LONDON — Having secured three extra combat squadrons a little more than a week ago in a strategic defense and security review (SDSR), Britain’s Air Force chief said that he has a plan to add a fourth unit to further boost air power. capabilities. 

"We were destined to be down to six6 [combat] squadrons by 2020," the Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford told an audience of senior military and industry executives at an Air Power Association dinner at the House of Commons on Thursday. "We knew that was too few ... and we fought for more. We got three squadrons, and I have a fourth in my pocket." the Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford told an audience of senior military and industry executives at an Air Power Association dinner at the House of Commons Thursday.Dec 3.

The previous defense review in 2010 mandated that Royal Air Force combat-squadron numbers be reduced reducing to just six, with the final three Tornado strike-jet squadrons being scrapped by 2019.

Taking the Tornado out of service by 2019 was confirmed by SDSR 2015 last week, but rather than see squadron numbers sink to a new low, the RAF received government approval to stand up two extra squadrons of Typhoon multirole aircraft and bring forward the purchase of F-35s to form a squadron of jets.

"We are going to stay at nine [squadrons], and I have a plan to get to 10," Pulford said.

A spokesman for the RAF later sought to play down the remarks, saying that no such plan existed.

"SDSR confirmed that the UK will have nine9 combat air squadrons," said the spokesman. "Tthere are no plans for a 10th squadron. CAS’ comments referred to how, over time, future efficiencies from within the RAF could be used to create an extra squadron.," said the spokesman.

Howard Wheeldon, a consultant and Air Force specialist, said that although he had been surprised by Pulford’s comments, they agreed with his view that the RAF still needed additional combat mass. 
 
 "Whilst I very much welcome any plan to increase the number of squadrons, including the formally announced eight8, eventually rising to nine9 squadrons, I take the view that we have not sufficiently well answered the need for resilience and greater mass," he said. 
 
"There are risks in the fast jet capability program as outlined particularly surrounding the timing of Typhoon enhancement capability," Wheeldon said. "CAS' suggestion may be a reflection of the need to address this danger.," said Wheeldon.  
 
It wasn’t just Wheeldon who was surprised by Pulford’s remarks. Industry executives at the dinner wondered where the RAF would get the money and the manpower from for an extra squadron.

The additional two Typhoon squadrons already announced are being generated by making more efficient use of the existing fleet, rather than by buying new aircraft. That's being enabled in large part by better exploitation of advanced simulation for training and mission rehearsal, allowing a greater number of pilots to be sustained at high readiness from broadly the same number of live-flying hours.

At one point, British strike-jet resources had shrunk to the point where plans to disband a Tornado squadron in March 2015 had to be scrapped to allow the RAF to base a small fleet of the jets at Aktrotiri, Cyprus, to strike Islamic State group targets in Iraq.

Earlier this week, the RAF fielded an additional two Tornados to Cyprus to bring the fleet up to 10 aircraft. It and also boosted strike capabilities by deploying six Typhoons. 

The Tornado is can carry currently capable of carrying a wider range of air-to-ground weapons than the Typhoon, including the much-discussed talked aboutMBDA-built Brimstone missile, which is able to engage fast-maneuvering targets with precision and low collateral damage.

Work on integrating the Brimstone 2 weapon and the Storm Shadow cruise missile on Typhoon is currently underway but won’t be ready until the end of the decade.

The Typhoon's main air-to-ground weapon for the moment is the Raytheon Paveway IV precision-guided bomb. 

Deployment of the additional jets to Cyprus also saw the RAF give a first operational outing to the Airbus A400M airlifter, now coming into service.

The increase in combat-jet numbers in Cyprus followed a Wednesday parliamentary vote Wednesday Dec 2 approving the extension of the RAF’s role to allow it to attack Islamic State group targets in Syria. Previously, the RAF had been hitting Islamic State group targets in Iraq but was restricted to only reconnaissance missions by the Tornado and its Reaper drones over Syria.

SDSR generally was seen by analysts and others as a big win for the RAF, with improvements to combat mass, a significant increase in ISTAR resources and a decision to run on the bulk of the C-130J Hercules fleet beyond its 2022 out-of-service date to 2030.

Pulford said that getting to keep 14–Js was like getting a "Christmas present."

The aircraft are principally earmarked for special forces operations.

The chief of the air staff said that the decision to extend the out-of-service dates of many of the RAF's  key ISTAR assets had provided certainty where there had previously been uncertainty.

SDSR extended the lives of the Sentinel battlefield-surveillance aircraft, the Shadow intelligence aircraft, Sentry E3 airborne early-warning and Rivet Joint signals-intelligence platforms.

New purchases include nine Boeing P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, more than 20 Protector UAVs unmanned air vehicles to replace the 10 General Atomics Reapers now in service, and an additional three Shadow aircraft — two new platforms and the conversion of a third King Air airframe already owned by the MoD.

"We needed certainty, we needed funding and we also had to address the maritime patrol gap," Pulford said. "We have all of those. They are all up arrows. I have increased numbers of crews and airplanes, and we have got nine maritime patrol aircraft; I could ask for little more."," Pulford said.