LONDON — The U.K. has begun preparations to move the main operating base in Scotland to Lossiemouth from Leuchars.
The plans, originally announced by the U.K. Defense Ministry in 2011, also will see Leuchars becoming an army garrison starting in 2015. Building has begun at Lossiemouth to accommodate the new fighters, including the renovation of hangars and a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) facility to keep the aircraft ready to intercept potential threats to U.K. airspace.
As part of the plans, Lossiemouth will relinquish its role as the second Panavia Tornado GR4 main operating base to RAF Marham in Norfolk. Both of Lossiemouth’s front-line Tornado squadrons will disband, in line with the RAF’s plan to shrink the Tornado fleet as it prepares for retirement at the end of the decade. Detailing the plans, senior officers have revealed that both the 12 and 617 squadrons will disband in March 2014. The 617, also known as the Dambusters, eventually will regroup for theLightning II in 2018 when the U.K. purchases its first squadron of the aircraft.
Typhoons will begin to move in June 2014 with the arrival of 6 Sqdn., which will then begin providing the Northern QRA capability. The second Typhoon unit, 1 Sqdn., will arrive in September 2014. The RAF’s fifth frontline Typhoon unit also will form at Lossiemouth in March 2015, although the squadron’s number has yet to be announced. The RAF’s Tornado training operational conversion unit (OCU), 15 Sqdn., will move to Marham in April 2015, making the Norfolk air base the only operational one for Tornados.
The Defense Ministry also has revealed key milestones in the U.K. Typhoon program, as it marks a decade since the fighter entered RAF service: The first Tranche 3 Typhoon will be delivered in January 2014, while the first Tranche 1 aircraft will be retired in 2016.
New weapons will be integrated onto the aircraft in 2017, with initial testing of the MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile, followed by its introduction into service in 2018 along with the Storm Shadow cruise missile. The Brimstone air-to-ground missile will be added in 2020.
The RAF expects to reach full operational capability with an active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar in 2021, allowing the aircraft to reach its full potential 18 years after it was first delivered, although the type is expected to start retiring from service in 2030.
The Defense Ministry now is looking at its requirements beyond 2030 and has launched its Future Combat Air System (FCAS) requirement, which officials say is broader than the initial Deep and Persistent Offensive Capability requirement that was scrapped when the U.K. switched its decision on F-35 variants.
“Consideration of the FCAS requirement is at a very early stage and will assess the whole range of capabilities and enablers which may be available over the coming decades. This includes those provided by F-35 variants,” defense officials say.