Cuts hitting RAF safety, officers say

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The Independent Online
The RAF is not ready for "even a minor combat role", and safety has been put at risk because of financial cutbacks and a shortages of spares, according to officers who have recently left the service.

An RAF technician will say on a television programme, which is to be screened tonight, that he had been told not to tell aircrews that certain wires in Tornados and Harriers might catch fire because of extra wear and tear.

The crews were not to be told about the wiring, called Kapton, he said, because "if there is a war, or even if there is not a war, and they know this cable may ignite, they will not go on; they will not be in the aircraft". The US Air Force decided to move away from using Kapton as long ago as 1988.

The Independent recently reported concern about the RAF's ability to keep its Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft in the air. The new evidence about front line strike aircraft is revealed in an episode of the Channel 4 Dispatches programme to be screened tonight.

The programme cites a confidential report by Air Chief Marshal Sir William Wratten warning that cuts in manpower were "biting deeply" into the RAF's ability to fulfil its operational tasks. In interviews, senior officers warn of low morale and that aircraft are having to be cannibalised to keep a few flying.

Air Vice Marshal Boz Robinson, a former station commander at RAF Valley, Anglesey, who keeps in touch with the RAF as a light aircraft instructor, said: "The mood throughout the whole of the Air Force is `What on earth is happening to us? We were a perfectly good air force. Why does all this have to happen?'"

Group Captain Neil Buckland, a senior RAF planner in the MoD until last year, said the RAF did not have the spares it needed to keep the planes it has flying and was forced to "cannibalise" them instead.

Flight Lieutenant James Archer, a Tornado pilot at RAF Leuchars, Fife, until last year said: "When I joined 43 Squadron at Leuchars, we probably had eight aeroplanes at the start of the day that were serviceable. Very quickly after that, sort of `93, `94, we were getting down to very bad situations. We were regularly seeing a good day being six aircraft and a bad day being one".

The most damning comment is from former Tornado pilot Squadron Leader Ed Smith. . He said: "At the front line, true effectiveness is being reduced. We are not ready for even a minor combat role".