RAF's Sentinel fleet could escape retirement, says MoD

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The UK Ministry of Defence is reviewing its decision to remove the Royal Air Force's Bombardier Global Express-based Sentinel R1 surveillance aircraft from use in 2015, as the capability continues to support military operations in Afghanistan and Mali.

The proposal to retire the synthetic aperture radar- and ground moving target indication sensor-equipped Sentinel fleet and its associated ground exploitation equipment was among a number of controversial announcements contained within the coalition government's Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) of September 2010.

 

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Five of the Raytheon Systems-modified aircraft are assigned to the RAF's 5 Sqn, based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. The MoD says two are currently on overseas deployments: one supporting the NATO International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and the other providing ground surveillance for France's Operation Serval in Mali. The latter is being operated from Dakar in Senegal, where the UK's open-ended Sentinel contribution involves around 70 personnel.

"The department is currently considering how it might retain Sentinel beyond 2015, with the final decision to be taken as part of the next SDSR," minister of state for defence personnel, welfare and veterans Mark Francois said in response to a parliamentary question on 6 February.

First indications that at least part of the Sentinel capability could be retained emerged in May 2012, when NATO said France and the UK had offered to make contributions in kind in support of the future Alliance Ground Surveillance system, which will use a fleet of five radar-equipped Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned air vehicles.

The UK's Sentinel R1s were acquired via the MoD's Airborne Stand-Off Radar programme, worth more than £1.2 billion ($1.9 billion), including support arrangements. The system was declared formally in-service in November 2008.