The Royal Air Force of Great Britain is experiencing problems with providing the necessary number of flight personnel. This is stated in the report of the British National Audit Office (NAO) for the House of Commons, published following an audit of the country's Ministry of Defense. One of the main reasons for this state of affairs, according to NAO experts, lies in the imperfection of the personnel training system.
“Today, the acquisition of the British Air Force by trained flight personnel does not meet the targets stated by the Department of Defense, as training takes longer than expected,” the document says.
The audit department notes that the data obtained indicate a significant understaffing for several years in a row.
“For example, as of April 2019, the Royal Air Force - the type of armed forces that needs the largest number of flight personnel - lacked 331 pilots (18%) for the necessary staffing,” the authors of the report note.
In total, according to NOA estimates for April, the Royal Air Force lacked 1,750 people to the required manning level. Analysts attribute such problems, in particular, to the fact that Britain, as a member of NATO, has long relied on the US army.
“Today, the British are beginning to review their participation in NATO defense programs because they plan to leave the EU. But if Brexit is realized, then Great Britain will be forced to conclude a trade agreement with the USA, which Trump will sign only if London increases defense spending, ”military historian Yuri Knutov explained in an interview with RT.
He also recalled that in the event of withdrawal from the EU, the UK will not be able to participate in the project to create a sixth generation fighter, which Europeans plan to complete by 2035-2040.
“After Brexit, London will be forced to buy the F-35 from the United States. Then the UK will have to re-equip this aircraft and organize training with the participation of the Americans. Now the Ministry of Defense of the kingdom is pausing, waiting for a political decision, on the basis of which it will carry out the reform. At the same time, the problem of lack of flight personnel will remain relevant, ”Knutov explained.
One of the main reasons for the shortage of military pilots in the National Audit Office indicates the ineffective operation of the Military Flight Training System (Military Flying Training System or MFTS, as indicated in the report). NAO experts point out that students who are systematically unable to successfully complete all three stages of the MFTS program. This situation developed in the early 2010s and continues to this day.
- Royal Air Force Aircraft Based in Scotland
- © Russell Cheyne
“Every year for the six years preceding 2018-2019, the number of students who completed the second stage of education was on average 45% (125 people) less than the required norm. At the same time, the completion of this stage is necessary to begin the third stage of combat training, ”the document says.
In the 2018-2019 academic year, which NAO experts call the worst, only 49 people completed the second stage of training - 86% less than the current requirement for manning the flight crew. In the “best” year (2015-2016), the second stage was successfully completed by 182 people, and the shortfall amounted to 21%.
In their report, the audit department analysts have noted that lately, training personnel in flight specialties takes much longer than planned.
“The Royal Air Force’s data show that it takes an average of 7.1 years to train jet pilots, while the optimal training period indicated by the Ministry of Defense is 3.9 years,” the report said.
The authors of the document indicate that the inefficiency of the MFTS flight training system is largely due to the activities of Ascent, which carries out the organization of the work of the Military Flight Training System.
“As of March 31, 2019, out of 369 planned training courses on the military flight training system, 44 had to be canceled due to the fact that one of the parties was unable to fulfill its obligations,” the NAO report said.
Auditors also note that in 28 of these 44 cases, the State Ministry of Defense did not fulfill its obligations. So, the department was not able to provide the required number of air traffic controllers or to repair the runways.
- Royal Air Force planes at the base near Limassol, Cyprus
- © Petros Karadjias / Pool
Ascent received a contract for training the flight crew for the British Air Force in 2008, when Labor was in power in the country under the leadership of Gordon Brown.
The Ascent consortium includes the British defense and aerospace company Babcock International and the American Lockheed Martin. Under the contract, Ascent was to train 250 flight crew members per year, including 150 pilots of specialized aircraft, such as Typhoon Eurofighter fighters and Apache helicopters.
Interestingly, back in 2015, NAO auditors found that the consortium was not able to fully fulfill all the obligations of the contract.
For example, training materials for fighter pilots of new generations were found to be unsuitable, which is why military experts had to process them. In addition, Ascent used former military personnel to conduct the educational process, the level of expert training of which was “seriously outdated”.
In addition, according to extracts from the 2015 NAO report cited by The Telegraph, Ascent managers showed “individual and corporate incompetence,” which complicated the company's interaction with the UK Department of Defense.
It is worth noting that not only the Royal Air Force, but also other types of troops of the armed forces of Great Britain experience difficulties with staffing. For example, in May, The Sun newspaper wrote that almost every unit of the British army faces a shortage of military personnel and competent specialists.
So, as of April 2019, the Royal Navy and Marines lacked more than 1.2 thousand people. In the ground forces up to the required 82 thousand people, 6.9 thousand military personnel were not enough.
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In addition, about 10 thousand soldiers from all types of troops were withdrawn from active service for medical reasons. The shortage of personnel is observed even in the elite parachute units, of which the well-known British special forces SAS are manned. The publication also reported that several hundred troops were missing and the Palace Cavalry guarding Buckingham Palace.
This state of affairs did not go unnoticed by British defense experts and military leaders.
“The insufficient manning of the armed forces puts our country's security at risk. After many years of tight budget cuts, the established size of the army is already too small, and the failure to provide even such low numbers only increases the risk, ”Colonel Richard Kemp, the ex-commander of British troops in Afghanistan, quotes The Sun.
According to the military political scientist, head of the department of political science and sociology Plekhanov Andrei Koshkin, this situation could also arise because in recent years, British leaders prefer to wage information war instead of developing the country's armed forces.
"The UK Ministry of Defense is not able to solve this problem, because the government does not provide its army with modern weapons, and the commanders have forgotten how to manage and train the flight crew on new models of equipment," Koshkin said in an interview with RT.
“The UK thinks that if it rattles its weapons in the information space, it will be able to defeat a potential adversary, therefore, seriously, no one is dealing with this problem in the country. Therefore, this situation is natural for the armies of those countries in which the military direction is weakened, ”the expert summed up.