The RAF now has the smallest combat fleet in its history having lost nearly half its aircraft in the last twelve years, MailOnline can reveal.
Britain's new supersonic F-35 Lightning fighter jets have just completed their first operational missions – rooting out the remnants of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq in 14 sorties over the past ten days.
But following the retirement earlier this year of the last of the Air Force's beloved Tornados, the UK's 17 Lightnings are part of a forward available fleet of just 119 fast attack jets, down 43 per cent from 210 in 2007.
It leaves the air force smaller than at any time since its creation during the First World War. The RAF said number of aircraft does not equate to capability and it has the jets it needs to meet its commitments.
But military analysts have warned that whatever the sophisticated capabilities of the fourth- and fifth-generation planes of which the fleet is now comprised, 'no aircraft, no matter how capable, can be in more than one place at any time'.
At the end of the Cold War the RAF had nearly 400 early-generation Tornado fighters, more than 100 Phantom fighter-bombers, more than 100 Jaguar close air support fighters, and more than 170 Harrier jump jets. By 2007 the fleet comprised almost exclusively late-generation Tornados plus the first Typhoons - and now only 102 Typhoons and 17 Lightnings.
The numerical decline of the RAF to little more than double-figure fighter numbers is the latest chapter in a contraction which has been going on for decades. (end of excerpt)
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