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Talking point: Red Arrows: Time to go?

key.aero poses the question: should the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows be disbanded, given the state of the defence budget?

10-Feb-2010


Images Key - Gary Parsons

Every so often the popular press in the UK will run stories suggesting that the Royal Air Force’s aerobatic display team, the Red Arrows is about to be disbanded to save money… and time after time the idea is rebuffed by the Ministry of Defence.

But, given the dire state of the UK’s finances, and recent press speculation that even the Royal Air Force itself may not survive the Strategic Defence Review after the General Election later this year, perhaps doing away with a national institution such as the Red Arrows would highlight the difficult decisions facing the armed forces.

Don’t misunderstand us – we’re big fans of the Red Arrows – the team has ably demonstrated the professionalism of the Royal Air Force around the world since its inception in 1965 – after all, it is one of the few things left that still puts the ‘Great’ into Britain. But with savage cuts to the RAF’s fast jet force predicted in the SDR, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for the service to justify the presence of a squadron dedicated to display flying, even if the team claims “the benefits of the Red Arrows far outweigh the cost, promoting British interests and acting as an international ambassador for British industry.” Such things are almost impossible to quantify, but critics say the money should be spent on more important things in these cost-conscious times.

The Secretary of State for Defence, Bob Ainsworth, has already told Parliament that just two types will comprise the RAF’s fast jet force after 2020 – Eurofighter’s Typhoon and the Lockheed Martin F-35. Assuming the F-35 replaces Joint Force Harrier, a mix of Typhoon and F-35 will have to take on the Tornado’s current strike and close air support role. With just five Typhoon squadrons planned, the Typhoon force will be hard-pressed to carry out anything other than Quick Reaction Alert duties in the UK and the Falkland Islands, leaving little spare capacity for expeditionary roles. Similarly if the buy of F-35s is pegged back to 60 aircraft as predicted, the force could do little more than support current operations in Afghanistan. With the air force looking like it will have fewer than ten front-line fast-jet squadrons, even if a full buy of 140+ F-35s materialises, the training requirement will also diminish, together with the recruiting need – the Red Arrows’ raison d'être.

Another fact to consider is that there is no planned replacement for the BAe Hawk T1, the team’s mount for the last 30 years. The aircraft are becoming older than the pilots that fly them, and can’t go on forever – newer types, such as the BAE Systems Hawk T2, will not be bought in sufficient numbers to equip a 12-aircraft team (including spares) such as the Red Arrows. This isn’t a situation unique to the Reds – the French national display team, Patrouille de France, is in a similar situation with its Alpha Jets. If a display team is deemed necessary, a four-ship team of instructors from RAF Valley could fill the gap equipped with the Hawk T2 (the Black Arrows?), but such a move would limit display appearances drastically due to the limited training opportunities that have to be fitted round operational requirements.

More immediately national attention is on Operation ‘Herrick’ in Afghanistan and nothing focuses the mind more than bodies being repatriated through RAF Lyneham and the sight of people lining the streets in nearby Wootton Bassett paying their respects as the coffins are driven past. Quite rightly the needs of the troops are paramount, and recent defence budget ‘realignments’ have released money to buy more helicopters. But while the SDR may announce further reductions in the fast jet fleet to fund current operations, the general public is likely to assume that there is still plenty of money left.

Disbanding the Red Arrows would save between £6 million to £30 million a year, depending upon which source you believe, but it’s still only a drop in the defence budget ocean. However, the political impact would be immense – ‘Joe Public’ would suddenly realise that these cuts are serious, and that the future of the junior service is at stake. It could be that sacrificing the Red Arrows may be the Royal Air Force’s best move to guarantee its survival – and if that’s the case it needs to be done before the SDR… in other words, now.

What do you think? Tell us below.


