What's The Future Like For The RAF Red Arrows

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What's The Future Like For The RAF Red Arrows

Post by n33d4sp33d_85 » Mon Oct 12, 2020 5:54 pm

With the RAF plan to retire all of the BAE Hawk T.1 aircraft by 2030 - What’s the future like for the RAFAT the Red Arrows?

This question is being asked more and more as we get closer and closer to the Hawk T.1 out of service date and with no replacement for reds selected could 2030 be the end of the Red Arrows?

Currently the RAF operates 4 types of aircraft that could possibly replace the Hawk T.1 of the Red Arrows. Those are - the Hawk T.2 which in theory should be the natural replacement for the T.1 but RAF operates only 28 of those jets and that’s simply not enough as the Red arrows would need a minimum of 10 jets, the other option would be the Texan T.1 single-engine turboprop aircraft but RAF operates even less of those and unless more aircraft is ordered that’s not an option either, so at the end we are left with the frontline jets the Typhoon FGR.4 and the F-35B both of which are simply too expensive and complex to be used by the Red Arrows and it is highly unlikely those will be chosen as the replacement.

In the past BAE had discussions with the British MOD on building 12 jets exclusively for the Red Arrows but it is believed those discussions have now been suspended with no order ever placed. The production line for the Hawk will be closed once the current order of the Hawk aircraft for the Qatar Emiri Air Force is complete, so this window of opportunity for the new Red Arrows hawks is closing fast! Also the British company AERALIS has been promoting their DART JET (pictured) as the RAF fast jet trainer and the Red Arrows replacement but so far the British government has not shown any interest in the new Jet.

Many people believe that with the current budget cuts the British MON will scrap the Red Arrows once the Hawk is retired and not invest in buying and maintaining the new aircraft. It is also believed that by 2040 (the out of service date for the Hawk T2) most if not all of training will be done on simulators reducing the need of trainer aircraft.

What are your thoughts on this topic will the Red Arrows be scrapped to save even more money from the defence budget or will they transition onto a new aircraft and will continue to display beyond 2030?
Last edited by n33d4sp33d_85 on Wed Mar 24, 2021 5:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by RyanS » Mon Oct 12, 2020 7:09 pm

First: Ew, that dart jet looks disgusting.

I had a good discussion with Adam on this sort of topic not too long ago. We fear that national display teams are likely to decline heavily in the next decade or two as aircraft fleets - particularly in Europe - get smaller and smaller. The vintage jets that many teams use are being replaced by leased training aircraft or a smaller number of expensive new jets. It will simply not be possible for some countries to dedicate aircraft to display duty and teams will either disband entirely or shift to a part time role where they share the jets with normal training missions.
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Post by Adam » Mon Oct 12, 2020 8:41 pm

Agreed on both points!

Luckily for us, the UK government seems to have really grasped the Red Arrows' potential as a PR tool in recent years, with several big international tours to the US, China, Saudi Arabia etc. They fit well with the post-Brexit trend for big, flashy, innovation-based projects like Newquay Spaceport, High Speed 2 etc, which the current governing party is very keen on. Meanwhile, the main opposition party is in favour of placing an order for new Hawks for the Red Arrows before production ends. That gives a little bit of hope for the team's future, but, of course, it's still no guarantee.

Another potential stay of execution is that if the government miss the chance to build Hawks in the UK, HAL plans to keep their Hawk Mk.132 production line in India open for some years yet, and hope to export their license-built jets. The Mk.132 Hawk is already used by the Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team and HAL have been involved in modifying the aircraft for that purpose. It's possible that the UK could order foreign-built Hawks in the years to come, if the need arises - although this would be a huge shame. Plus, there have been problems with fitting a smoke system to the Mk.132s. I'd be surprised if it's a problem that BAE Systems can't overcome, but Surya Kiran are having to use smokewinders rather than conventional smoke at the moment, so I guess that's a risk of using the HAL Hawks, too.

As for the Texan T.1, I'm not sure who technically owns them, but they are operated by Ascent (a private company) as part of the Military Flight Training System, so even if we ignore the small fleet size, that might be an additional complication. The same goes for the Hawk T.2, I think. And small numbers aside, the Hawk T.2 is not suitable for flying close formation aerobatics "as is", and will need modifications. As for the Typhoon, well, the RAF does have Tranche 1 Typhoons that are due for retirement from front line service soon, but I just can't see it, on grounds of cost. The F-35 is even less likely! I think we're more likely to see a 9-ship team of Hawks or even Texans than a smaller number of front line fighters.

