In an interview on BBC Radio 4 the Chief of the Air Staff – Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton – has said the Sentinel provided a picture that was so critical over Libya that the RAF needed to take a look at how they can provide the capability in the future. Whilst he didn’t go as far as saying they were reviewing the decision to withdraw the Sentinel by 2015 it must be one of the options they are considering. The other option will most likely be built around a UAV involving either buying an off the shelf solution like Global Hawk or developing one ourselves most likely with BAE Systems.
Sentinel was developed using an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) to fit a need quickly and it has done an excellent job over Afghanistan and just as well over Libya. The capability it provides has been very useful and has meant we didn’t have to rely on the USAF to provide this capability but with the Sentinel being developed under a UOR rather than part of a long term strategy is it possible to upgrade it to meet future needs? As well as 2015 being the date it is expected operations in Afghanistan to end it is also when Sentinel is due an upgrade. That makes it a good time to withdraw it if it isn’t going to be technically or financially possible to add the features we require to Sentinel. If we can upgrade Sentinel then it would make absolutely sense to go that route to make the most of the money we’ve already spend on what we know is a reliable and flexible aircraft.
The Sentinel did an excellent job in Op ELLAMY with some very impressive stats (see my write up on Op ELLAMY for more details).