LONDON – The Royal Air Force’s fleet of Sentinel battlefields and ground surveillance jets are officially heading for the junkyard after the Department of Defense released a notice on December 22nd asking a company to break into the aircraft for parts.
The Defense Equipment Sales Bureau, the Department of Defense’s surplus equipment disposal division, said it is looking for companies interested in dismantling five Sentinel R1 aircraft and two Sentry E-3D early warning aircraft for parts and dismantling the remaining parts.
The five Sentinel aircraft, a variant of the Bombardier Global Express business jet, were built at a cost of nearly £ 1 billion (US $ 1.3 billion), with Raytheon UK directing the major modification of the aircraft.
Work on the scrapping of the aircraft is being carried out at RAF Waddington – the service’s hub for all intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) – and other locations in the UK.
The announcement states that a significant number of related inventory spares and ground equipment are available with the Sentinel.
The time frame for the work is unknown, but the battlefield surveillance aircraft is slated to be decommissioned early next year as it has earned praise wherever it has been deployed after its first deployment over Afghanistan in 2008.
The synthetic aperture radar and the aircraft’s ground movement target display have provided vital information in countries such as Libya, Mali, Afghanistan and most recently against the Islamic State via Syria and Iraq.
The notice of dissolution ends a 10-year dispute in the Department of Defense to stop the premature restriction of Sentinel operations.
As early as the 2010 Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR), the Department of Defense attempted to remove the ability to temporarily relieve the jet five years later when the next review appeared in 2015.
However, the request for an expensive update of the key systems turned out to be the last nail in the coffin for Sentinel.
Howard Wheeldon, an advisor at Wheeldon Strategic Advisory, said the military should have found the money to upgrade the jet.
“Sentinel’s need to upgrade capabilities shouldn’t be the reason for the early withdrawal. ISTAR remains an, if not the most important, element of air power and takes a [capability] Gap is unacceptable, ”he said.
“The decision to remove the Sentinel capability is not only one of the worst to emerge from SDSR 2015, but also the one that I believe the UK will most likely regret. The lack of such important skills and no imminent replacement is dangerous and ill-advised, ”said Wheeldon.
The British are investing in new ISTAR capabilities such as the Poseidon patrol aircraft, the midair Wedgetail command and control platform and the long-range unmanned Protector aircraft, but none of these are direct replacements for the Sentinel capability.
“The UK’s reluctance to invest in sentry capabilities over the past two decades is a typical example of the Department of Defense’s failure in this sector. For NATO, which has grown accustomed to the UK not being able to meet its AWACS aircraft commitments for several years, Wedgetail’s arrival in the RAF fleet in a few years may not be premature, ”said Wheeldon.