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30 Comments

Philip McEvoy said on the 14-Feb-2010 at 19:26

Assuming that future conflicts are of the Afghanistan type, why do we only need such aircraft as the Typhoon and F-35. Surely there is a place for cheaper more basic aircraft of the Hawk type to carry out such a role in unapposed conflicts, after all the taliban don`t have an airforce I remember the americans carrying out a program a long time ago matching larger numbers of small aircraft against lesser numbers of state of the art aircraft and the smaller more numerous unsophisticated aircraft won hands down

Mark said on the 16-Feb-2010 at 17:51

No, not time to go - the Red Arrows are the very heart of the Royal Air Force, they are not just a fun aerobatic team, but the symbol of our air superiority. When you here the thunderous roar of the hawk, and then the formation screeching overhead, do you think: 'wow, that's such a waste of money' no, it brings pride to your heart and a sense of security, that there are people willing to fight for our country. Also it a symbol of our military prowess over our island, it shows other countries our first class air force, and, might I remind everyone that the Red Arrows are constantly being praised across the globe, as the best display team, the best pilots even, in the world? And finally, as stated in this article, the Red arrows are one of the few things left that still put the Great in Great Britain.

Ian said on the 19-Feb-2010 at 14:34

NO!
The Arrows provide brilliant publicity for the RAF and show the public where ever they perform, the expertise of the pilots who being instructors would otherwise be deployed to a training establishment. The cost is a mere drop in the Ocean compared with the total defence budget. Please leave us somthing to be proud of in this drab country.

Mike Winfield (South Africa) said on the 21-Feb-2010 at 15:48

It would be tragic to lose "The Reds", They are powerful ambassadors not just for the RAF but also for Great Britain. Their polished, professional and fluid performance always leaves me in awe. They are, in my opinion, the best of the best in precision aerobatics. To sacrifice them on the altar of supposed financial savings is foolishness as their true value far exceeds mere Pounds.

Brian Murphy said on the 21-Feb-2010 at 15:58

Yes. Lets sell them to the Irish, who are richer than us.

Mike Winfield (South Africa) said on the 21-Feb-2010 at 18:05

The Reds drinking Guiness and Jamesons, hmmm - why not, sounds like a noble pastime.

Adam Begg said on the 22-Feb-2010 at 05:46

No way, the arrows are a symbol of the RAF, and are thought to be one of the best display teams in the world. If money is an issue, why not do what the US navy does with the Blue Angels: re-paint service aircraft (in this case perhaps Hawk T2s) in Red Arrows colours for airshows, then send them back to their regular duties when not needed.

JUAN CARLOS ZURITA TORRE said on the 22-Feb-2010 at 18:05

Disband the Red Arrows? What should we do then with the banking system.? Red Arrows are not so expensive to keep and are good ambassadors of Great Britain and the world of aircraft. My two year old son likes them very much. Big mistake, I think. Also a tradition woud be lost. Please, try to keep them flying.

trevor cole said on the 22-Mar-2010 at 18:08

i have watched and admired the red arrows for so many years i cant remember. mos generationt memorable being on top of an open top double decker bus at the old bournemoth show at hurn where the reds flying gnats in those days flew over very low wonderfull. the red arrows are an ambassador for this country and one of the few assets we have left in this country and an inspiration to the younger generation. i look forward to seeing them for many years to come. makes you feel pishroud to be british.

trevor cole said on the 22-Mar-2010 at 18:15

sorry for having dyslexyia but think i got the point accross the reds are the only thig left i this country that sums up the greatness of britain. lets face it not much else to smile about is there ?

David Pearce said on the 23-Mar-2010 at 14:09

Lets hope that todays news of a collision doesn't cause a decision to disband. Thankfully it wasn't fatal.

Tom said on the 3-Apr-2010 at 22:38

The Red Arrows not only influence men and women to fly/ work with aircraft within the Royal Air Force, but the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm, too.
So if the Red Arrows did come under a serious threat of being axed then perhaps if the Royal Navy partly funded the Red Arrows with some FAA Pilots (though there is a shortage of RN FJ pilots at present) and part of their defence budget, then this might be a way of keeping the Red Arrows flying - albeit not the RAF's display team.
This however would probably mean an end to the Black Cats helicopter display team - which would be a great shame, though less hurtful than losing the Reds.

jim jam said on the 3-May-2010 at 18:54

no0oooooooooo00ooooooo

Alan hunterr1 said on the 3-Jul-2010 at 12:48

No No No.if we disband the reds for a drop in the ocean short term saving we will lose a major asset to the UK. the reds r like the queen.national symbol the world envies and is wowed by.they are an awesome sight.its like concorde.now its gone we want it back.virgin would have made it work.maybe virgin could sponsor reds.u cannot put a price on the amount of money the queen/royals/reds bring to the UK.