Unfortunately, as Ryan says, this is a dilemma facing most of the big European air forces at the moment. The Frecce Tricolori probably have the most stable future, with the M345. Spain's negotiations to get KAI T-50s for Patrulla Aguila seems to have fallen through, so they're due for a downgrade to the PC-21 some time in the middle of this decade. France has selected the PC-21 as the replacement for its Alpha Jets, but again are purchasing a very small number indeed, so it's not quite clear what, if anything, could replace the Patrouille de France's jets when they are eventually retired. I was told last year by the organiser of a major European airshow that there are loud voices in the French government and air force who would like to see the team disbanded. The Patrouille Suisse's venerable F-5s also have limited life left, and with a fleet of 30-40 Super Hornets/Rafales/Typhoons/F-35s replacing over 70 Legacy Hornets and F-5s, it's not hard to see the Swiss dropping their jet team within the next decade too, or perhaps dropping them to a 4-ship. Team Iskra's TS-11s are due to be retired by next year, and again, there won't be enough replacement M346s to keep a jet team going, in all probability. Of course, we've already lost the Asas de Portugal and Cartouche Dore in 2010 and 2016 respectively.

Unfortunately I think we'll see most European teams being either disbanded or downgrading to turboprops over the next 20 years, and perhaps a trend towards part-time aerobatic teams like Krila Oluje, flying aircraft that can be used interchangably with standard training planes. It's also highly possible we'll see a few types soldiering on with aerobatic teams well beyond their initial retirement dates, like the Snowbirds' Tutors - and indeed as the Red Arrows' Hawks are already doing.
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Post by n33d4sp33d_85 » Tue Oct 13, 2020 1:39 am

With my two trips to RIAT (2015 and 2018) as well as the North American tours by the Patrouille de France in 2017 and the Red Arrows in 2019, I'm very grateful that I had the privilege of witnessing some of these amazing display teams.
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Post by Adam » Tue Oct 13, 2020 9:03 am

One thing I forgot to add - the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy 2020 is currently in the works. This is the largest review of defence policy and spending in many decades, and could easily go one of two ways. On the one hand, the last 5 or so years have been a bit of a wake-up call, showing the UK that it cannot necessarily rely on the US and EU for close cooperation and support, and relations with Russia are as strained as they've been in decades. On the other hand, pressure on public finances is higher and less predictable than it has been in years - and the Conservative Party haven't hesitated in forcing big cutbacks to the armed forces in the past. Even if it doesn't mention the Red Arrows specifically, the Integrated Review will set the tone for the years to come and should give an indication of how highly the government values the soft power which the armed forces can provide. It will be an interesting document, for sure.
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Post by Flightline Uk » Tue Oct 13, 2020 11:36 am

Unless something remarkable happens and the UK MoD end up owning the T-6C Texans I doubt they'll ever fly a solo display, let alone be put into a formation. They are not even owned by Ascent who only manage the MFTS, but by Affinity FTS along with the Prefect and Phenom 'fleets'. The Hawk T2 also come under the management of Ascent though they are fully owned by the UK MoD.

The French PC-21s are owned by the Babcock Group and operated in partnership with the French Air Force. They have not replaced the Alpha Jet totally which will continue in service for a few more years yet in the advanced jet training role. They do take on roles previously taken on by the AdlA Epsilon, Tucano and Alpha Jet fleets in one package.

Considering the 2030 Out of Service date for the Hawk T1, it does mean whatever is selected to replace it will be a type flying now, not a brand new design.
Last edited by Flightline Uk on Tue Oct 13, 2020 11:38 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by n33d4sp33d_85 » Mon Oct 19, 2020 10:45 pm

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Post by Adam » Tue Oct 20, 2020 1:36 pm

Putting aside the fact that, even for a company with more experience in this field than Airbus has, taking new advanced jet trainer from a vague concept to an in-service aircraft within seven years is insanely ambitious, the PC-21 has already been selected to equip Patrulla Aguila, according to a flurry of articles in the Spanish press dated around Q1 2020.
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Post by n33d4sp33d_85 » Wed Oct 21, 2020 12:49 am

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Post by Adam » Wed Oct 21, 2020 9:19 am

Indeed - and note that it wears a Patrulla Aguila paint scheme, rather than the standard Academia General Del Aire scheme worn by non-Aguila C-101s and T-35s. As there are just 24 PC-21s on order, I imagine they will all be used as regular trainers, some or all of which wll be pulled out for display duties on occasion - just like the Croatians do with their even smaller fleet of 14 PC-9s and the Indonesians with their 14 KT-1Bs. We can probably also expect to see them switch to using underwing smokewinders, rather than a traditional smoke system, which will make it even easier to use regular training planes without substantial modifications. Currently the two teams using the PC-21 have also taken this route, which might suggest the PC-21 can't easily accomodate a regular smoke system anyway.

The excellent Qatar Air Academy Display Team give an indication of what it could look like - and very attractive it is, too! The C-101 isn't exactly the ideal plane for an airshow team, and while I think the T-50 is as good as it gets in that role, a C-101 to PC-21 swap isn't the end of the world. https://sa.kapamilya.com/absnews/abscbn ... ay-rtr.jpg
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