With CAS Air Power Conference starting later today and this leading straight into three days at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford from Friday followed on Monday by another three of four days to be spent at the Farnborough International Air Show (see further comments on all these below) please note that ‘Commentary’ will next appear July 18th.
The old adage ‘one never stops learning’ applies to pretty well all things that we do in life. Today I can be in little doubt that there will be some very significant lessons to be learned from the Iraq Inquiry. That mistakes were made by the Blair Government and others is already perfectly clear. That we must learn from those mistakes and make sure that in the future we better analyse what we might hope to achieve by going to war and indeed, think more about the aftermath and what needs to be done, has I think already been made clear from interviews Sir John Chilcot has given overnight. But whatever mistakes were deemed to have been made, either politically or militarily, I have no wish to see this turning into a witch hunt against those charged with responsibility for making decisions and putting them into action at the time. Wars and mistakes go hand in hand and have done so over many generations. The Great War whose many battles, failures and huge loss of life we commemorate with emotion and sadness one hundred years on act as a timely reminder of how wars and mistakes go hand in hand. Of course it is right to expose mistakes and also to lay blame where it is due. Not to do so after the event would be irresponsible and at worst, prevent lessons from being learned. The danger though is that those charged with analysis of Chilcot fall into the trap of using this as an excuse to blame all politicians and in the process, to inadvertently further damage an already troubled system of government. I hope too that those that we will hear and see pontificating views on our screens today, following publication of the Iraq Report, will at the very least have read the report in full and understand the implications of what they might wish to say before attempting to pass judgement.
As I have no wish to pre-empt what will emerge from the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry before it is published at 11am today that is all that I am going to say on the subject. There are plenty far more experienced than me to provide better analysis and I will leave them to do just that. I am though increasingly concerned about what is going on in the financial world and for the life of me, I cannot understand why Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has adopted the stance of creating additional and in my view, unwarranted fear. His intentions to ease credit availability and that interest rates are likely to go further down smacks to me of irresponsibility. Were there no lessons to be learned from what occurred prior to 2008?
That the office and retail property bubble appears to have burst comes as little surprise given the explosion of building expansion in recent years and indeed, how much of this has been funded from overseas. Brexit or not, this bubble was bound to burst. Now it seems that the doomsters and all those who wish to talk us all into economic decline by wishing it so and by stealth are suggesting that house prices are likely to sharply decline as well. While I might agree that house prices are going nowhere fast and that the froth will certainly be taken off I see no reason, particularly when sterling has lost 10% of its value to anticipate house prices declining by much. That market confidence all round has slipped can hardly be argued. That business confidence has slipped similarly and that consumer confidence is bound to be negatively impacted following the Brexit fall out can hardly be argued either. But what we don’t need is to hear a Bank Governor creating additional unnecessary fear and a Chancellor abandoning all the targets and reasoning why international investors have kept faith with the UK economy for so long. Time for a bit of common sense and buttoning of lips.
In a sentence, while I would be stupid to suggest that Brexit doesn’t create issues for the UK aerospace and defence industries I am not one of those that believes it will radically alter the present situation. Yes, long term decisions particularly related to future investment plans may prove to be a cause for concern but in the short to medium term – the next two to three years – very little is likely to change. True, there will be a tendency in defence to push back some programmes and that in itself has serious implications but I do not believe that UK defence for instance is about to feel another slash of the knife.
And so back to the real world as opposed to one that is increasingly driven by negative speculation. The thee day Royal International Air Show (RIAT) which is an annual event of which I wrote in more detail on June 1st is for me a time to listen, learn, observe, enjoy and also, to catch up with many professional military and industry friends and colleagues. As a networking event, RIAT is from a professional standpoint unsurpassed and to that end, it is hardly surprising that military and industry professionals do their level best to attend.
RIAT which opens its doors at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire this Friday and just a day after the CAS Air Power Conference, an important event in itself attended by a large number of Air Staff Chiefs and senior military from all over the world and who then go straight on down to Fairford, is for all professionals who attend a great opportunity to engage and network within the wider military and industry community in a relaxed environment. Ideas are born of such events just as are future partnerships and collaboration. They are not to be mocked.
As a very significant and important annual event, RIAT is to military based air power what I suppose Farnborough is to the world of commercial and military aerospace trade. Both are important for what they do and achieve but they are very different events. RIAT is undoubtedly the best military air show event in the world and nothing is going to change that. Farnborough is first and foremost to me an aerospace trade show and one that should perhaps, rather than be seen as alternating with the Paris Air Show, better be seen these days as alternating with DSEI, the world leading Defence and Security event that is held at ExCel in London on alternate years. Nevertheless, to this day Farnborough retains some air show elements although on nothing like the scale of shows of the past. It also remains the premier UK aviation event in international commercial aerospace industry calendar.
RIAT will provide a number of treats for visitors together with the many spectators that gather on the perimeter fences this year having been chosen to be the launch international air show event for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Both the F-35A conventional take-off and landing and the F-35B short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) variants of the aircraft will display at RIAT and the latter will also display at Farnborough the following week.
Hugely important in terms of the role that the F-35 will eventually play in the UK military air power construct with both the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy flying the aircraft from RAF Marham and eventually from the decks of the two in-build aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, the F-35 is also important from a UK industrial standpoint as well. As the only Level 1 partner on the F-35, it is always worth reminding that the UK is responsible for 15% of each and every one of these aircraft built. The F-35 programme envisages over 3,000 of the aircraft will eventually be built.
Whether your interest in going to RIAT is professional and maybe from a networking aspect or, whether you desire to get ‘up close and personal’ to the hundreds of military fixed-wing and rotary aircraft on display or an ordinary member of the public with a big interest in aircraft there is something at RIAT for everyone. For the would-be apprentice and graduate, the young professional and the up and coming who will hopefully become the skilled people that the military and industry need for tomorrow RIAT is a showcase event to see and to learn about the many opportunities available in the military and across the defence aerospace industry.
The latter applies equally well at the Farnborough International Air Show and at both events one will find universities and multidisciplinary professional institutions such as the Royal Aeronautical Society in attendance. At Farnborough the first four days are reserved for military and industry representatives and trade visitors before it then opens to the public. Future Day and FAB Friday are major events and on this day too Boeing will be celebrating and hosting events to mark the 100th anniversary of its founding.
The parent company of the official organiser of the Farnborough International Ltd is the aerospace defence and security industry trade association ADS. This organisation had in fact formed through the merger, in 2009, of the SBAC (Society British Aircraft Constructors) and that of the Defence Manufacturers Association. The latter was established in 1976 to represent the interest of UK defence manufacturers and the Security organisation that also merged to form ADS at the same time was known as APPSS. Interestingly, the Society of British Aircraft Constructors Ltd was incorporated one hundred year ago in 1916, originally to serve the interests of and support military and commercial aircraft, but later to concentrate predominantly on the commercial aircraft industry. Yet another interesting anniversary to celebrate!
And finally………Having only last Thursday evening, with my wife Joanna, had the great honour of once again dining on HMS Victory, the oldest commissioned ship in the Royal Navy, one is reminded at such events of the importance of work that the Royal Navy does today on all of our behalf. Along with Rear Admiral Keith Blount, Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Aviation and Carriers) one of the fellow guests dining with us last week in Nelsons room on this superbly preserved ship was Commodore Jerry Kydd, Commanding Officer of the first of the UK’s two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and who I might add had been the last Captain of HMS Ark Royal V.
Having started and finished the evening in Admiralty House within the Portsmouth Naval Base I can only say that from start to finish it was a truly wonderful and very interesting evening. Timely too as the following day having flown all the way over from the US to attend RIAT one of the F-35 aircraft and flown by either a Royal Navy or Royal Air Force pilot, flew over both of the two new aircraft carriers that are at various stages of construction of fitting out, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. This was a very nice touch.
Both these fine ships which I visited in February and subsequently wrote on are on time and on budget. HMS Queen Elizabeth is now undergoing the final fitting out phase ahead of sea trials that are due to begin next March followed by her planned arrival at the Portsmouth Navy Base that will be her home in May next year.
The F-35, of which the UK plans to eventually acquire 138 aircraft, also displayed over RAF Marham in Norfolk, the base that will be the primary home of the F-35 ‘Lightning’ aircraft within the UK.
CHW (London – 6th July 2016)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS