With issues such as the ability to train sufficient numbers of pilots, resignation of a senior recruitment officer who was reported to have voiced frustration over a plan to pause job offers made to white men (this reportedly in a bid to recruit more women and those from ethnic minorities) – together with suspected inappropriate behaviour reasoning the loss of two pilots from the RAF Red Arrows team earlier this summer and that subsequently led to full aerobatic displays by the team being cut from nine ship to seven, it seems that aside from issues of deployment of Royal Air Force capability to support Eastern European allies and elsewhere, good news for the RAF has been in rather short supply of late.
On the matter of recruitment and indeed, on the impacts this has on promotions for existing RAF personnel, I have for the moment said all that I believe needed to said in my own commentary piece last week. On that score may I thank the many hundreds of you that have taken the trouble to respond. Rest assured that if and when I have further information on this hugely damaging situation that requires it, I will make further comment but for now, other than to copy a subsequent report written over the weekend by Deborah Haynes of Sky News and who had broken the original story last week, I will continue to watch events very closely.
In a piece published yesterday on Sky News Deborah Haynes wrote:
“The group captain – whose subsequent resignation was revealed exclusively by Sky News – told her boss in the email earlier this month that she was not willing to allocate slots on Royal Air Force training courses based purely on a specific gender or ethnicity, according to a copy of the message, seen by Sky News.
Such a move had raised concerns about the possibility of positive discrimination, which is illegal, the defence sources said.
“This is unlawful,” the officer, who headed the RAF’s 450-strong recruitment team, wrote in the email, dated 4 August, adding: “I am not prepared to delegate or abdicate the responsibility of actioning that order to my staff.”
Defence sources said the group captain – who has not been named – resigned from her post on the same day because she had not been prepared to implement the “course loading” order or force it upon her recruitment team.
They said the officer – who sources described as a highly-regarded individual – made the reasons for her decision clear in a separate resignation letter sent to her chain of command.
Her official job title was Group Captain Recruitment & Selection, based at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire.
A government minister on Friday said any evidence of potential positive discrimination – the illegal promotion of someone solely based on a specific, protected characteristic – within the RAF would be investigated and those responsible held to account.
James Heappey, the Armed Forces minister, was speaking after Sky News had reported that the head of recruitment had resigned over what defence sources described as an “effective pause” on offering jobs to white men in favour of women and ethnic minorities to hit “impossible” diversity targets.
Mr Heappey disputed this characterisation of the pause.
He said that Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, who heads the RAF, had asked his team to “pause” offering training slots to all candidates while he and his senior leaders consider how they might take legal steps – so-called positive action – to assist improving diversity levels on various training courses in the year to March 2023.
“If there are avenues for the chief of the air staff to look at positive action, then that’s fine and he’s created himself room to do that. But we must be absolutely clear that no policy is implemented,” Mr Heappey said.
Defence sources told Sky News that this pause started in late June.
Yet, the RAF recruitment team received a new order on 2 August from the chain of command, the sources said.
The subsequent 4 August email from the head of recruitment referenced this “course loading direction/order” from Air Vice Marshal Maria Byford, the chief of staff personnel, who is Air Chief Marshal Wigston’s top personnel officer.
The group captain wrote that in line with this order, her recruitment team was “to course load any remaining women and EM [ethnic minorities] in those priority professions that are ready, even if the EA [enlisted aviator] candidates are not ‘first past the post'”.
The RAF uses a ‘first past the post’ system when recruiting non-officers. It means slots on training courses are given to the candidates who pass the various stages of selection, which include aptitude, medical and fitness tests, fastest.
The group captain wrote in her email that the order to load women and ethnic minorities alone was “not actioned”.
“This direction is to make offers of employment to additional women and EM [ethnic minority] candidates solely on the basis of their protected characteristics and in preference to non-EM men who have successfully passed all selection criteria ahead of them,” she wrote.
She said such a move would be against equality legislation and against the RAF’s own legal guidance.
“I strongly agree that it is incredibly important to do all within our collective power to support the RAF’s commitment to increasing diversity,” the group captain wrote.
“This should however be achieved through lawful and proportionate means.”
A spokesperson for the RAF said the concerns raised by the now-resigned head of recruitment had been “addressed” by her chain of command.
“The RAF recruits’ people from the widest possible pool of talent and is becoming a more diverse organisation, but we will not do so at the expense of our high standards, operational effectiveness, or adherence to legal obligations,” the spokesperson said.
“We frequently review our recruitment processes, seeking legal advice to ensure that we are mindful of our legal obligations.
