Huge defense cuts were brought in by the previous government, under David Cameron, when they took control in 2010. The first thing they did was to slash the budgets of the RAF, the British Army, the Royal Navy and its other defense organizations.
The swingeing cuts meant that only one of the two brand new aircraft carriers would be brought into service (the other one could not be scrapped as government officials discovered it would cost more to cancel the project than pay for a ship they did not want to use).
I've just caught up with Rory Bremner post election take. Do we really lease our tanker planes for the RAF from Thomas Cook??? Jeez— Don Canning (@Donmorcan) May 13, 2015
They decommissioned the two old aircraft carriers and HMS Illustrious and scrapped the fleet vertical-take-off-and-landing Harriers that used them, leaving the UK with no aircraft carrier capability in the medium term. Worse still, the government decided to reduce the planned number of brand new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft on order for the new yet-to-be launched carriers.
However, they hatched a plan to reduce the role of the VC-10 transport/tanker aircraft to undertake air-to-air refueling only and replace it with the new Voyager air-to-air refueling aircraft.
I can't believe that Thomas Cook are going to lease an RAF Voyager xD the world has gone mad!— Will (@Pirate_Will) July 3, 2014
RAF Switches Between Tankers and Tourism
In the air-to-air refueling role, the original aircraft does not need any additional fuel tanks, because it shares the same wing as the four-engine A340, so there is a pre-strengthened location available for mounting the wing Mk32B pods.
That makes the aircraft perfect for conversion for tour operators, like Thomas Cook. The seating in the aircraft remains roughly as it normally does for troop transport, although they will have reconfigured its cabin from the Voyager's 291-seat configuration into an all-economy, 323-seat layout.
@AirTanker What happens If the RAF need the aircraft back from Thomas Cook, Also how long will it take to revert it back into Military use??— Ross Bailey (@rossbaileyleeds) February 5, 2015
AirTanker — the private consortium that now runs the refueling of the UK's RAF aircraft — is due to receive the last of the new Voyager aircraft by the end of 2016, but has already signed deals to lease them out to travel operators.
In the event of the UK suddenly having to refuel all of its jets and other aircraft in the event of a global military crisis, the company has left open the option — called the "surge" element of the Ministry of Defense's contract with AirTanker — under which it can call on non-core aircraft to be prepared for military use within 90 days.
Dave Mitchard, managing director of AirTanker Services said: "It is a risk we are able to handle.. [but] the probability of recall is very low."
The first Voyager entered service this month with Thomas Cook. RAF air-to-air refueling aircraft G-VYGK took-off from Manchester Airport on May 1, bound for Cancun and Punta Cana carrying happy holidaymakers.