Future Offensive Air System (FOAS) Requirements
The 1998 Strategic Defense Review [SDR], in recognising that the UK faces a very different security environment from that of the Cold War, emphasised that risks still remain to UK security. International instability was likely to become more prevalent. The combat power of dangerous regimes assumed more significance as democratic countries reduced their armaments and there was an increasing risk from the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical technologies.
If UK forces were to be effective in this uncertain future, they must be structured and equipped to conduct force projection and expeditionary warfare. The SDR recognised that UK forces would normally be involved in multi-national operations based on NATO, UN, WEU or ad hoc coalitions. As different coalition partners would have varying capabilities, and US involvement could not be assumed, the UK would require balanced, coherent forces, inherently flexible and deployable, and capable of operating effectively alongside forces from other countries. This balanced capability would also be required to fulfil the requirements of those exceptional circumstances when the UK would operate independently.
Part of the SDR process was the study of future offensive air power requirements, balancing the need for FOAS with that for future aircraft carriers and carrier-borne aircraft. Long-range air attack was found to remain important both as an integral part of war-fighting and as a coercive instrument to support political objectives.
The system must be flexible, and capable of all-weather, day/night operation at all levels. It must also be survivable in a high-threat environment. The trend towards more and more out-of-area operations made it essential that the system was easily supported, without the need for significant deployment of support equipment and personnel into theatre.
The FOAS requirement might not necessarily be satisfied in full by a single concept. Studies to define the most cost-effective solution are continuing. Possible solutions include a "force mix" approach of manned aircraft, UAVs and CALCMs although the exact nature, numbers and costs of these systems had not been decided.
The FOAS program aimed to provide the UK with a long-range offensive air capability to replace that currently provided by Tornado GR4. The FOAS solution would provide operational flexibility and utility across the range of military tasks outlined in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review (SDR). FOAS was predicted to enter service in about 20 years, at which point the Tornado GR4 airframes would have been in service for nearly 40 years and flown more than twice as many hours as their original design life.
Manned combat aircraft, capable of penetrating deep into enemy territory, have traditionally been used to carry out deep strike missions. The presence of the crew onboard the aircraft at the point of weapon release, and the ability to carry a variety of weapons makes it an inherently flexible system, capable of operating effectively in different types of operation; the crew’s experience allowing it to adapt to changing/unpredictable situations. However, the costs of manned aircraft are enormous; financial in terms of the complexity of the platform and the training of the crew, and the political and human cost associated with aircrew losses in combat.
The MoD Deep Target Attack Equipment Capability Directorates vision was, by 2020, to field 10 times the effect of long range strike weapons systems, with one-tenth the deployed logistical tail, 50% of the manpower and at half the cost of ownership compared to 2002. UCAVs and UAVs offer the potential for transformational change in the way that offensive air power was organised, sustained and delivered. UCAVs and UAVs would have to demonstrate clear operational and cost advantages across a variety of roles if they are to secure places for themselves in the earlier iterations of the FOAS Force Mix.
The key system attributes (KSAs) that FOAS must possess as a system were defined in mid-2003. "The user requires a system of systems that provides the capability to create a range of effects on a balanced target set in the deep, including time sensitive targets, from extended reach, in all weather and light conditions, all terrain, in the highest threat environment and at a time of his choosing…" [ Draft FOAS Initial Gate Business Case Single Statement of User Need, 08 August 2003.]
The geo-political landscape provides with pointers as to where FOAS may be required to operate and underpins the attribute of ‘reach’. what can be described as a ‘Day One’ capability must address the application of effect against the most demanding of targets, probably at extended range from the UK, Sovereign or allies’ territories, and in the highest of threat environments. The requirement to harass, disrupt and destroy by application of ‘precise kinetic effect’ was likely to endure. The threat environment within which FOAS Force Elements would be required to operate, extending out to 2050, would be multi-layered, highly complex and resilient.
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