February 20, 2002
The UK government has decided to permanently disband No 5 Squadron (Tornado) in January 2003 when the airfield closes for runway resurfacing work and preparation for the Eurofighter. RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire (138 miles from London) is less than 14 minutes flying time from the British capital.
Two No 5 Squadron Tornadoes will be moved to RAF Marham in Norfolk (100 miles from London), to provide air cover for London and southern England.
An MoD spokeswoman said that the move was prompted by a lack of pilots. The Royal Air Force (RAF) should have nearly 1,500 pilots but is currently short more than 100. The shortage is so bad that RAF officials this past week announced a financial incentive plan to keep the pilots it already has, while air crew were being brought in from the New Zealand Air Force to fill identified gaps.
The same MoD spokesman noted that a four-squadron defense unit would run more efficiently than the five-squadron system. However, the UK government's 1998 Strategic Defence Review identified five squadrons (about 65 aircraft) as the minimum Air Defense requirement to protect the whole country. - Adam Geibel