Since the conflict began, a squadron of 18 RAF Typhoon pilots has enforced the Libya no-fly zone from an air base in southern Italy. However, a shortage of qualified fighter pilots means the RAF may not have enough to replace all of them when the squadron has to rotate in a few weeks.
The situation is so serious that the RAF has halted the teaching of trainee Typhoon pilots so instructors can be drafted on to the front line, according to air force sources. The handful of pilots used for air shows will also be withdrawn from displays this summer.
The shortage has arisen because cuts to the defence budget over the past decade have limited the number of pilots who have been trained to fly the new Typhoon.
There are also fewer newly qualified pilots coming through after the RAF was forced to cut a quarter of its trainee places due to cuts announced in last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review.
The Government’s decision to decommission HMS Ark Royal, Harrier jump jets and the Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft — all of which could have played a role in the Libya conflict — has exacerbated the problem. Serving RAF pilots contacted The Daily Telegraph to warn of the risks to the Libya operation. “We have a declining pool of pilots,” one said. “There’s less people to do twice as much work. If we are not training any more we are going to run out of personnel very soon.” (read more)