UK MoD reviews retirement plans for RAF transports, tankers

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Faced with a looming shortfall in its ability to perform air-to-air refuelling and tactical transport duties, the UK Ministry of Defence is to extend the planned out-of-service deadlines for three of its current aged types.

Previously due to have been retired last month, some of the Royal Air Force's remaining eight Lockheed Martin C-130K transports will remain in use until October 2013. The step carries an associated cost of £16 million ($26 million), according to data contained within the UK National Audit Office's (NAO) Major Projects Report, published on 10 January.

 

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Dating to the mid-1960s, the K-model Hercules will be replaced by a future fleet of 22 Airbus Military A400Ms. The RAF's first new "Atlas" is due to be accepted next year, with the type to formally achieve in-service status during 2015.

Steps are also being taken to address any potential tanker shortfall created by an earlier decision to accelerate the retirement of the RAF's Lockheed TriStar and Vickers VC10 fleets as part of the UK government's 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). This was to have seen the latter type leave use in March 2013, but the NAO says: "The Department is currently exploring an extension of a few months to that date to provide additional refuelling capability." However, it also reveals: "The length of time the department can continue to operate the aircraft is constrained by the closure of the maintenance facility for the aircraft at St Athan."

Use of the TriStar will continue beyond a planned July 2013 end date until March 2014, for an additional cost of £7 million, the NAO says. This would be just two months before the AirTanker consortium is scheduled to declare full capability with a new fleet of Airbus A330 Voyagers, three of which are already in use in the passenger transport role. Release to service approval for the incoming type to begin in-flight refuelling activities is "imminent", AirTanker says.

Earlier plans before the SDSR called for the RAF to end the use of its VC10 and TriStar aircraft in 2014 and 2016, respectively.

The NAO report also reveals the cost of two of the MoD's other recent air transport acquisitions. An urgent operational requirement deal to field two BAe 146s modified for troop lift and freight delivery tasks in Afghanistan is worth £47 million, while the UK's rapid purchase of an eighth Boeing C-17 strategic transport last year cost £215 million. The smaller type is scheduled to enter operational use in March, while the C-17 was delivered in May 2012, less than two months after a contract was finalised.