (FOC) to be able to deliver the spectrum of weapons and combat roles currently delivered by the Tornado fleet?