Mark R said on the 3-Aug-2010 at 22:00

I'm sure there would be public outrage if the reds were disbanded for a few pennies. I think the idea of painting up 'in service' hawks during the display season (like the blue angels) would be the best compromise result between keeping the reds and saving money.

RMF said on the 3-Aug-2010 at 22:02

Taking the red arrows from the British armed forces is as bad as removing the saint Georges cross from the union jack. The day the reds disband is the day our air force loses out to the world.

A Scott said on the 10-Aug-2010 at 07:35

I'm disgusted by this ridiculous misguided argument. We're happy to plough BILLIONS (which is, as a reminder 1000 million) into banks who carry on their merry way yet £25m is saved by axing global ambassadors whom probably net that in tourism and intangibles in a way we do not appreciate and this article does not even touch upon.

My mother said take care of the pennies and the pounds take care of themselves - Sorry mother, you were wrong when we're ploughing billions of pounds into banks with little real subsequent control or regress, yet everything else gets squashed, revoked or disbanded - which has an incalculable effect on culture, moral health of the nation and the indirect effect on the population as a whole.

Enough of this silly talk. Just buy ONE less Eurofighter, would provide the Red Arrows ~3 yrs of service (Eurofighter current price is well over £50m per airframe)

Michael Leek said on the 2-Oct-2010 at 15:27

There is indisputable logic in bringing to an end the Red Arrows (though I AM a supporter). However, and I quote (with comments in caps);

Disbanding the Red Arrows would save between £6 million to £30 million a year... However, the political impact would be immense – ‘Joe Public’ would suddenly realise that these cuts are serious (WOULD JOE PUBLIC REALLY THINK LIKE THIS? MAYBE THE SUN AND THE MIRROR, BUT THE WIDER PUBLIC? COULD THEY CARE LESS?)... It could be that sacrificing the Red Arrows may be the Royal Air Force’s best move to guarantee its survival – and if that’s the case it needs to be done before the SDR… in other words, now. (I DOUBT IF THE PUBLIC OUTCRY WOULD LAST LONG, AND IT CERTAINLY WOULDN'T IMPACT ON ANY POLITICAL DECISIONS PRIOR TO OR FOLLOWING A GENERAL ELECTION. THE RAF COULD FIND ITSELF CUTTING ITS NOSE TO SPITE ITS FACE.)

I'M MORE CONCERNED THAT THE CHINOOK DECISION IS BASED ON POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY - LED BY THE POPULAR PRESS - THAN BY ANY LONG-TERM STRATEGIC THNKING. AND THIS AT THE EXPENSE OF THE MERLIN FLEET, ETC, ETC. BUT STILL WE GO AHEAD WITH A QUESTIONNABLE JSF AND A STRIKE ROLE TYPHOON THAT MAY NOT BE ENTIRELY FIT-FOR-PURPOSE...

George said on the 8-Oct-2010 at 19:46

i feel that if the red arrows go we have lost the best team in the world i have supported the red arrows for many years lets keep something we ca be proud of they are the ambassador of this country

John Visanich (Malta) said on the 2-Nov-2010 at 10:08

Wrong move. The Red Arrows should be a symbol of national pride. Britain should never be without its best ambassadors. Can't the team be given a more active role apart from simply training for their displays, such as providing advanced training for up-coming fast jet pilots? A four-ship team just wouldn't be the same. The Red Arrows' main impact comes from the size of the team.

David Pearce said on the 2-Nov-2010 at 11:04

Sadly it is hard to justify the Red Arrows in these times where our Defence Budget is squandered on unjustified wars. But, having worked overseas in the aerospace industry, I believe strongly that the Reds do bring real benefit to the economics of the UK although this is hard to quantify. To maximise this and perhaps make it a measurable benifit they should be using the Hawk T2. Closer involvement and financial support of BAe could be offset by increased sales.
Risky? Well yes but keeping the Reds will at least give us something to be proud of in these times.

