Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter jets on exercise in Australia (Picture: RAF).
Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter jets on exercise in Australia (Picture: RAF).

Delays in RAF pilot training system 'unacceptable', Defence Secretary says

Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter jets on exercise in Australia (Picture: RAF).
Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter jets on exercise in Australia (Picture: RAF).

The Defence Secretary says the delays in the pipeline for RAF pilot training need urgent improvement and waiting time is "not in a place that I want it to be".

Ben Wallace told MPs in the Defence Select Committee there are too many personnel awaiting the next stage of their training and not getting through the system to progress onto the frontline.

He did admit there can be some natural lags between training and readiness for operations, such as when instructors are being trained on a new aircraft, but he described the pipeline as generally lacking, in relation to efficiency.

RAF chief: We're doing 'everything' possible to accelerate frontline flying training.

At the time, he told MPs, there were 38 people in the middle of the waiting process and now 51. "I don't think that is acceptable," he said.

Mr Wallace did offer some good news on the training front, however, explaining that the congestion of pilots awaiting training at the entry point has reduced from 120 to 25.

The head of the Royal Air Force told Forces News in October that the service doesn't "have the training places" to get all personnel flying on the frontline, but is working to accelerate the process.

The Government said pilots are being sent to the USA for training as more than 300 personnel are held up in the RAF flying training pipeline.

Defence Minister James Heappey said in October that additional slots on the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training in America were being requested, in response to a question from Defence Select Committee Chair Tobias Ellwood about steps the Ministry of Defence (MOD) is taking to increase RAF training capacity.

UK F-35B Lightning jet launches from HMS Queen Elizabeth with ITS Cavour in the background (Picture: MOD).
An F-35 aircraft launches from HMS Queen Elizabeth (Picture: MOD).

More F-35 aircraft than pilots?

The Defence Secretary corrected his statement on Tuesday asserting there were more F-35 aircraft than pilots.

Mr Wallace said the comment was based on data from a few months ago and that he had since been updated by the RAF.

He told the committee that there are currently 27 F-35 aircraft and 33 pilots, of whom 30 are British and three exchange officers. One is from the US Air Force, one from the US Marine Corps and one from the Royal Australian Air Force.

Mr Wallace said it is "still not a staggering amount".

When pressed on how numbers are expected to be boosted in the future, he informed the committee there are due to be 48 F-35 aircraft by 2025 and up to 74 F-35 jets towards the end of the decade. He was not able to provide a forecast for pilot numbers.