Andrew Chuter, Defense News
13 July 2015
LONDON – British Prime Minister David Cameron called for increased spending by the British military on remotely piloted vehicles (RPV), air surveillance assets and special forces during a Monday visit to the Royal Air Force base at Waddington in eastern England.
Cameron signaled he wants the armed forces to particularly look at increasing counter terror capabilities in the government's strategic defense and security review (SDSR), which is expected to report in the fourth quarter of the year.
"I have tasked the defense and security chiefs to look specifically at how we do more to counter the threat posed by ISIL and Islamist extremism," the prime minister said during a flying visit to the RAF's main RPV and ISTAR operating base, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State group. "This could include more spy planes, drones and special forces. In the last five years, I have seen just how vital these assets are in keeping us safe."
The Royal Air Force already operates 10 armed General Atomics Reaper drones and the Army has a fleet of smaller Thales UK-built tactical Watchkeeper RPVs.
The Reapers have been widely used by the British first in Afghanistan and now most of the fleet is deployed against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Along with Tornado strike aircraft, the RAF has hit 300 targets and conducted over 1,000 missions.The British only conduct strike missions in Iraq with Syrian operations being limited to surveillance.
But that may change. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told news outlets Monday that Parliament needed to decide whether to act in Syria. He said there were no plans for a quick vote on the issue.
The statement from Cameron will increase the expectation that the British will move quickly to fill the requirement for a maritime patrol aircraft, or more likely a multimission machine, once the SDSR reports.
Boeing's P-8 maritime patrol aircraft is a leading contender for that role, and one of the U.S. Navy aircraft is scheduled to be on show at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), which opens its doors July 17 at RAF Fairford for the three-day public and military event.
The British came close to agreeing to a sole-source deal to acquire P-8s last year, but the move was quashed as Fallon became defence secretary and his predecessor, Philip Hammond, was promoted to foreign secretary.
RIAT will also host two Kawasaki-built P-1 maritime jets as the Japanese aircraft makes its international show debut at the air base.
The Japanese and British governments have had a number of conversations about the possibility of the aircraft filling a gap left in RAF capabilities since the BAE Systems Nimrod program was scrapped in 2010.
The arrival of the jets at RIAT is one of the most public demonstrations yet of Japan's lifting of a decades-old defense equipment export ban of which is beginning to have an impact.
Last year, the Ministry of Defence finished an air ISTAR optimization study looking at the way ahead for capabilities and programs in the future.
A statement issued by the prime minister's office accompanying the Waddington visit said he was also keen for the defense review to explore how best to work with partners like the U.S. to ensure ships such as the new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier will be able to "project drones, special forces and strike capabilities to wherever the terrorist threat is found."
Cameron is hosting a reception at No. 10 Downing Street on Monday for some of the crew of the Queen Elizabeth, which is due to begin sea trials in a little over 12 months.
It's the fourth defense-related event senior government ministers have been involved in since the July 8 budget by Chancellor George Osborne committed the new Conservative administration to increases in defense spending.
Osborne visited the BAE fighter and training jet facility at Warton the following day, and Fallon was at the company's nuclear submarine yard July 10.