The U.K. has deployed to RAF Akrotiri two of its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets marked for retirement, once more raising the question whether these retirement plans are really such a good idea.
One is the Nimrod R1 signals intelligence aircraft, which is also heavily used to support ground troops in Afghanistan, and the other is the Sentinel R1 ground-surveillance aircraft, which also is used heavily in Afghanistan.
The Nimrod R1s were to be retired at the end of the month, although appear to have gotten a stay of execution. For how long the aircraft will remain operational remains unclear, but there is likely to be some gap until the RC-135 Rivet Joints start being delivered.
The Sentinel R1 retirement date is less certain. The U.K., in its Strategic Defense and Security Review, merely says the asset will be phased out after Afghanistan operations wind down. The ministry is trying to avoid a big bill for a planned system upgrade. But Libya underscores the fact the Sentinel R1 has applications beyond Afghanistan. What is more, the unmanned aircraft that, in theory, is to replace the existing capability is not even properly programmed, yet. With more cuts pending as the U.K. finalizes its 2011 program review (PR11) and continues to try to bring plans and resources in line next year, there may be scant chance of a near-term reversal for the two systems, but Libya certainly raises questions about the wisdom of the decisions taken.