“Any allegations that we have failed to do so are investigated without delay. The concern raised in this instance was addressed by the chain of command at the time and we continue our work to ensure recruitment processes remain compliant with all policy and legal requirements.”
Successive governments have been challenging all three-armed services – the RAF, the Army and the Royal Navy – for years to improve their diversity statistics in what has traditionally been a predominately white, male profession.
It is a goal championed by defence chiefs.
The MOD has announced it aims to increase the ratio of female recruits coming into the Armed Forces in general to 30% by 2030 from around 12%.
The RAF is aiming to go further. It is seeking for the ratio of female air force recruits to hit 40% by the end of the decade – more than double the current level.
The target for ethnic minorities is to reach 20% of all air force recruits within the same timeframe, up from around 10%.
But defence sources have accused Air Chief Marshal Wigston of appearing willing to compromise UK security at a time of growing threats from Russia and China in pursuit of albeit important goals such as improving diversity and inclusion.
Mr Heappey was pressed on a central allegation from the defence sources that the head of the RAF has built a culture within his service around the importance of diversity and inclusion, which has perhaps prompted his chain of command to prioritise the delivery of diversity targets over the air force’s operational requirements.
The minister said: “If that is a culture that exists, I’m sure that we will be encouraging the Chief of the Air Staff to get after it, to make very clear within the RAF what the policy is.”
Spelling out the priority for the UK’s defence ministers, he said: “I want the chief of the air staff and the other chiefs to get after our lack of diversity, but at definitely no expense to our ability as a war-fighting organisation to keep our nation safe”.
Asked whether he still had confidence in Air Chief Marshal Wigston, Mr Heappey said: “Yes.”
And Now For Some Good News……
Military families to Benefit from £3,000 of Childcare Support
Published on the 29th July, the Ministry of Defence has announced that service families with children aged 4 to 11 will benefit from what is termed ‘wraparound childcare’ meaning that more than 20,000 (figures from MOD) service children will be eligible for 20 hours free childcare per week from September.
Long overdue, the move will have been welcomed by all those that it will impact In the same statement the MOD said that it was committed to supporting service families and that it has also introduced flexible working arrangements and expanded offerings to co-habiting couples and extended its Help to Buy (homes) scheme.
Important as all the above moves certainly are, there is a long way to go before we are providing our military personnel and their families with proper housing and family support that they so fully deserve. As I have said many times before, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation which is responsible for the condition of housing used by many thousands of Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel has been woeful in its neglect of ensuring that at a bare minimum, homes that personnel live in are fully fit for purpose without those involved being forced to pay for prior DIO neglect.
RAF P-8 Poseidon Provides First Search and Rescue Assistance to UK Coastguard
It was pleasing on Thursday last week that an RAF Lossiemouth based P-8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft had for the first time been despatched to assist in the search and rescue of two Danish rowers whose boat sank 800 nautical miles off Lands End and who then spent five hours drifting in a life-raft before being rescued.
Responding to distress signals sent by the rowers, the UK Coastguard was able to contact a merchant vessel closest to the drifting rowers which changed course and then effected a perfect rescue.
Playing a valuable role in the communications element of the search and rescue, this is apparently the first time that a P-8 Poseidon has been used to support a maritime rescue in the coast around the British Isles. The aircraft which is equipped with a range of sophisticated sensors and weapons systems primarily designed for anti-submarine warfare and surveillance capability, can also be used at short notice for a range of other missions including wide search and rescue.
RAF C-130J Capability Extended By Three Months
In a separate news last week ‘Aviation Week’ reported that RAF Brize Norton based C-130J capability is to be life extended in service by an additional three months meaning that its out-of-service date has now been extended to the end of June 2023.
I make no bones in suggesting that I would rather have seen a date of June 2033 being given for C-130J out of service date and I have written before on my absolute disbelief that the Royal Air Force was to prematurely lose such vitally needed capability on the basis that consolidating transport, medium and heavy-lift aircraft capability around the Boeing C-17 Globemaster and Airbus A400M would provide cost savings ahead of the latter aircraft being able to undertake all tasks required of the current C-130J fleet of fourteen aircraft.
The ‘Aviation Week’ article quoted sources had suggested that “part of the decision to extend the fleet has been driven by ongoing availability issues with the A400M. This means that making aircraft available for flight testing to enable the Airbus-built aircraft to take on more of the Hercules’ tasks is not being fulfilled” adding that “Several A400M’s are on the ground at RAF Brize Norton without propellers due to shortages. Others are undergoing a retrofit process. The level of availability changes on a daily and weekly basis”.
CHW (London – 22nd August 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785