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By Howard Wheeldon, Senior Strategist at BGC Partners

05 Aug 10. Weighed down with loads of body armour, guns, ammunition, communications plus other survival gear and equipment, obliged to travel in armoured personnel carriers and other distinctive transport, often unable to understand the local language let alone the culture and even worse, no matter how hard they try almost always unable to dictate the time and place of potential engagement meaning that they face constant danger with every step they take it is probably true to say that the ONLY asymmetric advantage that our soldiers have over the often unseen enemy in Afghanistan today is technology. And a great deal of that technology comes in the support that troops in the field receive from the Royal Air Force.

As the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) moves into the third and final costed force structure and risk assessment phase it is my intention here to look at the crucially important role that the Royal Air Force plays within our overall NATO commitment and within the defence of our island, our seas and our dependent territories. Perhaps if I was to be forced to sum up what the RAF is today I would say that it is an integrated and flexible force multiplier providing a vast range of capability. In terms of national defence of our islands and seas I may view the RAF as being an uncompromising force of strength that is only ever seconds away from the front line wherever that is. Moreover the RAF may be regarded as the bedrock that provides necessary support that allows front line UK fighting forces to do the absolutely brilliant job that they do. Better perhaps to see the RAF in the almost constant and very necessary force protection role as opposed to one that provides only firepower and transport. In fact the RAF today may be best regarded as providing a constant stream of protection through the provision of surveillance, reconnaissance, targeting and firepower. Add to this the role of force and equipment mobility and you have a force multiplier that is second to none. Despite the superb history of the RAF and despite decades of so-called peace that many of us have lived through it is with some degree of regret that the future in terms of our ability to live in peace and harmony is no easier to forecast now than it was fifty years ago. Thus I may conclude this section saying that I believe the RAF today is more relevant to our defence needs than at any time in our past.

The above is not to say that the RAF should be left exactly as it is or that SDSR should pass it completely by. Far from it and change is inevitable. Our attitude and approach to defence has reached another of those defining moments in which each of our front line forces will need to redefine what it needs whilst the government will before it does anything else will hopefully have defined a cross government foreign and security policy, what role it seeks Britain and British forces to have within NATO, where it wants Britain to be in a world that talks now far more about affordability than it does about defence. Whether or not we will live to regret cutting back our armed forces remains to be seen although history tells us that we probably will! In the meantime we may hope that SDSR will by agreement between the government and the armed forces correctly decide the level of capability required of them, the command structure that they will in future take and the level of increased risk that will need to be a factor of any demand based change founded on affordability as opposed to the strategic and tactical requirements for our internal defence and the role that we in future will play in NATO. In its quest to cut spending on defence the government must not allow our capability to slip below what our armed forces believe to be acceptable.

I do not intend here to involve myself in the speculation of what the RAF will need to lose as a

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