The UK Royal Air Force's fast jet inventory has undergone a dramatic transformation over the decade since its Operation "Telic" involvement during the second Gulf War with Iraq in 2003, rationalising to just two types: the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Panavia Tornado GR4.
Gone are the Sepecat Jaguar, BAE Systems Harrier and Tornado F3 fleets, and with them the mass of a sizeable frontline squadron strength. From 2014, the RAF is likely to be composed of just seven frontline fast jet units.
Consequently, the service is looking to wring as much capability and usefulness as possible out of its fighters. Versatility, lean engineering procedures, minimal operating costs and maximum output are all essentials.
The RAF and Royal Navy are already heavily engaged with moulding a future transition from the Tornado GR4 to the Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter at the end of this decade. However, a bow in the overall force structure is almost inevitable if the ageing GR4s are to exit use in 2019 as planned, with few expecting a meaningful F-35 capability for the UK by that time.