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2017 RAF Air Power Conference – Debating The Future By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

Taking as its central theme, ‘21st Century Partnerships: Challenges and Opportunities’, the 2017 Air Power Conference that is being held on the 12th/13th July at the Institute of Engineering and Technology, Savoy Place, London, will see a wide audience of several hundred senior air force officers and chiefs representing international air forces from all over the world meet with representatives from academia and industry to debate a diverse range of issues that will dictate the future course of air power.

Launching plans for the 2017 Air Power Conference three months ago and which for the first time this year will be run by the Air Power Association (APA) with academic support coming from the Royal United Services Institution, then Assistant Chief of the Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Richard Knighton remarked that “Our globalised world is characterised by the rapid flow of ideas, data, people and capital. This” he said “fuels rapid technological innovation but it can also generate instability”.

The aim of the 2017 Conference” Air Vice Marshal Knighton said “would be to investigate these factors and to understand how they might influence our partnerships and of how air forces will fight in the future”.             https://www.airpower.org.uk/air-power-conference/

Preceded by three separate launch events to be held on the morning of July 12th, and with the conference being livestreamed this year to well over 40 separate RAF bases and locations, the 2017 Air Power Conference will be split into four sessions built around the following themes:

  1. A pivotal moment in world affairs.
  2. The challenges of our existing partnerships.
  3. Expanding our partnership horizon
  4. 21st Century partnerships in practice.      

The genesis of the Air Power Conference goes back very many years to this having been an internal strategic based conference but as it grew in stature and importance and became increasingly recognised by air force chiefs from around the world as an event that they must attend, the Chief of the Air Staff’s Air Power Conference as it was for many years known grew into what many regard as being arguably THE single most important air power conference held anywhere in the world.

Always timed to align with the Royal International Air Tattoo and that many conference delegates go on to attend, from the year 2000 to 2006, the CAS Air Power Conference was organised by Director of Defence Studies (DDefS) RAF alternating with the RAF Leadership Centre. In 2008 Conference was organised by the Royal Air Force Centre for Air Power Studies (RAF CAPS), a highly respected and influential RAF-sponsored quasi think-tank and which is the RAF’s centre for strategic and conceptual thinking on air power and in that year was held at Joint Services Command and Staff College at Shrivenham.

Subsequent Air Power conferences have been held in London and primarily organised by the Royal United Services Institute. However, in a major change of direction, it was decided that the 2017 Air Power Conference would be run by the Air Power Association on behalf of the Royal Air Force in co-operation with the RAF Centre for Air Power Studies and RUSI.

Established over 60 years, the Air Power Association aims to be an authoritative voice and platform for discussion and debate on how air power influences today’s world and its relevance to the future. The APA aims to stimulate discussion of the air power environment and is a trusted and respected voice in the air power debate with close well established links between the military, defence industrial base and the practitioners of air power.

The aim of the Air Power Conference remains as it has always been, to deliver the most challenging and thought provoking air power debate, to widen the reach of understanding of air power, and develop and engage with new advocates and finally, to cement the reputation of the Royal Air Force as a world leader in air power strategy in front of what has always been a global audience.

Air power supports national and international interests in complex scenarios, against diverse unpredictable threats. Former US General of the Army Omar N. Bradley said many years ago that “airpower has become predominant, both as a deterrent to war, and-in the eventuality of war-as the devastating force to destroy an enemy’s potential and fatally undermine his will to wage war” Those words remain as true today as when it was first said but as both technology and how war is waged has evolved and changed, the importance of strategic air power debate by allies has never been more important.

With the support of strategic partners, BAE Systems and Leonardo, along with other sponsors that include Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Atomics, MBDA, Martin Baker and several well respected defence journals including the Royal Aeronautical Society ‘Aerospace’ magazine, Air Forces Monthly, Shepherd Media, Aviation International News and Combat Aircraft, the 2017 Air Power Conference looks set to be one of the most interesting and rewarding yet.

The 2017 Air Power Conference takes place against a background of substantial change in political leadership, increased national security challenges as levels of threat rise and of necessity, acceptance that allied nations may need to spend more to spend defence and security. Air Power is at the heart of this thinking.

With new political leadership in the USA and France, a difficult political climate emerging in the UK as the nation begins Brexit negotiations, together with various other changes in world order and thinking make this years’ Air Power Conference timely. During the two days the Air Power Conference aims to examine what all this change means for air power, how it impacts on Air Forces and of how they will decide to prioritise defence and particularly air power. It will spend much time looking at partnerships and how these have an increasing role to play. Whole Force Concept and of how increasingly military, industrial and civilian partners can work better together for the self-same ends will I suspect be a feature within the debate.

The way that air power is conducted and how this is constantly changing as technology advances will feature throughout the debate. Delegates will be actively encouraged to participate throughout and to debate both in person and via the Conference App, the latter being a process that was introduced last year.

Not surprisingly given the importance, stature and prominence of the Air Power Conference, many leading members of the Air Power community will be attending. Well over 40 Air Force Chiefs will be coming from all over the world and many will then move on to visit the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford.

The Air Power Conference is a world class and having attended all since 2008 and presented at three, I am in no doubts as to the value and importance of the event. Indeed, I would say that this really is the single most important air power related conference held anywhere in the world.

Of particular significance this year is that the Air Power Conference and the Royal International Air Tattoo coincide with celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of the United States Air Force.

Keynote speakers this year include the Secretary of State for Defence, Sir Michael Fallon and Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier. Amongst other notable military, academic and industry speakers, Air Vice Marshal Sue Gray, AOC 38 Group, Air-Vice Marshal Rocky Rochelle, Chief of Air Capability, Air Commodore Johnny Stringer, AOC 83 Expeditionary Air Group, Professor Julian French, VP North Atlantic Council, Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Deputy Director-General RUSI, Dr. Andrew Tyler, CEO Northrop Grumman UK, Michael Christie, Strategy Director BAE Systems and Mr. Simon Kershaw from AirTanker and many others that space prevents my mentioning will all be presenting.

CHW (London 5th July 2017)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon





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