Jane said on the 2-Mar-2011 at 13:09

We cannot disband the Red Arrows. The Red Arrows are without doubt the best flying display team in the world - they bring thousands of people to airshows and the disappointment if the Red Arrows are not there is clearly visible. There is a collective sigh and the audience is stunned into group silence.

No fly past is complete without the Red Arrows - for goodness sake, this would be a travesty.

Roger Mann said on the 9-Mar-2011 at 12:54

Speaking as someone who's father was in The RAF during the last war I'm no hater of the service but it seems that all these comments are from one direction only. Having lived for many years near the RAF Scampton air base and having owned a house which seemed to be used as a marker for low-level flying, I represent hundreds of local people who would hold street parties were the Red Arrows disbanded. They make our lives a misery and for anyone attempting to work from home or even recover from an illness they are a scourge.

The recent accident could have been fatal for more than the pilot and during the 1980s one of their number ploughed into a house in a local village.

When support to pensioners is being cut it's beyond ridiculous that this completely unnecessary and polluting/anti-environmental spectacle should continue. Hopefully sense will prevail and they will soon be no more.

Brian Murphy said on the 2-Apr-2011 at 15:08

The Bae Hawk T1 is rapidly approaching the end of it's life and now may be the right moment to end it's involvement with the Red Arrows and use the money saved for operational use.

D.Benham-Holman said on the 5-Jun-2011 at 00:48

The Red Arrows are at the top of the ladder of achievement within the Royal Air Force.

But, still the theory of flight is not an easy area to predict the future of - could a paper aeroplane for instance be flown into a black board and then directly, without rolling over the top, be flown back again into the class room?

Jonathan stuart said on the 27-Sep-2011 at 01:16

DO NOT GET RID OF THE RED ARROWS! END OF. IF THEY GO I GO TO! they are like a symbol of UK excellence. they can be rebuffed by the Royal Navy if the RAF face shortages again.

David Cash said on the 8-Apr-2012 at 00:42

Roger Mann,
i served in the RAF for 22yrs of my life living on airbases including RAF Binbrook on the wolds.
When you buy a house you have a survey carried out, this survey should include noise from aircraft operating from the 1930s built Airbase. Being a serving member i lived in married quarters at bases like RAF Binbrook which used to house the E.E. Lightning, the loudest jet in the RAF inventory at the time, i raised 2 children from birth there, we used to leave the kids in the pram outside in the garden, they would sleep through a stream of aircraft taking off and landing, it never bothered them at all.
you become used to various noise and disturbance and dont let it bother you.I live in Lincoln and have the Reds fly over as well as jets from Waddington..........i hardly notice them, i hear the cars on the By-pass more than i do the jets. Can i suggest you move to the outer Scottish Isles because there is no Low Flying Area up there no nasty, noisy, smelly RAF bases where young men learn to fly low to defend themselves in a war, but im sure the sheep would annoy you pretty quickly.

David Cash said on the 8-Apr-2012 at 01:02

from an Aircraft Engineers point of view i am afraid to say that very soon the Hawk TMK1 will be fatigued to the limit and hours flying will have been used up. if you take a piece of metal and bend it back and forward enough times it will fracture, the same happens on an Aircraft, it reaches its fatigue point and fails, thats why safe guards are built in to withdraw aircraft before they reach its fatigue point. Most Bae Hawk TMK1 in RAF service have reached this point or are about 2 years maximum from reaching it, spares are no longer made for this mark of Hawk, cannibalisation of other jets is taking place now to keep the fleet flying, so the Reds days are numbered. Civilian teams like the Brietling fighters could be formed, flown by ex military pilots, but the cost would have most of industry running away clutching their wallets.
The time is near im afraid to say goodbye to the reds so its get your moneys worth from them now before they cease to be

conor landers said on the 20-Jul-2012 at 17:31

Roger Mann

could it be possible if you dont like planes, dont by a house near an raf base as they are liable to fly out of it, they dont just store aircraft there.

i could have more sympathy with people who may have lived there before a base was set up but not with those who move there and then complain.

Roger Mann said on the 20-Jul-2012 at 20:58

conor landers

I'd take your statement more seriously if your spelling and grammar was better than a 12 year old's. This is not about not liking planes, it's about the cavalier attitude of a completely unnecessary drain on public resources.

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