Following a very successful period just short of two years as Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach will this week stand down as the UK’s most senior military officer in order to take up the appointment as NATO Chairman of the Military Committee. He will be succeeded as Chief of the Defence Staff by General Sir Nick Carter, current Chief of the General Staff.
In his new role as Chairman of the Military Committee and the most senior military officer in NATO, Air Chief Marshal Peach will also, by virtue of his being the principal military adviser to the NATO Secretary General, become the conduit through which consensus-based advice from Chiefs of Defence of all 29 NATO members is brought forward to the organisations political decision-making bodies. He will also the senior military spokesman for the alliance on all military matters. He succeeds General Petr Pavel.
As Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Peach has served two Secretary of State for Defence in the form of Sir Michael Fallon and Gavin Williamson. His tenure has seen the UK has faced up to increasing Russian pressure and our lending of land, maritime and air support to countries in the Baltic region, Estonia and further afield to Romania. In the wake of terrorist attacks in London and Manchester the military has lent considerable support to the police and under his watch there has been a greater emphasis taken on homeland security.
Noticeably increased activity from Russian submarines and aircraft has seen Royal Air Force Typhoon ‘Quick Reaction Alert’ defence capability used with much greater frequency during his tenure in office just as the Royal Navy has also been required to be on constant vigil as the Russia tests our defences against sub and surface sea intrusion.
ACM Peach has embraced the hugely important issues that the UK has faced with our allies such as our continuing to play the leading role in countering DAESH, our training of over 60,000 members of the Iraqi Security Forces, delivering collective defence through the significant and leading role that we play within NATO and which includes supporting Eastern European NATO allies in the Baltic and Black Sea coast against the increasing Russian threat.
Importantly, as his period in office as Chief of the Defence Staff has seen the bulk of the work done that led up to publication of the National Security Capability Review he has in turn embraced the need for us to plan for the warfare requirements of tomorrow whilst at the same time ensured that we better understand the new technology and information based threats that we face including the need to raise our game in cyber, intelligence and electronic warfare and within this, embraced the need for enhanced ISTAR capabilities and other new capabilities that the UK will soon have in the form of Maritime Patrol Aircraft capability.
As Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Peach has worked hard to support the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, their people, their needs, their issues, their abilities and capability needs. He has also rightly embraced one of the most important yet less well sung elements of UK defence capability now in its 48th year, that of our continuous-at-sea nuclear deterrence and its vital importance.
As his period in office coincided with some of the most important one hundred year anniversary of the Great War Air Chief Marshall Peach reminded that remembering those that gave their lives for us in past wars is a powerful part of our culture. Above all though for me as a passionate believer in NATO, it has been pleasing for me to see how he has emphasised the enduring qualities of this endurable organisation. ACM Peach believes as many of us do in collective security, in NATO’s ability to project stability and he places much emphasis on the reputation of the UK within the alliance. Rightly in respect of future European defence, he does not support duplication of NATO structures, processes or capabilities. But he does also believe in cooperation and the need for complimentary national resilience and homeland security.
Rightly, as he prepares to move to NATO in Brussels, ACM Peach has defended the role of the Royal Air Force in the aerial bombing campaign against DAISH militants in Iraq and Syria insisting that these have been carried out as part of the most carefully planned and targeted air campaign in history. And in the past couple of weeks he has again stressed that he is deeply uncomfortable at the prospect of military veterans facing investigation for actions during the troubles in Northern Ireland and Falklands made it unequivocally clear that the Ministry of Defence will continue to support veterans with legal and other support required.
ACM Peach has also well understood the need for the military to reduce process and that our armed forces also need to be more flexible. He will no doubt push that same message within NATO as the alliance moves forward with the Enhanced Forward Presence strategy that is designed to not only enable fast deployment to conflict areas but also to provide reassurance and deterrence. Process and compliance are of course very necessary elements within the military arena but they are also a costly burden and of necessity must be better controlled.
As I witnessed for myself at RAF Cosford yesterday in an extraordinary display of importance surrounding skills, STEM and engineering subjects within the military that was an act of encouragement to thousands of young visitors who passed through and that may be encouraged to look at engineering as a future career, Air Chief Marshal Peach has, throughout his tenure in office, similarly embraced the importance of future skills aspects and requirement of the military.
He has also been open in his recognition that in order for the military to compete for the people and skills required there is a need to re-write outdated recruitment rules that are clearly no longer appropriate. These include aspects such as fitness requirements that, as just one example, prevent the ability of the military to recruit cyber specialists. There are as we all know, many other examples.
ACM Peach also gave warning recently that Britain’s trade and internet are at risk of catastrophic damage from any Russian attack on underwater communications cables and he has constantly reminded of the “gathering storm” of threats facing the UK and that the military must evolve, modernise and adapt. The hope is that the Modernising Defence Programmes review process will be full recognition of what we need and intend to do.
In respect of maritime requirements ACM Peach has been clear in his belief that the UK needs to retain a balanced fleet that meets the capabilities and demands of the 21st century and importantly, one that included amphibious capability as part of a force structure in order to match the threats that we face. He has continually raised the growing threat to national security reminding of the combination of expression of terrorism across the globe combined with state-on-state competition as being the reality before us.
In Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach as the Chief of the Defence Staff we have had a true military professional and someone who does not take no for an answer. His tenure has seen much change in the global geo political scene and it has also witnessed an increased level of threat. He has fought for and been quite open about the need for the UK to spend more on defence in order to ensure that we have all that we need. He has embraced all three of our individual armed force elements in equal measure and has fought hard for their needs. He has spoken his mind without fear or favour and in doing so he has ample reassurance to those who look up to him as being the UK’s most senior military officer.
In wishing him well in the important senior NATO role that he is about to take on, I take this opportunity of thanking him for his superb contribution to UK defence and those that serve just as I also do to his very able Vice Chief of Defence, General Sir Gordon Messenger who continues in post.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach was born in 1956 in the West Midlands. He was educated at Aldridge Grammar School, the University of Sheffield (BA), University of Cambridge (MPhil), RAF Staff College and the Joint Services Command and Staff College (HCSC). He holds three honorary Doctorates from Kingston University, University of Sheffield, and University of Loughborough.
Commissioned into the Royal Air Force in 1977, a navigator by training and profession, he flew English Electric Canberra PR9 aircraft in the photographic reconnaissance role prior to having three successive tours on Panavia Tornado GR1 in the UK and Germany, qualifying as a weapons and electronic warfare instructor.
Air Chief Marshal Peach went on to command IX (Bomber) Squadron at RAF Brüggen, Germany 1994-1996. This was followed by Staff tours that included his being personal staff officer to the Deputy Commander and Commander-in-Chief in RAF Germany, Executive Officer to Commander Second Allied Tactical Air Force and Director Defence Studies Royal Air Force.
Operational service includes Belize, Hong Kong and Germany in the 1980s, Deputy Commander British Forces in Turkey (Op Warden), UK Head Military Coordination Centre Zakho (Iraq), Detachment Commander in Saudi Arabia (Op Jural), Commander British Forces in Italy (Op Engadine), Air Commander (Forward) in HQ KFOR on Kosovo and Deputy Senior British Military Adviser in US HQ Central Command 2001-2002.
He commanded the Air Warfare Centre at RAF Waddington from 2000 to 2003, was Director General Intelligence Collection in the Ministry of Defence 2003-2006 and Chief of Defence Intelligence and Deputy Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee 2006-2009. He held the appointment of Chief of Joint Operations at PJHQ (UK) from March 2009-December 2011 before becoming the first Commander of the UK Joint Forces Command from December 2011-Apr 2013. He was Vice Chief of the Defence Staff from May 2013-May 2016. He assumed the role of Chief of the Defence Staff on 14 Jul 16.
Air Chief Marshal Peach is married with two children.
CHW (London – 11th June 2018)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785