Some of the most progressive thinking about future air power is happening inside one of the oldest air services, the British Royal Air Force. In a recent issue of Air Forces Monthly, Andrew Brookes, a former fighter pilot, attacked the RAF for preparing for the wrong war. The service’s planned future fleet of nearly 500 fast jets, including 232 advanced Typhoon fighter-bombers (pictured), “is too many,” when the U.K. needs just 84 front-line fighters for “the full range of … operations.”
Brookes advocates cutting Typhoons to just 150, adding an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle similar to the U.S. Navy’s X-47 and bolstering the transport and helicopter fleets, the latter being “essentials” that have been very stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In other words, Brookes’ vision for the RAF more closely aligns the service as a support force for the Army. That was their historical relationship, but one that has eroded since World War II, when many bomber advocates from both sides of the Pond imagined, wrongly, that they were winning the war on their own.
Highlighting this folly, last year in a seminal piece for The American Prospect, Robert Farley recommended folding the U.S. Air Force back into the Army. That’ll never happen, of course, but as Brookes states, the RAF (and its closest foreign partner the USAF) would be wise to focus less on building huge fighter fleets for imaginary wars when the real wars we’re already in call for more transports, more choppers, more drones and “think[ing] outside the box,” according to Brookes.
It’s too bad there are no former American fighter pilots with Brookes’ guts, writing articles advocating a major shake-up in USAF priorities. ‘Cause as bad as the RAF needs a reality check, the USAF needs one worse.