All of us engaged within defence or on the periphery have had occasion in the past to read, listen or watch rubbish being talked about military and defence policy and plenty else besides. It goes with the territory and I suspect also with the age we live in. Most of this would more usually be worthy of little more than a passing comment or dismissal and only rarely have I in the past attempted to take someone to task. Today is rather different though. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own viewpoint but when heard this one in regard of structural military organisation and that to my mind was bordering on the dangerous I felt the need to respond.
On Saturday afternoon it was brought to my attention that a letter from someone who might even have been a former member of the Royal Air Force was published in the said magazine that understandably appears to have caused a degree of angst. I have not seen the article due to being so far unable to purchase a copy of the said magazine so I will not name it here and now. In the published letter it seems that the correspondent appears to believe that money could be saved by carving the Royal Air Force up between the Royal Navy and the Army. What absolute nonsense this is and how dangerous such remarks are as well.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that ludicrous suggestions such as these have been aired in public and I hardly suppose they will be the last. Indeed, I may regard such ill-informed remarks as being rather typical of what we have been forced to become too used to in the society that we now live in – one that that has the unfortunate habit of taking everything including peace and stability for granted; one that all too easily forgets its past and in this case, the vital role that the RAF has played in our defence over the past 97 years and is still doing today. A suggestion such as this is the result of what occurs when ill-informed individuals meddle in matters that they clearly do not understand, such as the concepts of defence and that are not privy to understanding the complexities involved. So my initial answer to this correspondent is this:
Putting all considerations to one side, if reducing three air arms into two could save money, might not even more money be saved by combining three air Arms into one?
I merely pose the question here and please believe me when I say that this is not to be confused with a stated belief on my part. This is a somewhat flippant and unusual remark on my part but my point is that if we were to follow the argument made by this correspondent through to its natural conclusion it is perfectly obvious that Naval air power and that of the Army Air Corps would surely be better off and more efficiently managed if it was transferred to the control of the Royal Air Force.
Nevertheless, for my part I seek nothing other than retaining the status quo believing that although one could criticise some earlier policy decision announcements in so far as they impact on shared air power responsibilities and also that there must always be room for an element of change in order make things even more efficient in terms of who does what, this later point being a reference to control of certain elements of unmanned aerial vehicles and that arguably, the Army has struggled with, I believe the current basis of Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force works very well. Indeed, I also take the view that one of the best aspects to have come out of SDSR 2010 was the addition of what we now regard as the fourth dimension to defence, in the form of Joint Forces Command.
The notion espoused by the correspondent referred to earlier is not particularly new of course. Tale the ‘key passage’ that came I believe from an Iain Martin in the Wall Street Journal back in September 2009 “it has long been the dirty little secret of the U.K. defence establishment that a way to streamline the command structure, reduce duplication and slash costs is to close the RAF. On this case the writer goes on to tell us that there are two options for how this could be done: Firstly he suggests that abolishing the traditional three services and switch to a single (US style) marine corps model, with all three services effectively merging under new leadership. And for his second notion, that the RAF’s capacity could be split between the two remaining services, giving the army the lift and delivery components and the navy responsibility for the strike capability by which one assumes he means the fast jet force and everything that is there to support it.
To all this all that I can say is ‘heaven help us’ if that was to ever occur. Canada if I remember correctly tried something along the same lines and very quickly regretted it. I could throw in a raft of comments to suggest why going down such a road would simply be a disaster but I know all too well that serious strategic thinking on national defence and security and the NATO requirement does and would not countenance such thoughts I will not. The Royal Air Force remains the front line force, the first line of defence. It provides the Government with the means to respond rapidly to and flexibly to crisis all over the world. It also provides vital and significant support to the Royal Navy and the British Army, enhancing their capability and flexibility, enabling them to extend their range and sustain their endurance on operations and providing them with the fundamental freedom of manoeuvre.
CHW (London 3rd August 2015)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS