Largely unseen and unknown by the wider public and having over the past twenty years been paired to the bone, perhaps now more than ever before the RAF Regiment which is responsible for Force Protection and countering our adversaries across what today is an ever increasing level of threats, celebrates the 81st year of its founding by Royal Warrant in 1942.
As unsung hero of our overall defence capability and one that has arguably over the years lacked sufficient levels of internal support, the RAF Regiment may be described as being too our armed forces what the NHS is to the public – an absolute necessity.
The primary work done by the RAF Regiment is that of protection military assets and personal on airfields where the Royal Air Force and other military elements are deployed ensuring that they are fully protected.
Having been very close to this vital part of the Royal Air Force for many years now I speak with some degree of authority when I say that around the world a great many air forces genuinely look up to what the RAF Regiment has and continues to achieve.
The military have a duty to their people, to protect them and the assets that they use when deployed. The RAF Regiment provides not only the assurance of protection in the field that those who are deployed deserve and in what is always to be considered a complex air and ground environment but also the human dimension and fighting edge which is at the core of what the RAF Regiment is and does so well.
This is a very specialist field and role and to ensure success in the field requires years of constant special training so that whenever the RAF Regiment is asked to deploy and to perform the vital Force Protection role it is always ready to go within hours.
Today the RAF Regiment has seven regular and six reserve squadrons organised into 7 wings. In addition, it provides Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) to the British Army and to the Royal Marines, and provides a flight sized commitment to the Special Forces Support Group. Until October 2021 No 27 Squadron RAF Regiment had also been responsible for Counter-Chemical. Biological, Radioactive and Nuclear (C-CBRN) capability but, having made significant achievements in this vital aspect of UK defence activity, responsibility for this was, for an as yet unexplained reason, handed to the Army and who through 28 Engineer Regiment now also based at RAF Honington, continue this highly important work.
The above sudden and unexpected change in respect of C-CBRN responsibility is but one of many examples of what I would describe as being ill thought through strategic change and one that demonstrates a distinct lack of consistency that has become too apparent across many aspects of UK defence. In brief it had been, in this case, a perfectly sensible decision that had emanated from the Strategic Defence and Security Review of 2010 (SDSR2010) that resulted in the disbandment of the Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regt and formation of the new Def CBRN Wg (20 Wg RAF Regt). Responsibility for CBRN, which is also an important part of Force Protection, was back where it belonged in the hands of dedicated RAF Regiment military specialists
The Royal Air Force officially become the sole provider of specialist C-CBRN capability on 14 December 2011 following 20 Wg RAF Regiment having converted back to its specialist CBRN role and, along with its sister squadron (Number 26 Squadron RAF Regiment), and of the operationally deployable elements of this new CBRN Wg.
An interesting subsequent example of the importance of CBRN capability came when military personnel from a Joint CBRN Task Force worked tirelessly to remove the Novichok Nerve Agent from contaminated sites in Salisbury and Amesbury. The specialist military contribution to the Joint CBRN Task Force comprised of C-CBRN teams drawn from Number 27 Squadron RAF Regiment.
So, how does the RAF Regiment operate today? Based at RAF Honington in Suffolk and with operational wings based at several RAF stations, the RAF Regiment has seven regular and six reserve squadrons organised in to 7 wings. In addition, the RAF Regiment provides Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) to the British Army and Royal Marines, and provides a flight sized commitment to the Special Forces Support Group.
There are 6 Force Protection Wings based across the UK. Two of the Wings are designated as the lead part of the Joint Expeditionary Force and are focused on RAF Police and RAF Regiment expeditionary capability inclusive of Armoured Vehicles (Wheeled) and Military Working Dogs. The second Joint Expeditionary Force Wing also delivers RAF Ceremonial and Joint Terminal Attack Controller capability. The 4 Multirole Force Protection Wings are tasked with providing a particular aircraft type or role with the necessary defence. The Multirole Wings are responsible for a geographic security region with the home base as well as being the units of choice to deploy alongside their aligned aircraft types.
The RAF regiment was founded in 1942 as a specific corps and one that had a very specific purpose. Today we call that purpose ‘Force Protection’ and long may that continue. The motto Per Ardua (Through Adversity) says it all.
CHW (London 1st February 2023)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785