Widley recognised by industry the best networking event on the annual military and defence calendar and one that is marked as a ‘not to be missed’ event by professionals, RIAT is far more than being just the best military air show in the world. It is ‘the’ place where Air Forces from around the world gather not only to meet their opposite numbers, see, better understand and learn from what the Royal Air Force is doing and achieving but also as ‘the’ place to meet industry colleagues and old friends on an annual basis.
RIAT is a truly fantastic and unique event and one that, given its international standing and status, it is hardly a surprise that worldwide this event is now being recognised as the greatest military airshow and networking event on the calendar.
Having been forced to cancel planned both the 2020 and 2021 events due to the ‘Pandemic’ RIAT 2022 will, amongst many of its great virtues, reignite the benefits that this very important three-day event plays out in regard of global defence diplomacy. It does so this year during a crucial period of geo-political tensions as the western world faces up to rising levels of threat and the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine.
RIAT has long enjoyed incredible support from International Air Forces the world over and most particularly from its USAF base at RAF Fairford. This year over 300 military aircraft will be on the base with, I understand, every possible inch of available concrete filled – a situation that I believe has not been seen since the 1990’s.
Over 60 International Air Force Chief delegations are already confirmed as attending RIAT 2022 along with I believe all UK Government Defence Ministers and also, two ministers from the Department of International Trade. Thus, along with other senior RAF and foreign Air Force delegations, the number of senior VIP and military delegations attending this year will most likely not be far short of 90.
For as long as I can remember there has been a different theme at each RIAT. The theme for RIAT 2022 is ‘Training the Next Generation Air Force’ and the organisers are also noting the importance of the 75th anniversary of USAF. To that end, following this ‘Commentary’ piece I have copied the inspirational speech delivered by then Chief of Staff US Air Force, General David L. Goldfein on July 14th 2017 at the RIAT Gala Dinner because not only was it inspirational in my view but also because it remains extremely relevant.
RIAT receives an incredible amount of support from its ever-growing Corporate customer base and deservedly so. BAE Systems has, I understand, signed a four-year contract to support what is undoubtedly the UK’s premier defence engagement event and special thanks also go to companies such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Airbus and MBDA Missile systems for agreeing long term sponsorship packages.
RIAT 2022 will welcome the return of 27 other important sponsors including 10 that are completely new. Given their knowledge and experience of the importance of RIAT as an annual event on the military aerospace calendar, of what RIAT does and attempts to achieve and the incredible opportunities and potential that it presents, that industry places such great importance in RIAT. In addition, RIAT is being noticed outside of the usual Aerospace sphere with companies such as Palantir Technologies (Software), Helsing (Software and Artificial Intelligence) and Bluescape (Virtual Workspace) amongst others represented at this year’s event. In respect of chalets, RIAT 2022 has an additional four over that of the last show in 2019.
So, what is it that sets RIAT apart from other aerospace related events? Primarily it is because RIAT is a truly global military aerospace event and the only one that speaks solely to the military air power agenda. RIAT provides the perfect balance of being the leading defence engagement event in the world together with that of being an eye watering aviation spectacle for both defence specialists, members of the military and industry, global air forces and importantly, the general public.
As one would expect in the fast changing world which requires that we all reconsider how we do things sustainably and that impacts across the whole of aerospace, RIAT is committed to making many improvements to the event, using the International Event Sustainability Management System (ISO 20121) in order to ensure that they make real changes to the event operations, show leadership and achieve continual improvements in all areas of sustainability.
RIAT management rightly see ‘Sustainability’ as a long-term plan and they are determined to reduce the impacts of the event in order to make it the best event that they can. Nevertheless, Rome wasn’t built in a day and they are well aware that achieving this will take time. One thing is certain, RIAT management are not prepared to make promises that they cannot keep.
To that end, one of the most important aspects of change that management are doing at RIAT 2022 is to measure the impacts of the show as a whole on the environment. The intention of measuring impacts will act as an enabler that allows them to make more significant improvements to the carbon footprint over following years and, being evidence based, to properly understand which areas of the event are or might be creating the greatest environmental impacts.
However, there will be some noticeable impacts of the sustainability policy intentions already visible at RIAT 2022 such as the intention to minimise single use plastics, reduce food waste, trialling hybrid generators where they can and in using 100% HVO in the remaining generators in order to minimise emissions. All waste will be diverted from landfill
The organisers of RIAT – the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust Enterprises (RAFCT) – are expecting 170,000 visitors through the gates of RAF Fairford over the period of 15-17 July.
Under the leadership of Air Marshal Phil Osborn RAFCT, the Royal International Air Tattoo’s parent charity, chose to take the opportunity of the pandemic and subsequent cancellation of RIAT 2O20 and 2021 – and the near total loss of income – as an opportunity to re-evaluate our aims and priorities. The RAF Charitable Trust now has two very clear aims which it plans to formally launch during RIAT 2022: Firstly – Promoting the Royal Air Force in all its many forms and secondly, to ‘inspire young people’ to fulfil their potential in Air, Space and technology.
As such and as it has over many years past, RIAT 2022 will have a huge focus on STEM and youth, all about INSPIRE – not only a great family day out but one in which young people can fill themselves with knowledge of what potential careers in the world of aerospace including Space and other important areas of digital technology, software, electronics, research, engineering and manufacturing offer and with under those 18 able to attend free to support the potential and opportunity that RIAT offers to them is genuinely enormous.
RIAT management have been very conscious of cost of living challenges facing the Nation and they hope that by maintaining the under 18’s go free policy on or tickets and that will hopefully enable families to attend for a reasonable price and enjoy a great day out within budget. They are to be commended for adapting such a policy.
As alluded above, RIAT has a long tradition of emphasising not only of the excitement of seeing military aircraft fly or that remain on the ground for visitors to look, admire and maybe examine internally but as an event that offers young people who may be looking to make their careers in military aerospace, having a better understanding of what the Royal Air Force is and does in its 104th year of operation, what it plans to do in space in the years to come and major future projects such as FCAS, and the many different career opportunities and trades that it offers young people, make this event unsurpassed and importantly, also offers the potential for young people to look at careers across the whole aerospace industry be that in engineering, technical or digital domains.
We must today though not just look forward to the important networking and inspirational learning event that RIAT is but also proffer great thanks the US Air Force who, year after year, make the RAF Fairford base available.
RIAT is far more than I have talked on above – it is also an event for those who love competing for awards, for the hundreds of volunteers without whom RIAT could not occur along with the many national air forces and private individuals who take pride in showing their fantastic military aircraft and helicopters to the public and of course, genuine enthusiasts.
Neither should we forget the regional economic benefits that RIAT brings to Gloucestershire, the additional employment that runs alongside an event such as this, on-site caterers, external hotels that provide beds, pubs that provide food, drink and relaxation together with all those that provide that on the public days offer their wares, souvenirs and collectables and for which RIAT is one if not the highlights of their year and their livelihoods.
Had RIAT 2021 taken place, that show would have marked the 50th anniversary of this very important event whose origins date back to an air show first held in 1971 at North Wield Airfield. Inspired by two air traffic controllers, Tim Prince and Paul Bowen, this once modest event, organised by volunteers and originally held in support of the RAF Association has grown to an event which now has a volunteer force in excess of 3,500 strong and who bring with them a wealth of aviation and event-management experience and support that has allowed the Royal International Air Tattoo to be recognised today as the most successful event of its kind in the world.
In concluding this ‘Commentary’ it would be remiss if I failed to mention the importance of RIAT in raising funds for the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust whose important mission statement is based on the requirement to enable the Trust to meet its many objectives. These include: the need to maintain high standards of quality and safety in the services it provides to stakeholders; to promote the Royal Air Force’s heritage; to encourage air-mindedness and the aviation-related education of youth; to contribute to defence diplomacy by promoting the international reputation of the RAF and to support the delivery of the RAF’s Engagement Strategy.
What follows is what I regard as being an extremely inspirational speech as delivered by the former Chief of Staff US Air Force General David L. Goldfein on July 14th 2017 at the RIAT Gala Dinner:
Good evening Lord Lieutenant, Secretary of State, my Lords, fellow Air Chiefs, industry leaders, friends, my brother Steve, and fellow Airmen. It is an honor to join you this evening.
A special thank you to the Right Honourable Sir Michael Fallon for your steadfast leadership and for your close partnership with Secretary Mattis.
While the tools of war are constantly changing, there is one constant that remains foundational to fighting and winning – and that is the importance of relationships built on trust and confidence.
On that note, Sir Stephen Hillier and I met as colonels several years ago when we attended a futures wargame at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. Stephen was the Team Lead and I was assigned as his Deputy. Little did we know then that our friendship built fighting a future enemy in a wargame would lead over the years to our relationship today as two air chiefs fighting a real enemy and preparing our forces for the next war on the horizon. Sir Stephen, it is an honor to call you my friend. Just as the Royal Air Force’s top-scoring World War II ace, Wing Commander James Johnson, said, “Invisible threads of trust and comradeship hold us together”.
I did have to chuckle though with how you maneuvered me into being the guest speaker this evening. It was a brilliant tactical manoeuvre executed with precision and confidence. Sir Stephen called me one afternoon with a simple question. And I’ll do this in my best Steve Hillier impersonation…
Steve said, “David, I am here with my RIAT team and we are just wondering … what are your thoughts on free speech? Well Steve,” I said, “I’m all for it. Part of our constitution you know. Sworn to defend it. Why do you ask?” He replied, “That’s just great, Dave … because I want you to fly here to the UK and give one.”
Sometimes we joke that the United Kingdom and the United States are two nations separated by a common language. But truth be told, tonight we all share a common language and it is airpower. And we share the same humble beginning when two bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio, defied the odds to build a heavier than air machine, whose first sortie flew a shorter distance than the wingspan of a Boeing 747. Leanne – that was for you. It is an inspiring story of courage, innovation, discipline, and perseverance. I love that Orville and Wilbur flipped a coin to determine who would fly the first sortie …that sure sounds like Airmen to me!
One of the most treasured possessions in my office is a small piece of material from the original Wright Flyer presented to the first Chief of Staff of our Air Force, General Tooey Spaatz, in 1947 … 70 years ago. For me, it serves as a physical reminder that courage, innovation, discipline, and perseverance are in our blood. We spring from young Army officer fighting in the trenches of World War I who looked up, saw an airplane, and asked whether it was possible to go over and not through an enemy.
Over not through …. As Airmen, we must own the ultimate high ground. But air and now space superiority are not Western birth rights; they must be planned for, invested in, fought for, and won.
As we enjoy this evening’s camaraderie, our Airmen are on the frontlines fighting to defeat violent extremists who call themselves an Islamic State. But the enemy is on the run and there is no place to hide. For many of us here tonight, this fight is a continuation of 26 years of conflict in the Middle East and the Balkans. The names of operations are ingrained in our collective memory: Desert Storm, Northern and Southern Watch, Provide Comfort, Desert Fox, Deliberate Force, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and Inherent Resolve.
Bases where we have generated, launched, and recovered airpower are etched in our conscience like Bagram, Balad, Kandahar, Erbil, Al Dhafra, Al Udeid, Jalalabad, and Minhad. As Airmen of independent nations, we re-joined for a common purpose, founded on common values to own the high ground and fight and win. The bonds of trust and confidence we have forged in battle over the last 26 years will be the foundation of our strength for the next 26 years. But tonight, we must acknowledge we have enjoyed air and space superiority for every one of the operations I named. We have grown accustomed to flying whenever and wherever we want, for as long as we want. We have enjoyed almost total control over the pace of war. In the meantime, our adversaries have been watching and investing in ways to counter our asymmetric advantages.
But with every challenge we are presented in life comes an opportunity, and our job as leaders is to find that opportunity and seize it. As Joint Chiefs in the U.S., we have come to describe the global challenges we face as a 4 + 1 framework. China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and violent extremism … competitors who are contesting the Westphalian world order put in place at the end of World War II and maintained by our strategic partnerships … adversaries who are challenging us below the threshold of armed conflict. So where is the opportunity in this new global security challenge? In my opinion, it is the theme of this week … strategic partnerships.
None of our adversaries enjoy the network of allies and partners we do. If Mr. Putin crosses a line, he faces the combined economic and military might of 29 nations in the most powerful alliance on the planet – a nuclear alliance. And many of these nations are battle tested over the past 26 years … and combat proven. You know, there are moments in our lives when the knowledge that we are on the right side of history sort of washes right over you.
In January of this year, I was honoured to sit on the platform of our Capitol and witness the change of power from one president to the next. I sat with my fellow joint chiefs behind the row of former presidents and watched as the leaders of my country gathered for this historic peaceful transfer of power. President Reagan’s words came back to me that day. At his first inauguration, he said, “What we do here today, the orderly transfer of power, is both ordinary and extraordinary.
It is ordinary because we do this [the inauguration] every four years and have done so for over 200 years, and few of us stop to think how unique we really are. Yet in the eyes of the world, this every 4-year ceremony that we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle … extraordinary because so very few experience it.”
Think about this. Our competitors and potential adversaries have no earthly idea what President Reagan was describing. Not one of their leaders will willingly give up power … fighting to remain in place until death. Not one has any idea what government of the people and by the people and for the people means. Not one of them enjoys international partnerships like we do and that we celebrate tonight. This remains our greatest strength and our greatest opportunity, and I commend the RAF and the organizers of RIAT for focusing on strategic partnerships this week.
As an international air chief, it is my humble belief that interoperability, information sharing, partnering in space, exercises, combining old and new capabilities in new ways, developing new CONOPs, and ensuring our command and control networks are compatible and fast are nothing short of the warfighting imperatives we need to fight and win in the 21st century. Difficult? You bet? But that is what we do.
One of my favourite quotes during World War II comes from General Hap Arnold, head of the Army Air Corps, who during the darkest days of the daylight bombing campaign from Eighth Air Force when we were losing up to 20 percent of our bombers on a single mission, said:
“The problem with airpower is we make it look too easy.”
I often wonder, as I watch our Airmen navigate the most complex battlespace one could ever imagine in Syria, what Hap Arnold would think today. Air Commodore Stringer said it best this week during the Airpower Conference. If someone had said we would be sharing airspace with Russian MiGs while being highlighted by Syrian air defenses and shooting down Iranian UAVs and Syrian fighters operating in close proximity to our special forces, we’d say that person is crazy … but here we are. And our Airmen are crushing it, and we should all be proud of the incredible courage, innovation, perseverance, and discipline they display every day.
I will end with one of the greatest airpower stories ever told. Next to my piece of cloth from the original Wright Flyer is a picture of a personal hero of mine, Sir Douglas Bader. Born in London in 1910, Sir Douglas Bader became an officer in the RAF in 1930. He found himself in an awful plane accident about a year and a half after he joined, resulting in him becoming a double amputee at age 21 and being involuntarily discharged. After the outbreak of World War II, he successfully petitioned and re-joined the RAF as a Battle of Britain pilot flying Spitfires. He and his squadron brought down 67 German aircraft. He was a fighter ace, despite the loss of both legs. In 1941, luck caught up and his aircraft was shot down. During his bail-out, his right prosthetic leg got caught in the cockpit and only when the strap broke was he able to free himself and bail out. He was captured by the Germans and transferred between multiple prison camps. He inspired all, to include German General Adolf Galland, who coordinated with Hermann Göring, to allow the RAF safe passage to parachute in a replacement prosthetic. As only the RAF could do, they named the mission “Operation Leg” and dropped in the prosthetic, followed shortly thereafter with a bombing run on a German target. Hey … let’s not waste safe passage. Sir Douglas quickly used the new legs to attempt escape several times, causing a camp commander (the same camp to be featured in the movie, The Great Escape) to write in the prison log that for the remainder of the war, this intrepid Airman was not to be given both legs at the same time. The spirit of Sir Douglas Bader lives in today’s Airmen … courage, innovation, discipline, and perseverance. If it looks impossible there is probably an Airman doing it!
As airpower leaders and thinkers, we bear the responsibility of ensuring our greatest strength … our partnerships … are capable of standing the tests of conflict and crises. To echo Sir Kevin, our posture for the future and our investments today will be carried forth by the younger generations. They are our legacy. There are very few absolute truths we get to manage when we arrive in senior leadership positions. Most of our decisions are made without perfect knowledge and often based on our experience and our gut instincts. As we celebrate tonight, there are three absolute truths I believe we can count on: death, taxes, and the fact that we have from this moment tonight until the next war begins to prepare our forces to own the high ground … to fight and win. We must treat every week of peace as a blessing and our last week to prepare. To my fellow air chiefs, I look forward to working side by side with you to do just this. It is our solemn duty. We cannot do more … we should never wish to do less.
Thank you again, Sir Stephen, for allowing me to provide you this free speech. May God bless all our great nations and those intrepid Airmen – past, present, and future – who have sworn to defend them … Fight’s On!
CHW (London – 15th June 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785