For many years the RAF has been planning a replacement for their Tornado’s under a programme known as the Future Offensive Air System (FOAS). However, despite numerous years of planning and concept evaluations, it has now been decided to refocus the programme completely on a family of long-range, long-endurance UAVs encompassing combat, reconnaissance and surveillance roles.

BAe FOAS proposal'

The new programme, known as the Future Combat Air Capability (FCAC) will rely on some legacy programmes, platforms and weapons already in service or on order, to meet the original goals laid down for the FOAS. In addition to the capabilities provided by the FOAS platforms, the MOD have decided to add additional capabilities by including a UAV and a UCAV in the new plan. Under the MOD’s Strategic Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Experiment (SUAVE), a whole range of UAV and UCAV technologies will be tested and inform a number of procurement decisions which will eventually lead to a replacement for the capability currently provided by the Tornado.

BAe HALO proposal'

This decision has probably been a bitter pill for many people in the higher echelons of the RAF, particularly the aircrew involved to the FOAS programme, reflecting as it does the obvious conclusion that UAVs and UCAVs will probably be the predominant reconnaissance, surveillance and offensive systems of the future RAF. However, the likelihood of a huge aircraft programme being given financial support in the current austere climate is slim to non-existent and this decision is nothing if not pragmatic. The RAF is shrinking and, if the present financial restraints continue, will probably continue to slowly shrink below the currently planned 42,000 personnel, despite more people being deployed on ‘peace-time’ operations than ever before. The introduction of UAVs and UCAVs into operational service will almost certainly be used as an excuse for further reductions in personnel. Given these probable changes, it’s likely that the offensive capability of the RAF of 2025 will consist of just two fast-jets, Typhoon and JSF, together with armed UCAVs and the Nimrod MRA4.